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Richard Paredez v. James Yates


October 3, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dennis L. Beck United States Magistrate Judge


I. Background

Plaintiff Richard Paredez ("Plaintiff") is a prisoner in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"). Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.§ 1983. Plaintiff initiated this action by filing his complaint on September 15, 2010. Doc. 1. On May 6, 2011, the Court screened Plaintiff's complaint and found that it stated a cognizable retaliation claim against Defendant Ramirez, but failed to state any other claims. Doc. 9. Plaintiff was provided the opportunity to either file a first amended complaint or notify the Court of his willingness to proceed only against Defendant Ramirez. On May 31, 2011, Plaintiff filed his first amended complaint. Doc. 11.

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).

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). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Id.

II. Summary Of First Amended Complaint

Plaintiff was previously incarcerated at Pleasant Valley State Prison ("PVSP") in Coalinga, California, where the events giving rise to this action occurred. Plaintiff names as Defendants: warden James Yates, and correctional officers M. Hernandez, Phealon, John Doe, and Ramirez.

Plaintiff alleges the following. Defendant Yates was aware of numerous inmate grievances filed against Defendant Hernandez and failed to act by minimizing Defendant Hernandez's contact with inmates. Am. Compl. 3A-B. On August 7, 2009, Defendant Hernandez forced Plaintiff out of his assigned cell and to Plaintiff's knees. Id. at 3C. A cell search was conducted, during which Defendant Hernandez threatened Plaintiff and his cell mate for disrespecting Defendant Hernandez's first watch officer. Id. at 3D. Defendant Hernandez swept Plaintiff's property onto the floor, including a bowl of soup onto Plaintiff's personal property. Id. Plaintiff sat on his knees and handcuffed behind his back. Id. Defendant Hernandez grabbed Plaintiff by his wrist and lifted him to his feet, bending the wrist until Plaintiff moaned in pain. Id. He then shoved Plaintiff into the cell. Id. Plaintiff contends that his left wrist was swollen and had scarring. Id. at 3B. Plaintiff also contends that he suffered psychological and mental injury. Id. at 3F. Defendant Hernandez placed Plaintiff and his cell mate on CTQ (confined to quarters) status. Id. at 3G-3H. Defendant Phealon witnessed Defendant Hernandez's alleged use of excessive force and failed to act. Id. at 3I-3J. Defendant John Doe was the watch tower officer who opened Plaintiff's cell door to allow Defendants Hernandez and Phealon to act. Id. at 3K-3L. Defendant John Doe did not act to prevent excessive force, and did not allow Plaintiff to leave his CTQ without prior approval from the A-yard captain. Id. at 3L. Plaintiff was not permitted to seek medical attention for his alleged injuries because of the CTQ. Id. at 3M.

On August 10, 2009, Defendant Ramirez was packing Plaintiff's property and found a grievance written by Plaintiff concerning being wrongfully placed on CTQ by Defendant Hernandez. Id. at 3N. Defendant Ramirez removed the grievance from Plaintiff's property and shoved it into Defendant's open shirt. Id. Defendant handcuffed Plaintiff and escorted him to counselor's office. Id. There, correctional officers B. Davis and John Doe 2 yelled at Plaintiff and attempted to get Plaintiff to lie and say that Plaintiff and his cell mate owed money. Id. at 3O. Plaintiff refused, and Defendant Ramirez became angry. Id. Defendant Ramirez asked why Plaintiff was trying to take down his partner (presumably, Defendant Hernandez). Id. Defendant Ramirez told Plaintiff that he would not come back to the yard if he stated that he owed money. Id. Plaintiff refused, at which point Defendant Ramirez informed Plaintiff that his life was going to be hell on this yard and that Plaintiff could not file his 602 grievance. Id.

Defendant Ramirez told Plaintiff Defendant Hernandez would return tomorrow to handle Plaintiff personally. Id. Defendant then secured Plaintiff in the C-section shower for 3 hours during the night dayroom program, while leaving Plaintiff's cell door open. Id. Because Plaintiff was afraid for his life, he took a razor to his wrist to attempt suicide in order to be removed from the cell before Defendant Hernandez returned. Id.

Plaintiff requests as relief monetary damages for past and future pain and suffering, including shame, humiliation, emotional distress, mental distress, and for the use of excessive force.

