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Theron Kenneth Holston v. Joseph Debranca

February 10, 2011



Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with an action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On May 28, 2010, defendants DeBranca and Spadini moved to dismiss this action, arguing that plaintiff had failed to exhaust available administrative remedies prior to filing this suit. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion, and defendants have filed a reply. Plaintiff has also filed an unauthorized response to defendants' reply. See Local Rule 230(l).


Plaintiff is proceeding on an amended complaint against defendants DeBranca and Spadini. Therein, he alleges as follows. On May 11, 2008, defendants stopped him in front of Walmart in Marysville, California. They asked him why he threw his bicycle, and he told them that he was upset because the store would not take back the recently-purchased bicycle because there was no mechanic on duty to inspect it. According to the complaint, the defendants noticed alcohol in plaintiff's possession and smelled alcohol and proceeded to place him under arrest. Plaintiff did not resist and cooperated with defendants when they told him they were going to place him in a four-point restraint with handcuffs, leg restraints, and a waist chain. On the way to the Yuba County Jail, plaintiff acknowledges that he directed aggressive and abusive language towards the defendants after they sided with Walmart about the bicycle dispute. However, plaintiff alleges that at no time did he make any threats or "challenge to violence." (Am. Compl. at 5a-5c.)

When they arrived at the jail and parked in the garage, both defendants were outside of the vehicle when defendant DeBranca asked plaintiff, "You want to fight?" Plaintiff remained silent and did not respond. Then, defendant DeBranca opened the door and stepped back. Plaintiff stepped out and took one step toward defendant DeBranca. According to plaintiff, defendant DeBranca appeared angry and took hold of plaintiff's left arm with his left hand and put his right hand on plaintiff's left shoulder. At the same time, defendant Spadini put his right hand on plaintiff's right arm and his left hand on plaintiff's right shoulder. Together the defendants allegedly pushed plaintiff toward the vehicle with such force that plaintiff's head made contact with the trunk of the vehicle and caused a deep cut about three inches long across the center of his forehead. When plaintiff saw blood and felt the shock of pain, he tried to straighten up. Defendant DeBranca then held his clothing and waist chain and slung him to the ground. Both defendants then got on top of plaintiff, and defendant DeBranca used his knee to rub plaintiff's face in the cement causing a laceration on the left side of his face and lacerations around his head. (Am. Compl. at 5c-5d.)

Based on these allegations, plaintiff claims that the defendants used excessive force against him in violation of the Fourth Amendment. He also asserts state law claims for assault and battery as well as negligence. In terms of relief, plaintiff requests monetary damages and a declaratory judgment. (Am. Compl. at 5a.)


I. Defendants' Motion

Counsel for defendants argues that plaintiff failed to exhaust his available administrative remedies prior to filing this suit. Specifically, counsel argues that plaintiff is a "prisoner" for purposes of the exhaustion requirement because he was incarcerated when he filed this suit, and the alleged excessive force of which he complains constitutes a "prison condition." Defense counsel also argues that plaintiff had administrative remedies available to him. In this regard, defense counsel explains that the Yuba County Jail Inmate Handbook tells inmates that they may submit their complaints by filing a grievance form with Yuba County Jail personnel. Plaintiff, who was incarcerated in Chuckawalla Valley State Prison at the time he filed this lawsuit, also could have filed his grievance by mail according to defense counsel. Alternatively, counsel contends that plaintiff could have mailed his grievance to the Yuba County Grand Jury, the California Corrections Standards Authority, or the California Rural Legal Assistance. Defense counsel notes that plaintiff nonetheless failed to pursue, let alone exhaust, any of these administrative remedies. Finally, defense counsel argues that plaintiff's state law claims should be dismissed because they are based on the court's supplemental jurisdiction. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 4-6.)

II. Plaintiff's Opposition

In opposition to the pending motion to dismiss, plaintiff argues that the exhaustion requirement does not apply to him under these circumstances. Specifically, plaintiff argues that he was a prisoner at the time he filed this cause of action, but his incarceration was based on a conviction for petty theft with a prior and not related to the circumstances he alleges in his amended complaint filed with this court. Plaintiff also argues that his amended complaint does not concern "prison conditions" but rather is about the unreasonable force defendants used against him when he was a free citizen. Finally, plaintiff argues that he was never actually housed in the Yuba County Jail and never received the Inmate Handbook referred to by defense counsel. After the alleged incident in the parking garage with the defendants, plaintiff states that he was taken to the hospital and then back to the jail where he was booked and released on his own recognizance. (Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 1-3, 9-10.)

III. Defendants' Reply

In reply, defense counsel reiterates that plaintiff is a "prisoner" for purposes of the exhaustion requirement because he was incarcerated at the time he filed this suit. In addition, counsel repeats that excessive force is a "prison condition" because "prison condition" is defined broadly and includes "general circumstances or particular episodes." Finally, counsel notes that contrary to plaintiff's contention, he was incarcerated in the Yuba County Jail. According to defense counsel, plaintiff arrived at the jail at 7:56 p.m. on May 11, 2008, and remained there until 6:19 a.m. on May 12, 2008, except for the time he was at the hospital for medical clearance. Defense counsel argues that had plaintiff filed a grievance with the Yuba County Jail, the Yuba County Sheriff's Department would have investigated it and would have had the authority to take corrective action. (Defs.' Reply at 2-4.)


I. Legal Standards Applicable to a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Non-Enumerated Rule 12(b) By the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), Congress amended 42 U.S.C. § 1997e to provide that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The exhaustion requirement "applies to all inmate suits about prison life, whether they involve ...

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