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Hollis v. Sloan

July 27, 2010


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


Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel and in forma pauperis with an action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On September 23, 2009, defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendants contend plaintiff raises two claims: 1) that he is not receiving adequate mental health care services; and 2) that, when he was receiving mental health care services, his confidentiality was breached by correctional staff being present during mental health care sessions. (Dkt. No. 37 at 3.) Defendants move for dismissal on three grounds: plaintiff's claim concerning inadequate mental health care is barred by a pending class action; the breach of confidentiality claim is moot; and plaintiff's claims against defendants Cummings and Acquaviva are solely based on their involvement in the grievance process.

In his opposition, plaintiff contends defendants have read his amended complaint too narrowly, and argues that because he is proceeding without counsel, the court is required to liberally construe his claims. Plaintiff argues, inter alia, that he is pursuing retaliation claims under the First Amendment, and that defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious mental health needs. Plaintiff also contends discovery is needed to fully articulate his claims.


Plaintiff suffers from bipolar disorder, which involves the following symptoms: mood swings, depression, and symptoms of exhibitionism. (Am. Compl. at 10.) Plaintiff alleges defendants were deliberately indifferent to his serious mental health needs by denying him access to mental health care in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Am. Compl. at 7.) Plaintiff also contends that defendants denied him mental health care in retaliation for his use of the prison grievance procedure, chilling his First Amendment rights. (Am. Compl. at 7.) Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages, and injunctive relief. Plaintiff also asks the court to place the mental health department into receivership.

Legal Standards

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures provides for motions to dismiss for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007), and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969); Meek v. County of Riverside, 183 F.3d 962, 965 (9th Cir. 1999). In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, a complaint must contain more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554 (2007). However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement [of facts] need only 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson, 551 U.S. 89 (citations omitted).

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claims which would entitle him to relief. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Palmer v. Roosevelt Lake Log Owners Ass'n, 651 F.2d 1289, 1294 (9th Cir. 1981). In general, pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The court has an obligation to construe such pleadings liberally. Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n.1 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc). However, the court's liberal interpretation of a pro se complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not pled. Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).


The court finds defendants have read plaintiff's complaint too narrowly. Liberally construed, plaintiff is alleging defendants conspired to retaliate against plaintiff and deny him mental health care treatment because he availed himself of the 602 grievance process, thereby chilling his First Amendment rights and violating the Eighth Amendment.

Mental Health Care - Request for Injunctive Relief

Defendants are correct, however, that plaintiff's mental health care claims for injunctive relief are barred in light of Coleman v. Schwarzenegger, No. 2:90-cv-0520 LKK JFM (E.D. Cal.), a class action suit concerning mental health care in California state prisons.

A plaintiff who is a member of a class action for equitable relief from prison conditions may not maintain a separate, individual suit for equitable relief involving the same subject matter of the class action. See Crawford v. Bell, 599 F.2d 890, 892-93 (9th Cir. 1979); see also McNeil v. Guthrie, 945 F.2d 1163, 1165 (10th Cir. 1991) ("Individual suits for injunctive and equitable relief from alleged unconstitutional prison conditions cannot be brought where there is an existing class action."); Gillespie v. Crawford, 858 F.2d 1101, 1103 (5th Cir. 1988) (en banc) ("To allow individual suits would interfere with the orderly administration of the class action and risk inconsistent adjudications.").

A class action pending in this court, Coleman v. Schwarzenegger, No. 2:90-cv-0520 LKK JFM, involves a constitutional challenge to the adequacy of mental health care provided in the California state prison system. That is the same subject matter presented by plaintiff's equitable claims in this action. The class in Coleman is comprised of mentally ill inmates incarcerated in California prisons alleging that prison officials are depriving them of constitutionally required mental health care. More precisely, the class includes "all inmates with serious mental disorders who are now or who ...

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