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Johnson v. Cavagnaro

July 19, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Derrick Lane Johnson ("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 Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad, California. However, the events described in Plaintiff's complaint took place while he was incarcerated at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison ("CSATF/SP") in Corcoran, California. Plaintiff is suing under Section 1983 for the violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff names S. Cavagnaro, C. Lane, and Does 1-6 as defendants. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Plaintiff states cognizable claims against Cavagnaro, Lane, and Does 1-6 for the use of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff's claims regarding the conditions in his holding cell are not cognizable. The Court will recommend that Plaintiff's claims regarding the conditions of his holding cell be dismissed without leave to amend.

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 April 27, 2009. (Doc. #1.) On September 11, 2009, the Court screened Plaintiff's original complaint. (Doc. #12.) The Court found that Plaintiff's original complaint stated some cognizable claims and dismissed the non-cognizable claims. The Court provided Plaintiff with notice of the deficiencies in his non-cognizable claims and provided Plaintiff with the opportunity to file an amended complaint to cure the deficiencies in those claims. On October 7, 2009, Plaintiff filed his first amended complaint. (Doc. #13.) This action proceeds on Plaintiff's first amended complaint.

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his rights under the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff alleges that his rights were violated when he was placed in tightly bound restraints for three (3) days "for the sole purpose to inflict harm upon Plaintiff." (Am. Compl. 6, ECF No. 13.) Plaintiff also complains that he was placed in a holding cell with no water or toilet facilities and had to sleep on a bare mattress in a cold cell.

On October 11, 2008, Defendants Cavagnaro and Lane received information indicating that Plaintiff was in possession of a controlled substance. Cavagnaro and Lane placed Plaintiff in a holding cell on contraband watch. Plaintiff complains that he could not "maintain his hygienic needs" for three (3) days because the cell had no water or toilet facilities. (Am. Compl. 7, ECF No. 13.) Plaintiff was also forced to sleep on "a bare mattress" and was not given a blanket or sheets to cover himself in the cold cell. (Am. Compl. 7, ECF No. 13.) Plaintiff complains that his hands were placed in "plastic flexcuffs" and metal handcuffs. (Am. Compl. 7, ECF No. 13.) Plaintiff contends that Cavagnaro and Lane purposely placed the restraints tightly around Plaintiff's wrists for the purpose of causing him pain, and that his complaints about the pain were ignored. Plaintiff also alleges that he was placed in ankle restraints and bound by duct tape "in a manner which caused Plaintiff undue pain and restricted his blood flow." (Am. Compl. 7, ECF No. 13.)

On October 12, 2008, Plaintiff was questioned by Cavagnaro about the possession charges. Plaintiff refused to cooperate during the interview. In response, Cavagnaro and Lane tightened Plaintiff's restraints. After Plaintiff was placed back in his holding cell, Plaintiff complained to Defendants Does 1-6 about the pain caused by his restraints. Does 1-6 refused to intervene and told Plaintiff that they were instructed not to loosen Plaintiff's restraints. Plaintiff complains that he experienced severe pain for weeks after the restraints were removed.

III. Discussion

Plaintiff contends that Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment. 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," and (2) the subjective requirement that the prison ...

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