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Thomas v. Madera County Dep't of Corrections

April 9, 2010

RAYSHON THOMAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MADERA COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT, WITH LEAVE TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT WITHIN 30 DAYS

(Doc. 22.)

Plaintiff Rayshon Thomas ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") and is currently incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison. However, the events described in Plaintiff's complaint took place at Madera County Jail. Plaintiff names Doug Papagni, Jerry King, Perez, Rebecca Davis, Macias, Pat Herndon, Bob Stillwell, Ted, Manuel, Dave, Herman Perez, Demor Martinez, Pete Martinez, Martin, Rodriguez, Cody, Debbie, Followill, and Fisher as defendants. Defendants are employed at Madera County Jail. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Plaintiff's first amended complaint fails to state any cognizable claims. Plaintiff's first amended complaint will be dismissed and Plaintiff will be given leave to file a second amended complaint within 30 days.

I. Screening Requirement

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(2). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action or appeal... fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, the Court uses the same pleading standard used under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Under Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). "[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "[A] complaint [that] pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability... 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Further, although a court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in a complaint, a court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true. Id. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

II. Background

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed the original complaint in this action on May 26, 2006. (Doc. #1.) Plaintiff's original complaint was screened by the Court on March 24, 2008. (Doc. #19.) Plaintiff's complaint was dismissed for failing to state any claims. Plaintiff was given leave to file an amended complaint. Plaintiff filed his first amended complaint on April 28, 2008. (Doc. #22.) This action proceeds on Plaintiff's first amended complaint.

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff's complaint claims that the conditions in Madera County Jail violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Plaintiff's complaint covers a wide range of issues. Plaintiff's first claim is that jail officials served Plaintiff spoiled turkey and other unhealthy foods. Plaintiff's second claim is that the canteen stopped selling phone cards. Plaintiff's third claim is that the jail did not broadcast African American programs such as B.E.T. on its televisions. Plaintiff's fourth claim complains about deficiencies in the jail's law library. Plaintiff's fifth claim is that jail officials opened Plaintiff's legal mail outside his presence. Plaintiff's sixth claim is that jail officials discarded Plaintiff's property. Plaintiff's seventh claim is that the jail has failed to hire enough African American employees. Plaintiff's eighth claim is based on alleged harassment by a gang member. Finally, Plaintiff's ninth claim complains about being denied access to the law library.

III. Discussion

A. Plaintiff's First Claim for Relief

Plaintiff's first claim for relief is based on his complaints about the food at Madera County Jail. Plaintiff's factual allegations are unclear. Plaintiff's handwriting is illegible at times and Plaintiff's complaint is littered with confusing sentence fragments. Plaintiff mentions being served spoiled turkey meat on occasion and also makes reference to a low sodium vegetarian diet. It appears that the jail started serving Plaintiff peanut butter after Plaintiff complained about the turkey, but Plaintiff subsequently complained that it was too salty. Plaintiff's complaint also contains references to pork, ham, and hot dogs, but the Court is unable to understand Plaintiff's complaints about these foods. Plaintiff goes on to complain that the inadequate diet provided by the jail forces Plaintiff to purchase food at the commissary at "inflated prices." Plaintiff concludes by stating that he has suffered "physical trauma, systematic harassment... great mental and emotional harm, anguish, damage to self-esteem, self-worth, shame, humiliation, loss of weight, imminent danger to plaintiff's health, weakness, injunctive relief, patterns of misconduct, harassment."

Plaintiff's allegations implicate his rights under the Eighth Amendment.*fn1 The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishments and "embodies 'broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity and decency.'" Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976) (quoting Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, 579 (8th Cir. 1968)). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) the objective requirement that the deprivation is "sufficiently serious", Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991), and (2) the subjective requirement that the prison official has a "sufficiently culpable state of mind", Id. (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298). The objective requirement that the deprivation be "sufficiently serious" is met where the prison official's act or omission results in the denial of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities". Id. (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). The subjective requirement that the prison official has a "sufficiently culpable state of mind" is met where the prison official acts with "deliberate indifference" to inmate health or safety. Id. (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 302-303). A prison official acts with deliberate indifference when he/she "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety". Id. at 837. "[T]he official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Id.

Jail officials are obligated under the Eighth Amendment to provide Plaintiff with nutritionally adequate meals. See Foster v. Runnels, 554 F.3d 807, 812-813 (9th Cir. 2009); Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1107 (9th Cir. 1986) (prison officials must provide prisoners with "food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety"). However, the Eighth Amendment does not require that the food provided to Plaintiff be tasty and the Court does not read Ninth Circuit precedent to require jail officials to provide food that is optimally nutritious. See LeMaire v. Maass, 12 F.3d 1444, 1456 (9th Cir. 1993) ("The Eighth Amendment requires only that prisoners receive food that is adequate to maintain health; it need not be tasty or aesthetically pleasing.") "The fact that the food occasionally contains foreign objects or sometimes is served cold, while unpleasant, does not amount to a constitutional deprivation." LeMaire, 12 F.3d at 1456.

Plaintiff made complaints about the food to various jail officials: Defendant Bob Stillwell, Macias, Jerry King, Douglas Papagni, K. Ruiz, Dave, Ted, Perez, Fisher, and Debbie. However, it is not clear from Plaintiff's allegations whether any of these officials acted with deliberate indifference. Plaintiff does not clearly identify what risk the food posed to his health. Plaintiff does not allege that he suffered any serious health ailment as a result of the food, and it is unclear whether there was any risk of any serious health ailment as a result of the food. Plaintiff vaguely alleges that the salty turkey made him sick. Plaintiff does not elaborate on what kind of sickness he suffered from, whether it was mere discomfort from the salty taste, or whether it was a more serious sickness that threatened Plaintiff's health. Plaintiff alleges that he lost a significant amount of weight from the food, though an allegation of weight loss, taken in the absence of any other allegations, such as whether Plaintiff's weight was normal to begin with, does not clearly convey any excessive health risk to the court. Plaintiff mentions being compelled to adopt a vegetarian diet, though it is unclear how the vegetarian diet threatened his health. Finally, Plaintiff complains about Defendants' failure to accommodate Plaintiff's request for a low-sodium diet. Plaintiff does not identify the risk to his health resulting from Defendants' failure to provide a low-sodium diet.

Given the Court's inability to pinpoint any excessive threat to Plaintiff's health posed by the food provided to him, it is not clear that any Defendant was aware of a specific risk to Plaintiff's health. Plaintiff vaguely alleges that he filed complaints and Defendants did not remedy the situation. Plaintiff does not specify what the contents of his complaints were, making it unclear that the complaints put Defendants on notice of any excessive risk to Plaintiff's health. Some aspects of Plaintiff's complaints about the food are frivolous: Plaintiff complains about not receiving hot meals, being forced to buy noodles at the canteen at "inflated prices,"and the food tasting too salty. Plaintiff fails establish that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference. It is not clear from Plaintiff's complaint what facts Defendants were aware of and whether they knew about an excessive risk to Plaintiff and deliberately ignored that risk. It is not clear whether Plaintiff ever became seriously ill because of the food, and ...


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