III. Analysis

A. Eighth Amendment - Excessive Force

"What is necessary to show sufficient harm for purposes of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause [of the Eighth Amendment] depends upon the claim at issue . . . ." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992). "The objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim is . . . contextual and responsive to contemporary standards of decency." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The malicious and sadistic use of force to cause harm always violates contemporary standards of decency, regardless of whether or not significant injury is evident. Id. at 9; see also Oliver v. Keller, 289 F.3d 623, 628 (9th Cir. 2002) (Eighth Amendment excessive force standard examines de minimis uses of force, not de minimis injuries). However, not "every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action." Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9. "The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments necessarily excludes from constitutional recognition de minimis uses of physical force, provided that the use of force is not of a sort repugnant to the conscience of mankind." Id. at 9-10 (internal quotations marks and citations omitted).

Plaintiff fails to state a claim against Defendant Hernandez. The alleged force used by Defendant Hernandez in this instance is at most de minimis. "A prison official can violate a prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights by failing to intervene." Robins v. Meecham, 60 F.3d 1436, 1442 (9th Cir. 1995). Plaintiff fails to state a claim against Defendants Phealon and Doe. First, Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged that the use of force here was excessive. Second, Plaintiff fails to allege facts which indicate Defendants Phealon and Doe had the opportunity to intervene.

B. Eighth Amendment - Medical Care

Plaintiff contends that Defendant John Doe did not allow Plaintiff seek medical care for his swollen wrist. The Eighth Amendment prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. "The Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quotation and citation omitted). A prisoner's claim of inadequate medical care does not rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation unless (1) "the prison official deprived the prisoner of the 'minimal civilized measure of life's necessities,'" and (2) "the prison official 'acted with deliberate indifference in doing so.'" Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1057 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 744 (9th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted)). The deliberate indifference standard involves an objective and a subjective prong. First, the alleged deprivation must be, in objective terms, "sufficiently serious . . . ." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)). Second, the prison official must "know[] of and disregard[] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety . . . ." Id. at 837.

Plaintiff fails to allege a sufficiently serious harm, and thus fails to state a claim against John Doe for denial of medical care.

C. Supervisory Liability

Plaintiff names warden Yates as a Defendant, based on a theory of supervisory liability. The term "supervisory liability," loosely and commonly used by both courts and litigants alike, is a misnomer. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "Government officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior." Id. at 1948. Rather, each government official, regardless of his or her title, is only liable for his or her own misconduct. When the named defendant holds a supervisory position, the causal link between the defendant and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley, 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). To state a claim for relief under § 1983 for supervisory liability, Plaintiff must allege some facts indicating that the defendant either: personally participated in the alleged deprivation of constitutional rights; knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them; or promulgated or "implemented 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) (internal citations omitted); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989).

Because Plaintiff fails to allege an excessive force claim against Defendant Hernandez, he also fails to state a claim against Defendant Yates on a theory of supervisory liability. Plaintiff has not alleged facts which demonstrate Defendant Yates had knowledge of an underlying constitutional violation against Plaintiff and failed to act.

D. First Amendment - Inmate Grievance

Prisoners have a constitutional right to file inmate grievances. Brodheim v. Cry, 584 F.3d 1262, 1269 (9th Cir. 2009) (citing Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 566 (9th Cir. 2005), and Bruce v. Ylst, 351 F.3d 1283, 1288 (9th Cir. 2003)). Here, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Hernandez and Doe prevented Plaintiff from filing an inmate grievance by placing him on CTQ status. Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged a claim. Plaintiff fails to allege sufficient facts which indicate that Defendants Hernandez and Doe prevented Plaintiff from filing an inmate grievance regarding this issue. Being placed on CTQ appears to be a temporary status, and it is not clear if CTQ status would prevent Plaintiff from filing his grievance.

Plaintiff does state a cognizable First Amendment claim against Defendant Ramirez. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Ramirez told him that he could not file a grievance against Defendant Hernandez, and that Defendant Hernandez would be in to work the next day to handle Plaintiff personally. Defendant Ramirez also allegedly took Plaintiff's inmate grievance from his property. This is sufficient to allege a chilling effect on Plaintiff's right to file an inmate grievance. Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 567.

IV. Conclusion And Recommendation

Based on the foregoing, it is HEREBY RECOMMENDED that:

1. This action proceed against Defendant Ramirez for violation of the First Amendment by denying Plaintiff the right to file an inmate grievance;

2. Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Yates, Hernandez, Phealon, and John Doe are dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; and

3. Defendants Yates, Hernandez, Phealon, and John Doe be dismissed from this action.

These Findings and Recommendations will be submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Within twenty-one (21) days after being served with these Findings and Recommendations, the Plaintiff may file written objections with the Court. The document should be captioned "Objections to Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations." Plaintiff is advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to appeal the District Court's order. Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153, 1156-57 (9th Cir. 1991).




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