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Francisco Uriarte v. Arnold Schwarzenegger

October 18, 2011

FRANCISCO URIARTE,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Michael M. Anello United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER RE: DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT [Doc. No. 158]

Plaintiff Francisco Uriarte is a California inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On August 26, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint, asserting claims against officials at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California.*fn1 Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.*fn2 On October 7, 2010, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. On February 10, 2011, Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' motion.

BACKGROUND

This matter arises out of events occurring on or about February 7, 2004 during Plaintiff's incarceration at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility.*fn3 According to Plaintiff, Defendant Correctional Officer Martinez was working the tower/control panel in Building 13. Plaintiff states that the door to his cell (number 146) was opened less than halfway. Plaintiff began to cross the threshold of the cell sideways because the opening was not large enough to accommodate the full width of his body. While Plaintiff was doing so, Defendant Martinez closed the cell door and crushed Plaintiff between the cell door and door jamb. Plaintiff's cell mate allegedly yelled to Defendant Martinez to open the door. Plaintiff asserts Defendant Martinez did not open the door until he had finished releasing the other inmates from their cells. Defendant Martinez "then slightly released the pressure and re-slammed the metal door upon Plaintiff's body" for a second time. [SAC ¶ 18.]

Plaintiff believed he had been seriously injured as a result of the cell door twice closing on him. Plaintiff requested medical treatment but Defendant Martinez refused to send him for medical attention. Plaintiff then requested assistance from Defendant Correctional Officer Hurm, who had witnessed the incident, but he also refused Plaintiff's request for medical attention. From February 7, 2004 to February 13, 2004, Plaintiff requested medical attention from Defendant Medical Technical Assistant ("MTA") Williams, Defendant Correctional Officer Jones, Defendant Correctional Officer Ramirez, Defendant Sergeant Spence, Defendant MTA Reed, and Defendant MTA Camacho. According to Plaintiff, each individual refused to authorize medical attention for Plaintiff.

On or about February 13, 2004, Defendant Dr. Jenkin examined Plaintiff. At Dr. Jenkin's instruction, Plaintiff's left side was x-rayed on February 17, 2004. The x-ray report indicated "[t]here is a healing fracture of the left 9th anterior rib. No other fractures visualized." [SAC Ex. "B."]. Plaintiff alleges he was not informed of the results of the x-ray, nor given proper medical attention, but when additional x-rays were taken on May 5, 2004, they revealed the healing fracture in his left 9th anterior rib, as well as an old fracture of the fifth right lateral rib; mild AC osteoarthritis in his left shoulder; loss of normal cervical lordosis, and mild degenerative disc disease in his cervical spine.

LEGAL STANDARD

A complaint survives a motion to dismiss if it contains "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The court reviews the contents of the complaint, accepting all factual allegations as true, and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party. Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1072 (9th Cir. 2005). Notwithstanding this deference, the reviewing court need not accept "legal conclusions" as true. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Moreover, it is improper for a court to assume "the [plaintiff] can prove facts that [he] has not alleged." Associated General Contractors of California, Inc. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). "The pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). Thus, "[w]hile legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then decide whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. Accordingly, a reviewing court may begin "by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id.

"When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. 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. at 1949. "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." Id. "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. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when (1) they used excessive force against Plaintiff, and (2) were deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs and exposed him to unsafe conditions of confinement. Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

I. EXCESSIVE FORCE

Based on the events described above, Plaintiff alleges Defendants "needlessly and unreasonably subjected" him to "unnecessary and deadly force and threats of great bodily injury and death." [SAC ¶ 155.] Claims of excessive force arising "after conviction and sentence are analyzed under the Eighth Amendment's 'cruel and unusual punishment' analysis." See Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1 (1992); Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 448 (9th Cir. 2000). When an inmate claims that prison officials violated his Eighth Amendment rights by using excessive force, the relevant inquiry is "whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Hudson v. McMillan, 503 U.S. 1, 7 (1992).

An Eighth Amendment violation occurs only when an inmate is subjected to the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986). In determining whether a particular use of force was applied "in a good faith effort to restore discipline or maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm," the court should consider such factors as the need for the use of force, the relationship between the need for force and the amount actually used, and the extent of the injury sustained by the prisoner. See id. at 321-22. Furthermore, prison officials have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect inmates from physical abuse. Hoptowit v. Ray, 682 F.2d 1237, 1250 (9th Cir. 1982).

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment excessive force claim against Defendants Hurm, Spence, Jones and Ramirez on the ground that Plaintiff's allegations do not "provide any plausible theory showing how these Defendants could have caused Plaintiff to be crushed by the cell door on February 7, 2004." [Doc. No. 158 at 14.] The Court considers the allegations against these individual Defendants below.

(A) Defendant Hurm

Plaintiff alleges Defendant Hurm knew excessive force was being used and that Defendant Hurm was in a position to stop it. Defendant Hurm was the floor officer on duty, and witnessed the events which resulted in Plaintiff's injuries. However, Defendants argue "[a]fter two opportunities to amend his complaint, Plaintiff fails to allege concrete facts making a plausible showing that but for Officer Hurm's conduct, Plaintiff would not have suffered the injuries allegedly caused by Officer Martinez." [Doc. No. 158 at 13.]

The Ninth Circuit has held that "a prison official can violate a prisoner's Eighth Amendment rights by failing to intervene" in the violation imposed by someone else. Robins v. Meecham, 60 F.3d 1436, 1442 (9th Cir. 1995). A defendant may be held liable for failing to intervene when he had enough time to observe what was happening and to intervene in the conduct but failed to do so. Lanier v. City of Fresno, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 130459 at *17 (E.D. Cal.

Dec. 8, 2010). Plaintiff's factual allegations support his claim against Defendant Hurm. Plaintiff alleges "C/O Hurm watched Plaintiff being crushed between the metal door and metal door frame. He refused to act or intervene in any manner whatsoever to defuse or prevent the unnecessary force and assault being committed by C/O Martinez." [SAC ¶ 19.]

Accepting Plaintiff's allegations as true, as the Court must on a motion to dismiss, the Court finds Plaintiff has sufficiently stated an Eighth Amendment excessive force allegation against Defendant Hurm. Accordingly, Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's ...


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