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Robert G. Baker v. James J. Walker

April 5, 2011

ROBERT G. BAKER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JAMES J. WALKER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



ORDER

Plaintiff is an inmate at California State Prison -- Sacramento ("CSP-Sac") proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and is before the undersigned pursuant to plaintiff's consent. See 28 U.S.C. § 636; see also E.D. Cal. R., Appx. A, at (k)(4).

Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted," or "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Id. § 1915A(b).

The court has reviewed plaintiff's amended complaint and, for the limited purposes of § 1915A screening, finds that it states cognizable claims against defendants T. Virga, K. Brandon, C. Villasenor, and G. Parker.*fn1

For the reasons stated below, the complaint does not state a cognizable claim against defendants A.J. Malfi and Ventimiglia. These claims will therefore be dismissed with leave to amend.

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, __ U.S. __, 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.

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). An individual defendant is not liable on a civil rights claim unless the facts establish the defendant's personal involvement in the constitutional deprivation or a causal connection between the defendant's wrongful conduct and the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 646 (9th Cir. 1989); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743-44 (9th Cir. 1978).

With regard to defendant A.J. Malfi, plaintiff alleges only that this defendant "was the acting warden of C.S.P. Sac at the time the events in this Complaint occurred and was legally responsible for all operations within C.S.P. Sac and for the welfare of all inmates in this prison." Am. Compl. at 2. There is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983. Palmer v. Sanderson, 9 F.3d 1433, 1437-38 (9th Cir. 1993). That is, plaintiff may not sue any supervisor on a theory that the supervisor is liable for the acts of his or her subordinates. See Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 n(1981). "Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to . . . § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1948. A supervisor may be liable "for constitutional violations of his subordinates if the supervisor participated in or directed the violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them." Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). Plaintiff does not allege that defendant Malfi personally violated plaintiff's rights. Nor does plaintiff allegethat defendant Malfi directed or authorized any actions of other defendants that amounted to a violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights. See Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1948; Taylor, 880 F.2d at 1045. Plaintiff's claims against defendant Malfi must therefore be dismissed, but plaintiff will be given leave to amend to state a cognizable claim against defendant Malfi that is related to his claim against the remaining defendants.

With regard to defendant Ventimiglia, plaintiff alleges only that he or she "is a Lieutenant of C.D.C.R.'s Institutional Gang Investigations Unit and assumes the current responsibility of approving/disapproving all validation packets as well [as] making sure all new validation procedures and rights are being met." Am. Compl. at 2. Plaintiff's amended complaint contains no facts showing personal involvement by defendant Ventimiglia in plaintiff's validation or subsequent placement and retention in administrative segregation. Accordingly, plaintiff's claims against defendant Ventimiglia must be dismissed, but plaintiff will be given leave to amend to state a cognizable claim showing this defendant's personal involvement in the alleged unconstitutional conduct.

Plaintiff may proceed forthwith to serve defendants T. Virga, K. Brandon, C. Villasenor, and G. Parker and pursue his claims against only those defendants or he may delay serving any defendant and attempt again to state a cognizable claim against defendants Malfi and Ventimiglia.

If plaintiff elects to attempt to amend his complaint to state a cognizable claim against defendants Malfi and Ventimiglia, he has 30 days so to do. He is not obligated to amend his complaint. However, if plaintiff elects to proceed forthwith against defendants T. Virga, K. Brandon, C. Villasenor, and G. Parker, against whom he has stated a cognizable claim for relief, then within 30 days he must return materials for service of process enclosed herewith. In this event the court will construe plaintiff's election as consent to dismissal of all claims against defendants Malfi and Ventimiglia, without prejudice.

Any 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 ...


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