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Johnson v. Runnels

August 30, 2010

VANCE EDWARD JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
D.L. RUNNELS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On May 15, 2009, defendants Pribble, Wilber, Arnold, Bates, Brown, Doyle, Hicks, Houghland, Kelsy, Little, Martinez, Von Rader, Weaver, Bigford, Briddle, Gower, Chapman, and St. Andre moved for summary judgment. Dckt. No. 146. The court denied the motion without prejudice to its renewal pending additional discovery. Dckt. No. 167. That discovery was completed and defendants have renewed their motion for summary judgment. Dckt No. 170.

I. Background and Housecleaning

Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint primarily concerns events that occurred between December 30, 2002 and January 9, 2003. Plaintiff alleges that during that time, prison officials undertook a "targeted sweep of selected African American" inmates at High Desert State Prison, where he was then housed. Third Am. Compl., Dckt. No. 62, at 9. Plaintiff alleges that defendants violated his 1st, 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendment rights in conducting the sweep and in their treatment of plaintiff while he was confined in administrative segregation afterward. Id. at 35-37.

By order dated September 8, 2006, the court concluded that, for purposes of initial screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the third amended complaint stated cognizable claims against defendants Briddle, Chapman, Gower, St. Andre, Wilbur, Pribble, Von Rader, Kelsey, Weaver, Houghland, Hicks, Martinez, Bedford, Bates, Little, Doyle, Kelley, Brown, and Arnold for alleged violations of the 8th Amendment. Dckt. No. 66. In findings and recommendations dated the same day, and adopted by order dated March 25, 2008, the court concluded that the third amended complaint failed to state cognizable claims against defendants Lewis, Cooper, Jimenez, Bailey, Wagner, Cox, Runnels, Brewer, Martin, Robertson, Gillam, Adam and Peddicord. Dckt. Nos. 67, 71. The court further concluded that no due process claim had been stated against any defendant with regard to the alleged confiscation of plaintiff's property during the episode in question. Dckt. No. 67 at 4.

On April 18, 2007, defendants Chapman, Gower, St. Andre, and Arnold moved to dismiss the claims against them. Dckt. No. 86. The court granted the motion with respect to plaintiff's allegations that defendant Chapman allowed other guards to transport plaintiff in a "rickety, safety unequipped paraplegic transvan," that defendant Gower failed to intervene when plaintiff was interrogated while sitting straddled on a chair with his hands behind his back and told to sign paperwork consenting to a strip search, and that defendant Arnold threatened to beat and kill plaintiff. Dckt. Nos. 108, 110.

The court must now piece together the third amended complaint, screening orders, the order granting dismissal of certain claims, and various other docket entries to determine what claims remain pending. This task is complicated by the silence of the screening orders regarding certain aspects of the third amended complaint and the parties' failure to clarify the issues and parties implicated therein.

A. Equal Protection Claims

The third amended complaint contains vague and limited equal protection allegations that were not addressed in the court's screening orders, presumably due to their vagueness and the complaint's overwhelming emphasis on the 8th Amendment. See Third. Am. Compl. at 37 (stating that defendants violated the 14th Amendment by "imping[ing on plaintiff's] right of property return, repair, or replacement" and through "the denial of equal protection/treatment of the law (racial harassment, and race discrimination due to deliberate indifference to other races in Ad Seg Unit)." (emphasis added)) & at 9, 10, 12, 13, 14-15, 24, 31, 33, & 34 (alleging 14th Amendment violations against defendants Runnels, Briddle, Chapman, Gower, St. Andre, Lewis, Wilbur, Bailey, Brown, Martin, and Grannis); see also id. at 20 (alleging that Correctional Officer Cooper, while wearing "a correctional cowboy hat with confederate cross-sword hat tassels" stated, "We're rounding up all you niggers."). In opposing the instant motion for summary judgment, plaintiff has now made clear what was vague in his third amended complaint -- that he wishes to allege equal protection claims against certain defendants for the events of December 30, 2002 through January 9, 2003. Pl.'s Renewed Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Dckt. No. 171, at 9-20. Defendant argues that plaintiff may not "convert" his case into an equal protection case, because the court screened the case as stating only 8th Amendment claims and because all discovery has been limited to those claims. Defs.' Reply in Supp. of Renewal of Mot. for Summ. J., Dckt. No. 176, at 3. Plaintiff did, however, include allegations of race discrimination in his complaint, however sparse and vague they were. The court is loathe to penalize plaintiff for the lack of clarity in the screening orders, which simply did not address those allegations. However, it is clear from a review of those allegations at this time that the allegations themselves are simply too vague to survive review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which requires dismissal of any claims which fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

In concluding that dismissal is required here, the court is mindful of the governing standards. A district court must construe a pro se pleading liberally to determine if it states a claim and, prior to dismissal, tell a plaintiff of deficiencies in his complaint and give plaintiff an opportunity to cure them. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000). While detailed factual allegations are not required, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth "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 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. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement," but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.

