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Fowler v. County of Los Angeles

May 25, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jay C. Gandhi United States Magistrate Judge



On May 5, 2010, plaintiff Gary Fowler ("Plaintiff"), a California prisoner incarcerated at California State Prison, Los Angeles County and proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights complaint ("Complaint") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Compl. at 1-2.) The Complaint names three defendants: (1) County of Los Angeles ("LA County"); (2) Sheriff Lee Baca ("Sheriff Baca"); and (3) Deputy Huang. (Id. at 3.) Sheriff Baca and LA County are sued in their official capacities only, while Deputy Huang is sued in both his individual and official capacities. (Id.) On May 5, 2010, the Court granted Plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915.


Plaintiff alleges that on or about January 19 or 20, 2009, at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles, Deputy Huang attempted to "verbally bait" Plaintiff "into a verbal confrontation[.]" (Compl. at 3, 5.) When Plaintiff "refused the bait," Deputy Huang accused Plaintiff of "liking 'to beat up cops[,]'" and approached Plaintiff as he was sitting down "on stairs." (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff "raised [his] left arm in front of [his] face for protection," but Deputy Huang "grabbed [Plaintiff's] arm, pulled [Plaintiff] to [his] feet, and slammed [him] into a metal door[.]" (Id.) Deputy Huang then "began rapidly punching away at [Plaintiff's] lower back." (Id.) "In an attempt to protect [himself], [Plaintiff] dropped to [the] ground and attempted [to get into] the fetal position[,]" but the beating continued. (Id.) Deputy Huang then handcuffed Plaintiff and escorted him to another part of the jail. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that as he was being moved, Deputy Huang "punched [him in] the lower back one final time." (Id.)

Based upon these factual allegations, Plaintiff appears to allege violations of his due process rights and the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. (Compl. at 5.) Plaintiff requests $1,000,000 for pain and suffering, $1,000,000 in punitive damages, and injunctive relief. (Id. at 6.)


"[A]s soon as practicable after docketing," the Prison Litigation Reform Act obligates the Court to review complaints filed by all persons proceeding in forma pauperis, and by those, like Plaintiff, who are "incarcerated or detained in any facility [and] accused of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms or conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program." See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)-(h) and 1915A. Under these provisions, the Court must sua sponte dismiss any prisoner civil rights action and all other in forma pauperis complaints, or any portions thereof, which are frivolous or malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek damages from defendants who are immune. Id.; see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Dismissal for failure to state a claim "can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988, as amended Feb. 27, 1990 and May 11, 1990).

Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, 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). While Rule 8 does not require "detailed factual allegations," a complaint must provide "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[.]" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level[.]" Id. (internal citation omitted).Thus, a complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads [enough] factual content [to] allow[] [a] court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff must allege that: (1) the conduct she complains of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) that the conduct violated a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Humphries v. County of Los Angeles, 554 F.3d 1170, 1184 (9th Cir. 2009, as amended Jan. 15, 2009 and Jan. 30, 2009), cert. granted in part, 130 S.Ct. 1501 (2010) (citing West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)).


A. Plaintiff Fails to State a Monell Claim Against Sheriff Baca and Deputy Huang

Plaintiff sued both Sheriff Baca and Deputy Huang in their official capacities. (Compl. at 3.) Official-capacity claims "against individual municipal officers are claims against the municipality itself." Hill v. Baca, 2010 WL 1727655, at *5 (C.D. Cal. Apr. 26, 2010); see also Monell v. Department of Soc. Serv. of N.Y., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n. 55 (1978)*fn1; Green v. Baca, 306 F.Supp.2d 903, 907 (C.D. Cal. 2004) ("[b]y suing [the Los Angeles County Sheriff] in his official capacity, plaintiff has asserted claims against Los Angeles County and/or the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department").

However, a local government entity "may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents. Instead, it is when execution of a government's policy or custom... inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983." Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. Respondent superior or vicarious liability will not attach to a municipality under Section 1983. Id. at 694-695. Thus, a plaintiff must establish that "the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy..., ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by" the municipality, or that the action was "visited pursuant to a governmental 'custom[.]'" Id. at 690-691. Plaintiff must show that "deliberate action[,] attributable to the ...

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