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Daniel Joseph Carpenter v. Arnold Schwarzenegger

November 14, 2011

DANIEL JOSEPH CARPENTER,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 1).

The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it: (1) is frivolous or malicious; (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Moreover, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that complaints contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This means that claims must be stated simply, concisely, and directly. See McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996) (referring to Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e)(1)). These rules are satisfied if the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. See Kimes v. Stone, 84 F.3d 1121, 1129 (9th Cir. 1996). Because plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts by specific defendants which support the claims, vague and conclusory allegations fail to satisfy this standard. Additionally, it is impossible for the court to conduct the screening required by law when the allegations are vague and conclusory.

I. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

Plaintiff's complaint is confusing and his claims are vague and conclusory. It appears that plaintiff is complaining about the operation of the entire correctional system. His general complaints appear to be challenging the regulatory system under which the correctional system operates, including disciplinary actions, due process, mistreatment, and general supervision. Overall, it appears his underlying concern is with the inmate grievance appeals process. However, because the claims are unsupported by any factual allegations, it is unclear exactly what his claims are.

II. DISCUSSION

A. PLEADING DEFECTS

Plaintiff's complaint suffers from a number of defects. First, the complaint fails to satisfy the requirements of Rule 8. As stated above, Rule 8 requires a complaint contain a short and plain statement of the claim. Plaintiff's complaint consists of a 63 pages of vague and barely intelligible narrative, and includes exhibits and appendix which the court is unable to make sense of. This pleading method does not satisfy the requirement of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) that claims must be stated simply, concisely, and directly. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff must allege an actual connection or link between the actions of the named defendants and the alleged deprivations. See Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). "A person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of §1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). Rather, the plaintiff must set forth specific facts as to each individual defendant's causal role in the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 634 (9th Cir. 1988). Petitioner sets forth no specific facts as to how he was harmed or what any of the defendants have specifically done. All of his complaints are vague, conclusory and too generalized for the court to properly screen. The complaint will therefore be dismissed without prejudice on this basis. However, there are additional defects plaintiff needs to be aware of in order to provide him the best opportunity to cure them.

Plaintiff appears to be complaining about the implementation of various administrative regulations and purports to be the plaintiff representative of a class action. To the extent plaintiff is requesting the court classify this case as a class action, and that plaintiff be allowed to proceed as the class representative, such a request must be denied. Plaintiff is a non-lawyer proceeding without counsel. It is well established that a layperson cannot ordinarily represent the interests of a class. See McShane v. United States, 366 F.2d 286 (9th Cir. 1966). This rule becomes almost absolute when, as here, the putative class representative is incarcerated and proceeding pro se. See Oxendine v. Williams, 509 F.2d 1405, 1407 (4th Cir. 1975). In direct terms, plaintiff cannot "fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class," as required by Rule 23(a)(4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Martin v. Middendorf, 420 F. Supp. 779 (D.D.C. 1976). This action, therefore, will not be construed as a class action and instead will be construed as an individual civil suit brought by plaintiff.

In addition, plaintiff has named numerous DOE defendants. Doe defendants are not favored in the Ninth Circuit as a general policy. See Gillespie v. Civiletti, 629 F.2d 637, 642 (9th Cir.1980); Velasquez v. Senko 643 F. Supp. 1172, 1180 (N.D. Cal.1986). There are situations where the identity of alleged defendants will not be known prior to the filing of a complaint. In such circumstances, the plaintiff may be given an opportunity to identify the unknown defendants, unless it is clear that discovery would not uncover the identities, or that the complaint would be dismissed on other grounds. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1152 (4th Cir.1978), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 970 (1978); see also Wells Fargo & Co. v. Wells Fargo Express Co., 556 F.2d 406, 430-431 n.24 (9th Cir.1977); Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 n.13(1978). Here, most of the DOE defendants are general groups of individuals and not specific individuals who are easily identified as one who specifically violated plaintiff's constitutional rights. If plaintiff determines it is necessary to name a DOE defendant, such a defendant must be a specific individual who plaintiff simply needs time to discover the name of, not a group of persons against whom plaintiff has no specific factual allegations. Use of DOE defendants in any amended complaint filed must be used sparingly. General allegations against groups of unknown defendants will be dismissed from this action.

The defendants named in the caption of the complaint all appear to be supervisory defendants. While no specific factual allegations are made as to the action of any defendant, plaintiff needs to be aware that supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees. See Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989) (holding that there is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983). A supervisor is only liable for the constitutional violations of subordinates if the supervisor participated in or directed the violations. See id. The Supreme Court has rejected the notion that a supervisory defendant can be liable based on knowledge and acquiescence in a subordinate's unconstitutional conduct because government officials, regardless of their title, can only be held liable under § 1983 for his or her own conduct and not the conduct of others. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Supervisory personnel who implement a policy so deficient that the policy itself is a repudiation of constitutional rights and the moving force behind a constitutional violation may, however, be liable even where such personnel do not overtly participate in the offensive act. See Redman v. Cnty of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1446 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc).

When a defendant holds a supervisory position, the causal link between such 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). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of supervisory personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). "[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.

B. CLAIM DEFECTS 1. Grievance System

As best as the court understands plaintiff's complaints, his biggest concern appears to relate to the inmate grievance system. Prisoners have no stand-alone due process rights related to the administrative grievance process. See Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 860 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding that there is no liberty interest entitling inmates to a specific grievance process). Because there is no right to any particular grievance process, it is impossible for due process to have been violated by ignoring or failing to properly process grievances. Numerous district courts in this circuit have reached the same conclusion. See Smith v. Calderon, 1999 WL 1051947 (N.D. Cal 1999) (finding that failure to properly process grievances did not violate any constitutional right); Cage v. Cambra, 1996 WL 506863 (N.D. Cal. 1996) (concluding that prison officials' failure to properly process and address grievances does not support constitutional claim); James v. U.S. Marshal's Service, 1995 WL 29580 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (dismissing complaint without leave to amend because failure to process a grievance did not implicate a protected liberty interest); Murray v. Marshall, 1994 WL 245967 (N.D. Cal. 1994) (concluding that prisoner's claim that grievance process failed to function properly failed to state a claim under ยง 1983). Prisoners do, ...


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