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William Cecil Thornton v. Matthew Cate

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


February 23, 2011

WILLIAM CECIL THORNTON,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MATTHEW CATE, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Janis L. SammartinoUnited States District Judge

COMPLAINT FOR FAILING TO STATE A CLAIM PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) & 1915A(b)

ORDER SUA SPONTE DISMISSING FIRST AMENDED

I.

PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On July 27, 2010, Plaintiff, William Cecil Thornton, a state prisoner currently incarcerated at the California Correctional Institution located in Tehachapi, California and proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleged that his constitutional rights were violated when he was housed at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility ("RJD") in 2008. (See Compl. at 1.)

Plaintiff did not prepay the $350 civil filing fee required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a); instead he filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) [Doc. No. 2], as well as a Motion for Appointment of Counsel [Doc. No. 5]. On September 16, 2010, the Court granted Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP, denied Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of Counsel and dismissed his Complaint for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. See Sept. 16, 2010 Order at 7-8. Plaintiff was granted leave to file an Amended Complaint in order to correct the deficiencies of pleading identified by the Court. Id. Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint ("FAC") on November 5, 2010. In his FAC, Plaintiff no longer names Matthew Cate, Richard Hernandez or George Neotti as Defendants. Thus, these Defendants are dismissed from this action. See King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987).

II.

SUA SPONTE SCREENING PER 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) AND § 1915A

A. Standard

As stated in the Court's previous Order, the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") obligates the Court to review complaints filed by all persons proceeding IFP and by those, like Plaintiff, who are "incarcerated or detained in any facility [and] accused of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms or conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program," "as soon as practicable after docketing." See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b). Under these provisions, the Court must sua sponte dismiss any IFP or prisoner complaint, or any portion thereof, which is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim, or which seeks damages from defendants who are immune. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A; Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (§ 1915(e)(2)); Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 446 (9th Cir. 2000) (§ 1915A).

Before amendment by the PLRA, the former 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d) permitted sua sponte dismissal of only frivolous and malicious claims. Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1126, 1130. An action is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis in either law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989). However 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A now mandate that the court reviewing an IFP or prisoner's suit make and rule on its own motion to dismiss before effecting service of the Complaint by the U.S. Marshal pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 4(c)(2). Id. at 1127 ("[S]section 1915(e) not only permits, but requires a district court to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim."); see also Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A).

"[W]hen determining whether a complaint states a claim, a court must accept as true all allegations of material fact and must construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Resnick, 213 F.3d at 447; Barren, 152 F.3d at 1194 (noting that § 1915(e)(2) "parallels the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)"). In addition, the Court's duty to liberally construe a pro se's pleadings, see Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dept., 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988), is "particularly important in civil rights cases." Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir.1992).

B. Eighth Amendment claims

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Picatoste, a nurse at RJD, refused to provide him with medical care and that the injury to his back did not "warrant medical care." (See FAC at 3.) "The unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain upon incarcerated individuals under color of law constitutes a violation of the Eighth Amendment." Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1056-57 (9th Cir. 2004) (citing McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992)). A violation of the Eighth Amendment occurs when prison officials are deliberately indifferent to a prisoner's medical needs. Id.; see also Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S.97, 105 (1976).

To allege an Eighth Amendment violation, a prisoner must "satisfy both the objective and subjective components of a two-part test." Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 744 (9th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). First, he must allege that prison officials deprived him of the "minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Id. (citation omitted). Second, he must allege the prison official "acted with deliberate indifference in doing so." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

A prison official acts with "deliberate indifference ... only if [he is alleged to] know[] of and disregard[] an excessive risk to inmate health and safety." Gibson v. County of Washoe, Nevada, 290 F.3d 1175, 1187 (9th Cir. 2002) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Under this standard, the official must be alleged to "be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exist[ed]," and must also be alleged to also have drawn that inference. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). "If a [prison official] should have been aware of the risk, but was not, then the [official] has not violated the Eighth Amendment, no matter how severe the risk." Gibson, 290 F.3d at 1188 (citation omitted). This "subjective approach" focuses only "on what a defendant's mental attitude actually was." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 839. "Mere negligence in diagnosing or treating a medical condition, without more, does not violate a prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights." McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1059 (alteration and citation omitted).

