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Lonnie Williams v. Guzman

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


March 18, 2011

LONNIE WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GUZMAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

ORDER

Lonnie Williams, an inmate confined at California State Prison -- Sacramento, filed this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition to filing a complaint, plaintiff has filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

I. Screening Order

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the court shall review "a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). "On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Id. § 1915A(b).

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements:

(1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

A district court must construe a pro se pleading "liberally" to determine if it states a claim and, prior to dismissal, tell a plaintiff of deficiencies in his complaint and give plaintiff an opportunity to cure them. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000). While detailed factual allegations are not required, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth "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 claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement," but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.

Id. (citations and quotation marks omitted). Although legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations, and are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. at 1950.

Plaintiff's complaint contains two claims. First, plaintiff alleges that defendant Guzman has refused to answer his inmate grievances since June 27, 2010. Dckt. No. 1 at 5. Second, plaintiff alleges that defendant McElroy served him a poisoned breakfast on January 6, 2011. Id. at 6. In asserting two unrelated claims against different defendants, plaintiff has violated Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2). Under that rule, multiple defendants may be joined in a single action only where a claim asserted against the defendants arose "out of the same transactions or occurrences" and "any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action."

See also George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007) ("[u]nrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits"). Simply put, "Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2." Id. "Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits[.]" Id.

The joinder of plaintiff's unrelated claims in this action is particularly problematic because plaintiff has filed three or more actions that have been dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or for failing to state a claim and has accordingly been designated a "three strikes" litigant under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).*fn1 Williams v. Gonzalez, No. 03-6770, Dckt. No. 24, Order of September 10, 2004. Thus, plaintiff is not entitled to proceed in forma pauperis unless he is under imminent danger of serious physical injury. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). While plaintiff's claim against defendant McElroy may pass this test, plaintiff's wholly unrelated claim against defendant Guzman does not.

Accordingly, if plaintiff wishes to continue this litigation he must file an amended complaint, containing only claims that are related under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 18-20. If plaintiff wishes to pursue unrelated claims, he must do so in separate actions (e.g., pursue one claim in this action and file a new lawsuit to pursue the second, unrelated claim).

A prisoner pursuing civil rights claims without counsel, like all other litigants, is required to obey the court's orders, including an order to amend his pleading. Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1260-61 (9th Cir. 1992); Pagtalunan v. Galaza, 291 F.3d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 2002). His failure to obey the court's orders and the local and federal rules and meet his responsibilities in prosecuting this action may justify dismissal, including dismissal with prejudice. Ferdik, 963 F.2d at 1262-63 (affirming dismissal with prejudice for pro se prisoner's failure to comply with order requiring filing of amended civil rights complaint); Pagtalunan, 291 F.3d at 642 (affirming dismissal with prejudice for pro se prisoner's failure to comply with order requiring filing of amended habeas petition); Moore v. United States, 193 F.R.D. 647, 653 (N.D. Cal. 2000) (denying motion for leave to file third amended complaint and dismissing action with prejudice for pro se plaintiff's failure to comply with Rule 8); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1232-33 (9th Cir. 1984) (affirming dismissal with prejudice for pro se prisoner's failure to prosecute); Carey v. King, 856 F.2d 1439, 1441 (9th Cir. 1988) (affirming dismissal without prejudice for pro se prisoner's failure to comply with local rule requiring he notify the court of any change of address).

Plaintiff's amended complaint must adhere to the following requirements: It must be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. E.D. Cal. Local Rule 220; see Loux v. Rhay, 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Once plaintiff files an amended complaint, the original pleading is superseded.

It must show that the federal court has jurisdiction and that plaintiff's action is brought in the right place, that plaintiff is entitled to relief if plaintiff's allegations are true, and must contain a request for particular relief. Plaintiff must identify as a defendant only persons who personally participated in a substantial way in depriving plaintiff of a federal constitutional right. Johnson, 588 F.2d at 743 (a person subjects another to the deprivation of a constitutional right if he does an act, participates in another's act or omits to perform an act he is legally required to do that causes the alleged deprivation).

It must contain a caption including the name of the court and the names of all parties. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a).

Plaintiff may join multiple claims if they are all against a single defendant. Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a). If plaintiff has more than one claim based upon separate transactions or occurrences, the claims must be set forth in separate paragraphs. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b). Unrelated claims against different defendants must be pursued in multiple lawsuits. "The controlling principle appears in Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a): 'A party asserting a claim . . . may join, [] as independent or as alternate claims, as many claims . . . as the party has against an opposing party.' Thus multiple claims against a single party are fine, but Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2. Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits, not only to prevent the sort of morass [a multiple claim, multiple defendant] suit produce[s], but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees-for the Prison Litigation Reform Act limits to 3 the number of frivolous suits or appeals that any prisoner may file without prepayment of the required fees. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)." George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2) (joinder of defendants not permitted unless both commonality and same transaction requirements are satisfied). Plaintiff may not change the nature of this suit by alleging new, unrelated claims in an amended complaint. George, 507 F.3d at 607 (no "buckshot" complaints).

The allegations must be short and plain, simple and direct and describe the relief plaintiff seeks. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a); Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002); Galbraith v. County of Santa Clara, 307 F.3d 1119, 1125 (9th Cir. 2002). A long, rambling pleading, including many defendants with unexplained, tenuous or implausible connection to the alleged constitutional injury or joining a series of unrelated claims against many defendants very likely will result in delaying the review required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and an order dismissing plaintiff's action pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for violation of these instructions.

Plaintiff must sign the complaint. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(a). By signing an amended complaint, plaintiff certifies he has made reasonable inquiry and has evidentiary support for his allegations and that for violation of this rule the court may impose sanctions sufficient to deter repetition by plaintiff or others. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11.

A prisoner may bring no § 1983 action until he has exhausted such administrative remedies as are available to him. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The requirement is mandatory. Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001). By signing an amended complaint plaintiff certifies his claims are warranted by existing law, including the law that he exhaust administrative remedies, and that for violation of this rule plaintiff risks dismissal of his entire action.

II. Order

Accordingly, it hereby is ordered that plaintiff's complaint is dismissed with leave to amend within 30 days. Any amended complaint must bear the docket number assigned to this case and be titled "First Amended Complaint." Failure to comply with this order will result in a recommendation that this action be dismissed.


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