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Jeremy Robert Christensen v. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

March 16, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Jeremy Robert Christensen ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. At the time of the events described in his complaint, Plaintiff was in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") and incarcerated at Avenal State Prison in Avenal, California ("ASP"). Plaintiff names Arnold Schwarzenegger (governor of California), Matthew Cates (head of CDCR), James D. Hartley (warden of ASP), Arline (captain), and S. Garcia (senior hearing officer) as defendants. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Plaintiff's complaint fails to state any cognizable claims. The Court will dismiss Plaintiff's complaint, with leave to file an amended complaint which cures the deficiencies identified in this order.

I. 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 fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). "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 fails to state a claim, the Court uses the same pleading standard used 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. 544, 555 (2007)). "[A] complaint must contain 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] 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.'" Id. (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. Id. "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. Background

Plaintiff claims that he was a victim of sexual assault and harassment while incarcerated at ASP. Plaintiff claims that Defendants were deliberately indifferent toward Plaintiff's victimization.

Plaintiff claims that Michael Verducci (not named as a defendant) taught an ASP Facility 3 yard vocational class. Plaintiff alleges that numerous inmates complained about Verducci's inappropriate conduct. Plaintiff filed multiple complaints about Verducci, but the complaints were screened out or ignored. Plaintiff claims that he was threatened with a transfer to another institution after filing a complaint.

On one occasion, Plaintiff was placed on "A-I-C Status without any form of unit classification committee action and punished for refusing to return to class." (Compl. 4, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff refused to return to class because he did not want to be abused by Verducci. Plaintiff characterizes the punishment as "illegal" because "all program review and custody review actions are supposed to be processed and inacted[sic] by a unit classification committee, not a senior hearing officer." (Compl. 5, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff was placed on "A-I-C Status" on December 19, 2008 and was not removed from "A-I-C Status" until June 17, 2009.

At the Unit Classification Hearing on June 17, 2009, Defendant Arline showed Plaintiff a list of vocational trades and asked if any of the trades interested him. Plaintiff indicated that he was interested, but noted that none of the trades were offered at ASP. Arline then informed Plaintiff that he would be transferred to another prison. Plaintiff was asked if there was a problem with this proposed course of action and Plaintiff responded, "You are going to do whatever you want to anyways, but I do not want to be transferred." (Compl. 8, ECF No. 1.) After the meeting, Plaintiff filed a complaint contending that the committee's actions were retaliatory in nature. Plaintiff does not allege that he was actually transferred to another prison.

III. Discussion

A. Eighth Amendment Claims

Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated the Eighth Amendment through their deliberate indifference toward Plaintiff's sexual abuse. The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishments and "embodies 'broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity and decency.'" Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976) (quoting Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, 579 (8th Cir. 1968)). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) the objective requirement that the deprivation is "sufficiently serious," and (2) the subjective requirement that the prison official has a "sufficiently culpable state of mind." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)).

The objective requirement that the deprivation be "sufficiently serious" is met where the prison official's act or omission results in the denial of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Id. (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). The subjective "sufficiently culpable state of mind" requirement is met when a prison official acts with "deliberate indifference" to inmate health or safety. Id. (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 302-303). A prison official acts with deliberate indifference when he or she "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety." Id. at 837. "[T]he ...

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