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Mark Anthony Jones, et al v. California Department of Corrections

January 28, 2011



(Doc. 37)

I. Procedural History

Plaintiffs Mark Jones and Christine Jones ("Plaintiffs"), husband and wife, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on December 5, 2007. (Doc. 1.) Mark Jones is a state prisoner, proceeding in forma pauperis in this action, and is incarcerated at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (CSATF) in Corcoran, California. Christine Jones resides in Petaluma, California. The complaint was screened on September 16, 2008, and an order was issued severing Plaintiffs' claims. (Doc. 11.) Plaintiffs filed a first amended complaint on October 17, 2008. (Doc. 13.) On October 20, 2008, Plaintiffs filed an objection to the severance. (Doc. 14.) On November 7, 2008, the Court issued an order addressing the objection and finding the severance was appropriate as the consolidation "would almost certainly present procedural problems causing delay and confusion." (Doc. 18, p. 3:15-17.)

The Court reconsidered the severance and ordered consolidation of the actions on September 2, 2009. (Doc. 20.) On November 17, 2009, the original complaint was screened and the Court found that the signatures on the complaint were penned by the same hand. An order was issued directing Plaintiffs to file a second amended complaint containing an original signature of both Plaintiffs. (Doc. 23.) On December 10, 2009, Plaintiff Mark Jones filed a second amended complaint, containing only his name in the caption, with only his signature. (Doc. 24.) On December 22, 2009, Christine Jones filed an objection to the requirement that both signatures appear on the complaint. (Doc. 25.) On November 9, 2010, the second amended complaint was dismissed for failure to comply with a court order because it did not contain signatures of both Plaintiffs. (Doc. 28.) On December 15, 2010, Plaintiff Christine Jones filed a motion to strike the second amended complaint and an objection to the dismissal of the second amended complaint alleging it was fraudulent as it did not contain her signature. (Docs. 32, 32, 34.) On December 15, 2010, a third amended complaint was filed. On December 22, 2010, the Court issued an order striking the third amended complaint because it did not contain signatures of both Plaintiffs. (Doc. 36.). Currently before the Court is the fourth amended complaint, filed January 19, 2011. (Doc. 37.)

Although the fourth amended complaint contains signatures of both Plaintiffs, the allegations only pertain to the claims of Plaintiff Christine Jones. The procedural history of this action shows that the consolidation of this case has resulted in "procedural problems causing delay and confusion" as previously cited by the Court as the reason not to consolidate. Therefore, although it is noted the actions of the Court have contributed to the confusion by reconsolidating the case, the Court will order that the case be severed. The Court does not undertake this reversal of course lightly, but the litigants behavior renders it impossible for them to proceed together in one action. In order to assist the litigants in filing the amended complaint the Court will set forth the legal standards that appear to apply to the allegations set forth in the fourth amended complaint. Plaintiff Mark Jones is referred to the order issued on November 9, 2010, for the legal standards that apply to his claims.

II. 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 "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted," or that "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C § 1915(e)(2)(B).

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)).

Under section 1983, Plaintiffs must demonstrate that each defendant personally participated in the deprivation of their rights. Jones v. Williams, 297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002). This requires the presentation of factual allegations sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949-50; Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). "[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).

III. Complaint Allegations

On September 14, 2007, Plaintiff Christine Jones arrived at CSATF to visit with Mark Jones. She was approached by two Correctional Officers and a Corcoran Police Officer. Defendant Couch told her to come with him. Plaintiff was taken into a room and questioned. Defendant Couch took her personal belongings so a trace test for drugs could be done on them. Defendant Couch informed her that they were waiting for a search warrant so a strip search could be conducted and asked if she would sign a consent form so they could search her. Plaintiff agreed, but was never given a form to sign. Plaintiff was taken into a small room. Defendant Couch told her not to discard any contraband and that the prison system operated under different rules than normal law enforcement and prison officials would use force if she did not cooperate. (Doc. 37, p. 2.) The Corcoran Police Officer and an unknown correctional officer guarded Plaintiff Jones while Defendant Couch was gone from the room. (Id., pp. 2-3.)

Defendant Couch returned to the room and began to question Plaintiff again. Plaintiff stated that she wanted an attorney before she answered any questions and the unknown correctional officer left the room. Defendant Couch returned Plaintiff's property and she was told that she would not be allowed to visit with Mark Jones. Defendant Couch allegedly also told Plaintiff to tell her husband not to file a grievance or he would be in more trouble. Defendant Couch informed Plaintiff that she would receive a visit termination notice in three to five days explaining how she could appeal the decision to terminate her visit. (Id., p. 3.)

Plaintiff did not receive the visit termination notice despite contacting the warden's office several times. On October 14, 2007, Plaintiff visited with Mark Jones, and at the conclusion of the visit asked for a copy of the visitation termination form which "seemed to amuse the personnel in visiting so . . . [Plaintiff] stated to personnel that we will let the courts decide." (Id., p. 4.) Plaintiff alleges that there was a failure to train officers in proper procedures under Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations and not to falsely imprison visitors.

The complaint states that, since the visit was terminated, Plaintiff Mark Jones was due the same degree of due care. Plaintiffs bring this suit against Defendants Couch, Warden Clark, and James E. Tilton alleging illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment, deliberate indifference in violation of the Eighth Amendment, violations of due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment, false imprisonment under the Thirteenth Amendment, negligence, and violations of Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations. Plaintiffs are seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

IV. Legal Standards

A. Fourth Amendment

A person entering a penal institution would have a lesser expectation of privacy under the Fourth Amendment. Spear v. Sowders, 71 F.3d 626, 629-30. (6th Cir. 1995) ("visitors can be subjected to some searches, . . . merely as a condition of visitation, absent any suspicion"). Searches conducted as a condition of entering a sensitive public facility can be exempted from the warrant requirement. McMorris v. Alioto, 567 F.2d 897, 898-99 (9th Cir. 1978). The need for security at a prison is sufficiently substantial to justify some type of screening process for visitors as reasonable under the Fourth Amendment. 5 Wayne R. LaFave, Search and Seizure § 10.7(b) (4th ed. 2004). See also Wolfish v. Bell, 441 U.S. 520, 559 (1979) (upholding visual body cavity search of prisoners after contact visits with persons outside the prison).

B. Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment protects prisoners from inhumane methods of punishment and from inhumane conditions of confinement. Morgan v. Morgensen, 465 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2006). The cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment applies to those who are convicted of crime and does not apply to the ...

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