Id. (citations and quotation marks omitted). Although legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations, and are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. at 1950.

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides: Every person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983. An individual defendant is not liable on a civil rights claim unless the facts establish the defendant's personal involvement in the constitutional deprivation or a causal connection between the defendant's wrongful conduct and the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 646 (9th Cir. 1989); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743-44 (9th Cir. 1978).

Plaintiff has not specified which defendants he believes violated the Equal Protection Clause (rather than the Due Process Clause) of the 14th Amendment or what actions he believes constitute such violations. Accordingly, the equal protection allegations of the complaint must be dismissed, but the court will grant plaintiff leave to amend the complaint to clarify only those equal protection claims. If plaintiff chooses to file an amended complaint pursuant to this order, that complaint may not broaden the scope of the case to allege new facts not connected to the allegedly race-based sweep of African-American inmates between December 30, 2002 and January 9, 2003 or to add new defendants not included in the third amended complaint. Any amended complaint must adhere to the following requirements:

It must be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. E.D. Cal. Local Rule 220; see Loux v. Rhay, 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Once plaintiff files an amended complaint, the prior pleading is superseded.

It must show that the federal court has jurisdiction and that plaintiff's action is brought in the right place, that plaintiff is entitled to relief if plaintiff's allegations are true, and must contain a request for particular relief. Plaintiff must identify as a defendant only persons who personally participated in a substantial way in depriving plaintiff of a federal constitutional right. Johnson, 588 F.2d at 743 (a person subjects another to the deprivation of a constitutional right if he does an act, participates in another's act or omits to perform an act he is legally required to do that causes the alleged deprivation).

It must contain a caption including the name of the court and the names of all parties. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a).

Plaintiff may join multiple claims if they are all against a single defendant. Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a). If plaintiff has more than one claim based upon separate transactions or occurrences, the claims must be set forth in separate paragraphs. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b). Plaintiff may join multiple claims if they are all against a single defendant. Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a). Unrelated claims against different defendants must be pursued in multiple lawsuits. "The controlling principle appears in Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a): 'A party asserting a claim . . . may join, [] as independent or as alternate claims, as many claims . . . as the party has against an opposing party.' Thus multiple claims against a single party are fine, but Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2. Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits, not only to prevent the sort of morass [a multiple claim, multiple defendant] suit produce[s], but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees-for the Prison Litigation Reform Act limits to 3 the number of frivolous suits or appeals that any prisoner may file without prepayment of the required fees. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)." George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2) (joinder of defendants not permitted unless both commonality and same transaction requirements are satisfied). Plaintiff may not change the nature of this suit by alleging new, unrelated claims in an amended complaint. George, 507 F.3d at 607 (no "buckshot" complaints).

The allegations must be short and plain, simple and direct and describe the relief plaintiff seeks. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a); Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002); Galbraith v. County of Santa Clara, 307 F.3d 1119, 1125 (9th Cir. 2002). A long, rambling pleading, including many defendants with unexplained, tenuous or implausible connection to the alleged constitutional injury or joining a series of unrelated claims against many defendants very likely will result in delaying the review required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and an order dismissing plaintiff's action pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for violation of these instructions.

Plaintiff must sign the complaint. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(a). By signing an amended complaint, plaintiff certifies he has made reasonable inquiry and has evidentiary support for his allegations and that for violation of this rule the court may impose sanctions sufficient to deter repetition by plaintiff or others. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11.

A prisoner may bring no section 1983 action until he has exhausted such administrative remedies as are available to him. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The requirement is mandatory. Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001). By signing an amended complaint plaintiff certifies his claims are warranted by existing law, including the law that he exhaust administrative remedies, and that for violation of this rule plaintiff risks dismissal of his entire action.