Plaintiff attaches a number of medical records to his First Amended Complaint. These records indicate that he was examined by Defendant Picatoste on May 8, 2008 and they also show that Plaintiff was prescribed pain medication on that same day. (See FAC, Health Care Services Request Form dated May 8, 2008.) It appears that Plaintiff disagrees with the choice of medication he was prescribed. However, mere "difference of medical opinion" between a prisoner and his physicians concerning the appropriate course of treatment is "insufficient, as a matter of law, to establish deliberate indifference." Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1996). Instead, to allege deliberate indifference regarding choices between alternative courses of treatment, a prisoner must allege that the chosen course of treatment "was medically unacceptable under the circumstances," and was chosen "in conscious disregard of an excessive risk to [the prisoner's] health." Id. (citation omitted). Plaintiff has failed to allege any facts from which the Court could find that Defendants acted with deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs.

D. Fourteenth Amendment claim

Plaintiff also claims that the actions of Defendants caused his release date to be delayed by several weeks. (See FAC at 4-5.) However, Plaintiff cannot bring these claims under § 1983. A prisoner simply may not use a civil rights action to challenge the "fact or duration of his confinement." Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 489 (1973). The prisoner must seek federal habeas corpus relief instead. Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 78 (2005) (quoting Preiser, 411 U.S. at 489). Thus, Plaintiff's civil action "is barred (absent prior invalidation)--no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of his suit (state conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings)--if success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration." Id. at 82. Thus, Plaintiff's claims relating to the validity of his release date are dismissed without leave to amend in this action.

Plaintiff claims that his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment have been denied by the failure to properly process his administrative grievances. (See FAC at 5.) The Fourteenth Amendment provides that: "[n]o state shall ... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. CONST. amend. XIV, § 1. "The requirements of procedural due process apply only to the deprivation of interests encompassed by the Fourteenth Amendment's protection of liberty and property." Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569 (1972). State statutes and prison regulations may grant prisoners liberty or property interests sufficient to invoke due process protection. Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 223-27 (1976). To state a procedural due process claim, Plaintiff must allege: "(1) a liberty or property interest protected by the Constitution; (2) a deprivation of the interest by the government; [and] (3) lack of process." Wright v. Riveland, 219 F.3d 905, 913 (9th Cir. 2000).

However, the Ninth Circuit has held that prisoners have no protected property interest in an inmate grievance procedure arising directly from the Due Process Clause. See Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 869 (9th Cir. 2003) ("[I]nmates lack a separate constitutional entitlement to a specific prison grievance procedure") (citing Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988) (finding that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment creates "no legitimate claim of entitlement to a [prison] grievance procedure")); accord Adams v. Rice, 40 F.3d 72, 75 (4th Cir. 1994) (1995); Buckley v. Barlow, 997 F.2d 494, 495 (8th Cir. 1993).

In addition, Plaintiff has failed to plead facts sufficient to show that prison official deprived him of a protected liberty interest by allegedly failing to respond to his prison grievances in a satisfactory manner. While a liberty interest can arise from state law or prison regulations, Meachum, 427 U.S. at 223-27, due process protections are implicated only if Plaintiff alleges facts to show that Defendants: (1) restrained his freedom in a manner not expected from his sentence, and (2) "impose[d] atypical and significant hardship on [him] in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995);

Neal v. Shimoda, 131 F.3d 818, 827-28 (9th Cir. 1997). Plaintiff pleads nothing to suggest how the allegedly inadequate review and consideration of his inmate grievances amounted to a restraint on his freedom not contemplated by his original sentence or how it resulted in an "atypical" and "significant hardship." Sandin, 515 U.S. at 483-84.

Thus, to the extent Plaintiff challenges the procedural adequacy of inmate grievance procedures, his First Amended Complaint fails to state a due process claim.

III.

CONCLUSION AND ORDER

Good cause appearing therefor, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

(1) Defendants Cate, Hernandez and Neotti are DISMISSED from this action. See King, 814 F.2d at 567.

(2) Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A(b). However, Plaintiff is GRANTED forty five (45) days leave from the date this Order is filed in which to file a Second Amended Complaint which cures all the deficiencies of pleading noted above. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint must be complete in itself without reference to his previous pleading. See S.D. CAL. CIVLR 15.1. Defendants not named and all claims not re-alleged in the Amended Complaint will be considered waived. See King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987).

(3) The Clerk of Court is directed to mail a court approved form § 1983 complaint to Plaintiff.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

20110223

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