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Jose B. Zavala v. Michael D. Mcdonald

January 12, 2012


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


Plaintiff, a 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.


Plaintiff names the following as defendants: Michael D. McDonald, warden; R. Gower, chief deputy warden; D. Davey, facility captain; R. Gamberg, correction lieutenant; and D. Vanleer, correctional lieutenant. Plaintiff alleges generally that his rights were violated when he was placed on lock-down status stemming from "unsubstantiated claims of gang involvement."

Plaintiff claims generally:

High Desert State Prison is regarded as an institution that functions autonomously to the rest of CDCR. It is very common to hear staff at HDSP state that, "This is High Desert, and we do what we want." There are numerous investigations and allegations currently against the staff here and the Sacramento Bee has went so far as to do an investigative article about this specific institution.

According to plaintiff, on October 6, 2009, he was removed from the general population and placed in the Facility B Building 2, which plaintiff states is used for administrative segregation, "and left without clothes." He alleges that this was part of an "illegal investigation" in which he and other inmates were "rounded-up" in this manner. He states that, after 45 minutes in the cold, he and the other inmates were taken into the dining hall. Plaintiff states that the prison administration was attempting to single out active participants in a prison gang known as "2-5." After two hours, staff presented each inmate with a "property receipt" to sign. Plaintiff was told that all of his property would be "donated" if he refused to sign the receipt. He states that he was then housed in "B2" without any documentation as to why he was being placed in administrative segregation.

Plaintiff claims that he was left without the necessities of personal hygiene. When he asked correctional staff for such items as soap and toilet paper, he was told: "Captain Davey told us not to give you guys shit, because you don't have shit coming." According to plaintiff, after three days he was finally provided soap, a toothbrush, and tooth powder. Plaintiff also states that he was denied access to his personal property, including necessary asthma medication, for two months. He states that his asthma inhaler was returned two months later only after his relatives filed grievances on his behalf. Plaintiff claims that he was not released from administrative segregation until June 2010. He states that for the entire time he was in administrative segregation, he was never provided any hearing and no investigation was conducted.

Plaintiff alleges a violation of his due process rights in connection with his placement in administrative segregation without notice or an opportunity to be heard. He also alleges a Eighth Amendment violations arising from the conditions of his confinement in administrative segregation.


Plaintiff has named as defendants those supervisory personnel he alleges are responsible for his improper placement in administrative segregation and the unconstitutional conditions of confinement he says he experienced. 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, 556 U.S. 662, 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.

As indicated above, the supervisory defendants named in this case cannot be liable merely because they are supervisory personnel. Rather, plaintiff must allege that these defendants implemented a policy which was so deficient that it constituted a repudiation of his constitutional rights. Given plaintiff's general allegation that High Desert State Prison is run as an autonomous entity, it appears that plaintiff may be attempting to make such an allegation. Allegations of the involvement of supervisory personnel, however, must be specific. Conclusory or vague allegations are insufficient. Such is the case here. While plaintiff has generally indicated that there are improprieties in the way High Desert State Prison is being run, he has not specifically alleged how the named defendants are ...

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