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Leonard v. Ahlin

October 26, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge


I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff Harvey Mack Leonard ("Plaintiff") is a civil detainee proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, housed at Coalinga State Hospital, filed this action on February 24, 2009. (Doc. 1.)

"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 states a claim, the Court looks to the pleading standard 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. 554, 555 (2007)).

"[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (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.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (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. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. "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. Complaint Allegations

On February 13, 2009, Plaintiff received two letters in the mail containing blank money orders. Plaintiff wrote payee names on both money orders and placed them in the office outgoing mailbox. (Doc. 1, Comp., p. 4.) Defendant Coffey inspected the sealed envelope. (Id., § IV.) Defendant Coffey told Plaintiff that he was taking the letter to the supervisor. Defendant Corona, acting supervisor, allegedly told Plaintiff that he did not have a right to sign a money order and pay his college program bill. Defendant Corona put the envelope on the unit supervisor's desk for her to decide what to do with it when she returned the following week. (Id., p. 4.) Plaintiff alleges that when he objected, Defendant Corona took his identification card from him. (Id., § IV.) Since the identification card was taken away, Plaintiff was unable to leave the unit to walk as ordered by his physician. (Id., p. 4.)

On February 17, 2009, at approximately 9:20 a.m., Plaintiff met with Defendant Morrisey, the unit supervisor. Plaintiff explained what had occurred regarding his mail and identification card. Defendant Morrisey told him that his mail was not on her desk and she did not know where it was. Plaintiff asked that his identification card be returned so that he could walk as ordered by his doctor. Defendant Morrisey told Plaintiff that she was not going to return his identification card at that time. When Plaintiff asked her to get his mail and return it to him, Defendant Morrisey told him he was getting out of control. Plaintiff responded that he was going to sue because the hospital was trying to cause him to have another heart attack. (Id., p. 6.)

Later that same morning, Defendant Morrisey came to see Plaintiff and told him that he had two choices. He could open the letter and remove the money order so it could be placed in the trust office or the letter could be placed with his property. (Id.) Defendant Morrisey told Plaintiff that she would see what she could do to get his identification card returned. She returned Plaintiff's identification card at 2:30 p.m. that same day. Plaintiff alleges that he told Defendant Morrisey that his chest pain was severe and he needed the identification card so he could walk and get some fresh air. (Id., p. 7.)

Plaintiff brings suit against Defendants Ahlin, Coffey, Corona, and Morrisey for violations of his due process rights arising from taking his mail and withholding his identification card for five days, alleging the stress caused him to have chest pain. (Id., § IV.) He also alleges that Defendants are denying him his right to manage his personal finances and are medically indifferent to his health needs. (Id., p. 7.) He is seeking compensatory damages of $1,000,000 and punitive damages of $10,000,000. (Id., § V.)

III. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

Although an individual has been properly committed, he still has substantive liberty interests protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 315 (1982). Where a civil detainee is confined "due process requires that the nature and duration of commitment bear some reasonable relation to the purpose for which the individual is committed." Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 931 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jackson v. Indiana, 406 U.S. 715, 738 (1972)). A civil detainee is entitled to be confined in conditions that are "not intended to be punitive, excessive in relation to their non-punitive purpose, or employed for purposes that could be achieved by less harsh methods." Jones, 393 F.3d at 936. The conditions under ...

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