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Brooks v. Felker

May 3, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding with an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He has a filed a motion to amend the complaint (Dkt. No. 24) and a motion for sanctions against the defendant (Dkt. No. 30). Defendant has moved to extend the time to complete discovery (Dkt No. 31).

I. Background

Plaintiff's original complaint names a single defendant, T. Felker, an official at High Desert State Prison (HDSP). See Complaint ¶ 3 (Dkt. No. 1). The court has screened the original complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and found that plaintiff has stated a possible cognizable Eighth Amendment claim that defendant Felker violated his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by denying him outdoor exercise for extended periods of time. See Order at 2 (Dkt. No. 8). The court further found the complaint does not state a claim that overcrowding at HDSP resulted in deliberate indifference to plaintiff's asthma. Id. The screening order gave plaintiff the option of attempting to cure the defects in his overcrowding claim with an amended complaint or proceeding immediately with the claim alleging denial of outdoor exercise. Id. at 3. Plaintiff chose the latter by submitting service documents for the original complaint, and the court promptly ordered that defendant Felker be served. See Dkt. Nos. 11, 12. The district judge assigned to this case then adopted the finding that the claim of overcrowding was not adequately pled, and that claim was dismissed. See Order (Dkt. No. 15).

Defendant Felker answered the complaint, and the court issued a March 12, 2010 scheduling order setting deadlines for discovery and motions to amend the complaint. See Dkt. No. 20. Plaintiff timely filed his motion to amend, seeking to name three more officials at HDSP as defendants. He has repeated the allegation that those defendants denied him outdoor exercise for extended periods of time, but now adds for the first time that the denial was "because of my race (a black male) and for no other legitimate penological purpose." Amended Complaint at 4 (Dkt. No. 25).

II. Plaintiff's Motion to File an Amended Complaint

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) provides that leave to amend a complaint should be "freely given when justice so requires." The Ninth Circuit has construed this provision broadly, stating that leave to amend should be granted with "extraordinary liberality." Morongo Band of Mission Indians v. Rose 893 F.2d 1074, 1079 (9th Cir.1990); see also Poling v. Morgan, 829 F.2d 882, 886 (9th Cir.1987)(describing a "strong policy permitting amendment"). However, the Supreme Court has held that a court may decline to grant leave where there is "any apparent or declared reason" for doing so. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

The Ninth Circuit has interpreted Foman as identifying "four factors relevant to whether a motion for leave to amend the pleadings should be denied: undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive, futility of amendment, and prejudice to the opposing party." United States v. Webb, 655 F.2d 977, 980 (9th Cir.1981). These factors do not carry equal weight. "[D]elay alone no matter how lengthy is an insufficient ground for denial of leave to amend." Id. at 980. "Prejudice to the opposing party is the most important factor." Jackson v. Bank of Hawaii, 902 F.2d 1385, 1387 (9th Cir.1990). "Absent prejudice, or a strong showing of any of the remaining Foman factors, there exists a presumption under Rule 15(a) in favor of granting leave to amend." Eminence Capital, LLC v Aspeon, Inc., 316 F.3d 1048, 1052 (9th Cir.2003). Futility of an amendment can, standing alone, justify denial of the amendment. See Bonin v. Calderon, 59 F.3d 815, 845 (9th Cir.1995).

The party opposing an amendment bears the burden of showing why it should not be granted. See Collaboration Properties, Inc. v. Tandberg ASA, 2007 WL 205065 at*1 (N.D.Cal.). Here, the defendant argues that the proposed complaint does not sufficiently allege a causal connection between the newly named defendants and the alleged constitutional violations such that a cognizable cause of action under § 1983 can lie.

Defendant's argument falls under the "futility of amendment" category recognized by the Ninth Circuit in Webb.*fn1 A proposed amendment is futile for purposes of denying a motion to amend where no set of facts may be proven under the amended pleading that would constitute a valid claim. See Miller v. Rykoff-Sexton, Inc., 845 F.2d 209, 214 (9th Cir.1988). The standard for assessing whether a proposed amendment is futile is the same as the standard imposed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Id.*fn2 In that analysis, the court reviews the complaint for "facial plausibility." "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Id.

Contrary to defendant's argument, plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a cause of action against the newly named defendants. Plaintiff has adequately re-stated his Eighth Amendment claim that he was denied outdoor exercise. The factual averments of the amended complaint are substantially similar to those of the original complaint, and the Ninth Circuit has long held that outdoor exercise "is extremely important to the psychological and physical well being" of prisoners. Spain v. Procunier, 600 F.2d 189, 199 (9th Cir.1979); see also Franklin v. Lamarque, 2007 WL 2781267 at * 11 (N.D.Cal.)(stating that "[t]he Court construes Plaintiff's claim of a deprivation of fresh air and recreation as a claim of denial of outdoor exercise"). However, the court emphasizes that the amended complaint's allegation that defendants' actions exacerbated plaintiff's "chronic medical conditions" is only a part of the claim that plaintiff was denied outdoor exercise. See Am. Compl. at 6 (Dkt No. 25). As was the case with the original complaint, the amended complaint does not state a separate cause of action for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need against any of the defendants.

As for defendant Felker's argument that plaintiff does not link the three new defendants to any conduct described in the amended complaint, the key passage of the proposed amendment complaint states:

Each of the defendants D.L. Runnels, T. Felker, R.K. Wong and R.S. Johnson deliberately and intentionally inflicted cruel and unusual punishment upon plaintiff by denying him outdoor exercise and fresh air for prolonged periods of time based on his race as a black inmate and for no other purpose.

Id. at 7. This allegation follows a fairly detailed history of lockdowns and other administrative actions that, according to plaintiff, "caused him to be mentally and physically tortured and aggravated his chronic medical conditions."*fn3 Id. at 6. The amended complaint could be more specific with respect to the new defendants' allegedly unconstitutional conduct, inasmuch as it does not state who was involved in each of the administrative actions in the long list that plaintiff submits as the factual basis of his claim. However, the passage above, in which the new defendants are named as having denied plaintiff outdoor exercise on the basis of his race, read together with the detailed history of those alleged denials, suffices as a statement of a viable claim under the Civil Rights Act and Rule 12(b)(6). Again, while some degree of factual specificity and plausibility is required, see Iqbal supra, pro se pleadings are still held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. See ...

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