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Fernando Millsap v. Matthew Cate

September 1, 2011

FERNANDO MILLSAP, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MATTHEW CATE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants move to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons explained below, defendants' motion to dismiss must be denied.

I. Facts

This action proceeds on the July 28, 2010, complaint, in which plaintiff claims that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights. Plaintiff alleges that he was assigned to the upper bunk of a double-cell at CSP Sacramento that was originally designed to hold only one inmate. The upper bunk is placed approximately 5.5 feet above the floor. Inmates ascend to and descend from the upper bunk by means of a metal desk stool on the wall opposite the bunks. The stool is welded to the wall. The stool is 3-4 feet away from the bunk and is about 1.5 feet above the ground. According to plaintiff, to get to the upper bunk, an inmate must step onto the stool and then move or jump three feet across and four feet up onto the upper bunk. On the way down, an inmate must jump four feet down onto steel.

Plaintiff alleges that he was injured trying to ascend to the upper bunk on November 16, 2009. He says that the stool collapsed while he was standing on it, causing him to fall backwards on the desk and then onto the floor. Plaintiff was transported to medical where doctors determined that he had suffered multiple muscle contusions and swelling of his rib cage.

Maintenance staff Byron Harris came a few days later to repair the stool. He told plaintiff that the original weld of the stool had failed to make complete contact with the back plate from the stool joint, and the weld had become weak over time.

Plaintiff alleges that defendants had been made aware of the unsafe conditions that resulted in his injury. He attaches a copy of another inmate's internal appeal, which was denied at the Director's Level on October 26, 2009. Compl., Ex. E. The other inmate, Harrison Scott, complained that climbing up and jumping down from his upper bunk was unsafe and exposed him to injury. He asked that ladders be installed in the cells. The appeal was denied at the Director's Level by N. Grannis, and copies of the denial were sent to the prison's Warden and Appeals Coordinator.

II. Standards on Motion to Dismiss

In order to survive a motion to dismiss under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' " Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "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." Id.

The complaint's factual allegations are accepted as true. Church of Scientology of Cal. v. Flynn, 744 F.2d 694, 696 (9th Cir. 1984). The court construes the pleading in the light most favorable to plaintiff and resolves all doubts in plaintiff's favor. Parks Sch. of Bus., Inc. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972).

III. Analysis

Defendants argue that plaintiff has not pled facts showing that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights "by failing to maintain in good repair, and prevent the collapse of, the step stool used by Millsap to access the upper bunk." Mot. at 3. Defendants also argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 7-9.

A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment's proscription of cruel and unusual punishment where he or she deprives a prisoner of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities with a "sufficiently culpable state of mind." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, (1994). A prisoner must allege facts showing that (1) the defendant prison official's conduct deprived him or her of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities and (2) that the defendant acted with deliberate indifference to the prisoner's health or safety. Id. at 834. To show deliberate indifference, the prisoner must allege that the defendant knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to inmate health or safety; "the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Id. at 837.

Defendants argue that plaintiff has not alleged that they knew that his stool had a poor weld and therefore posed a risk of substantial harm. Defendants focus narrowly on the broken stool as the sole cause of plaintiff's injuries. But defendants unduly narrow their statement of the nature of plaintiff's claim. Plaintiff claims that he was injured because his cell was constructed in such a way that necessitated a process of getting on and off of his bunk that was dangerous. Because the upper bunk was five feet above the floor and there was no way to get on or off of the bunk without jumping from the stool, the design of the cell itself posed a risk of substantial harm. See Pl's Opp'n at 8 ("Defendants['] failure to abolish practice of double celling in cells that were originally designed for one occupant without the installment of a safety apparatus (i.e. a ladder) violate[s] the eighth amendment"). Although plaintiff's injury happened when his stool collapsed due to a faulty weld, the design of the cell itself is alleged to pose a substantial risk of harm to him and to be a cause of his injury.*fn1

Defendants argue that they were not personally aware of the unsafe conditions in plaintiff's cell. Defendants may be liable under section 1983 if they (1) personally participated in the alleged deprivation of constitutional rights, (2) knew of the violations and failed to prevent them, or (3) promulgated or "implement[ed] a policy so deficient that the policy itself is a repudiation of constitutional rights and is the moving force of the constitutional violation." Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 646 (9th Cir. 1989) (citations and internal quotations omitted); see also Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). Here, plaintiff alleges that defendants were aware of the substantial risk posed by the design of the cell because of appeals submitted by other inmates who had been injured trying to get up or down from the upper bunk, but failed to prevent his injuries by correcting the unsafe design of the cell. Specifically, plaintiff attaches an appeal by inmate ...


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