B. Defendant N. Grannis

In addition, the screening orders did not specifically address the claims alleged against defendant N. Grannis. See Pl.'s Third Am. Compl.at 34 (alleging that defendant Grannis violated plaintiff's rights under the 1st, 5th, 8th, and 14th Amendments by "imped[ing] the exhaustion of appeal by delay of personal property resolution" and by denying an inmate appeal filed by plaintiff, "overlooking facts and admissions of the entire episode."). The court did dismiss the similar claims of appeal obstruction against defendants Wagner and Cox and claims against all defendants with regard to alleged confiscation of plaintiff's property during the episode in question. See id. at 25-26 (alleging that defendants Wagner and Cox impeded the processing of plaintiff's inmate appeal and thereby interfered with his access to the courts); Dckt. No. 67 at 2-3 & 4; Dckt. No. 71. The court now expressly finds that plaintiff's third amended complaint fails to state a cognizable claim against defendant Grannis. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Grannis violated his constitutional rights by delaying the processing of his appeal regarding his personal property and denying his appeal regarding the alleged sweep of African-American inmates. The court has already concluded that plaintiff has no cognizable claim with regard to his alleged property loss. Dckt. No. 67 at 4; Dckt. No. 71. In addition, plaintiff has failed to allege that defendant Grannis deprived him of necessary assistance in preparing his § 1983 case or that such deprivation actually injured his litigation efforts and thus has not stated a claim for denial of access to the courts in violation of the 1st Amendment. See Lewis v. Carey, 518 U.S. 343 (1996); Dckt. No. 67 at 2-3. Nor has plaintiff stated a claim against defendant Grannis for violating his rights to due process, because prisoners lack entitlement under the federal constitution to a grievance procedure and thus cannot claim that an alleged deprivation in the inmate appeal process violated due process. Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988); Dckt. No. 67 at 4. Accordingly, plaintiff's claims against defendant Grannis must be dismissed.

C. Defendant Kelly

The court's review of the docket reveals that defendant R. Kelly has never been served with the complaint. Plaintiff informed the court of difficulty locating defendant Kelly on May 10, 2007 and was given 30 days from May 21, 2007 to submit the necessary documents for service on Kelly. Dckt. Nos. 89, 91. Plaintiff failed to do so, and plaintiff's claims against defendant Kelly should therefore be dismissed without leave to amend. Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b); Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m).

D. The Remaining Claims

Having thus tidied the case, the claims that remain (subject to plaintiff's potential future amendment of the complaint pursuant to this order) are:

1. Excessive force in violation of the 8th Amendment, against defendants Briddle, St. Andre, Wilbur, Pribble, Von Rader, and Kelsey, for conduct at Building 5, B Yard on December 31, 2002

These allegations concern plaintiff's removal from his cell (known as a "cell extraction") on December 31, 2002. Plaintiff alleges as follows: Defendant Pribble "spray[ed] excessive amounts of O.C. spray" into plaintiff's cell "non-stop until empty." Pl.'s Third Am. Compl. at 15. Defendant Wilbur then punched him, grappled with him, and slammed him against the wall. Id. at 14. Defendant Kelsey punched plaintiff, then kicked and stomped on his side and legs as plaintiff lay on the ground and "trapped [his] right knee with his knee while ratcheting and keying up flex-cuffs on Plaintiff's wrists behind his back." Id. at 17. Defendant Von Rader punched and choked plaintiff, wrestled him to the ground, pinned his arms behind him, and "kneed Plaintiff in the back of his neck and head until flex-cuffs were applied." Id. at 16. Defendant Briddle "watched in tacit authorization and failed to intervene" during these events and later "refused to allow the keyed-up, ratcheted, hard plastic flex-cuffs to be removed and replaced for metal-locking handcuffs for over 5 hrs." Id. at 9. Defendant St. Andre "gave direct say-so and was a bystander" during the incident. Id. at 12. Von Rader then "escorted Plaintiff hoisted from behind by keyed up, ratcheted flex-cuffs to Program Outpost, sliding and slipping to the ground along the way in undershorts in frigid, icy, snow conditions." Id.

2. Excessive force in violation of the 8th Amendment against defendants Chapman, Gower, Weaver, and Houghland, for conduct at B Yard Building Outpost on December 31, 2002

These allegations concern plaintiff's treatment once removed from his cell while being questioned by correctional staff. Plaintiff alleges as follows: Defendant Weaver "punched, then grabbed Plaintiff out of [a] detention cage and slammed his head against the wall and applied pressure, while holding him with an armlock." Id. at 18. Defendant Houghland also punched and grabbed plaintiff out of a detention cage, pinned plaintiff's arm to the wall, and then "re-applied flex-cuffs ratcheted and keyed up, hoisting from Plaintiff's cuffs behind his back to B Yard Chowhall." Id. at 19. Defendant Gower "watched on" as defendants Weaver and Houghland punched and grabbed plaintiff and slammed him against the wall. Id. at 11. Defendant Chapman "was a bystander in tacit authorization and refused to intervene" when defendants Weaver and Houghland were "using interrogative excessive force against" plaintiff. Id. at 10.

3. Unlawful cavity search and medication confiscation in violation of the 8th Amendment against defendant Hicks for conduct at the B ...


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