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Anthony R. Turner v. R. Thomas

March 27, 2012



Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His initial complaint was dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. He has now filed an amended complaint and a request that it be screened by the court. Dckt. Nos. 14, 15.

I. Screening Requirement and Standards

Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted," or "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Id. § 1915A(b).

When considering whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court must accept the allegations as true, Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S. Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007), and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). However, a complaint must contain more than "naked assertions," "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-557 (2007). In other words, "[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). Furthermore, a claim upon which the court can grant relief must have facial plausibility. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "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." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.

Here, plaintiff is proceeding pro se and some lenity is allowed. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972). Nonetheless, a pro se plaintiff must satisfy the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 8(a)(2) "requires a complaint to include a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554, 562-563 (2007) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)).

II. Improper Joinder

In dismissing the original complaint with leave to amend pursuant to § 1915A, the court informed plaintiff that -- among its many other deficiencies -- the complaint violated Rule 20 because it improperly joined defendants, and that unrelated claims against different defendants must be pursued in separate lawsuits. Dckt. No. 11 at 4 (citing George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007) and Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2) (joinder of defendants not permitted unless both commonality and same transaction requirements are satisfied)). Plaintiff's amended complaint fails to cure this deficiency and the improperly joined defendants must again be dismissed. This dismissal is without prejudice.

In deciding whether defendants are improperly joined, the court may look to the first named defendant and join only those claims that can properly be joined to the claims against that defendant. See Coughlin v. Rogers, 130 F.3d 1348, 1350 (9th Cir. 1997). The court may then dismiss the misjoined defendants without prejudice to the plaintiff's filing of new, separate lawsuits against the dropped defendants. Id.; see Fed. R. Civ. P. 21 ("On motion or on its own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party.").

The first named defendant in this action is defendant Salinas. Under a cause of action labeled "Supervisory Liability," plaintiff alleges defendants Salinas, Landingham, Almager, and Navarro mismanaged their subordinate employees, and failed to appropriately train, supervise, and discipline them. Dckt. No. 14 at 23. Plaintiff includes no other factual allegations against defendant Salinas.

The court previously informed plaintiff that there is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983. Dckt. No. 11 at 8 (citing Palmer v. Sanderson, 9 F.3d 1433, 1437-38 (9th Cir. 1993)). The court explained that plaintiff may not sue any supervisor on a theory that the supervisor is liable for the acts of his or her subordinates. Id. (citing Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981)). The court further explained, that plaintiff must plead facts showing "that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution," and that a supervisor may be liable "for constitutional violations of his subordinates if the supervisor participated in or directed the violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them." Id. (citing Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1948 and Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989)).

Through the amended complaint, plaintiff seeks to impose liability on defendants Salinas, Landingham, Almager, and Navarro simply because of their alleged supervisory roles, and not because of their personal participation in any particular alleged violation of plaintiff's rights.

Plaintiff still fails to specifically allege facts indicating how the alleged supervisors caused any of the alleged violations of his rights, and accordingly, these claims must be dismissed without further leave to amend.

Because plaintiff cannot proceed in this action against Salinas, the court looks to the allegations against the next named defendant in this action -- defendant Thomas. Plaintiff alleges that on July 9, 2010, Thomas told plaintiff to stop and spread his legs. Thomas allegedly took plaintiff's pen and comb and began to read his legal mail. Apparently Thomas then began to pat search plaintiff in a "rough manner" and "groped" plaintiff's "buttocks, thighs and [ ] testicles." Id. at 14. Thomas then purportedly kicked plaintiff's ankles. Plaintiff claims he asked Thomas to stop, but she kicked plaintiff harder three times, and again groped plaintiff "sexually" until he flinched in pain. Plaintiff claims defendants David and Duprie looked on and did not intervene. Plaintiff's allegations against defendants Thomas, David, and Duprie appear to be properly joined because they arise out of the same occurrence and involve common questions of law and fact, but for the reasons discussed in section III, the allegations fail to state a cognizable claim and will be dismissed with leave to amend.

Plaintiff's complaint names a total of twenty-two defendants and concerns a variety of discrete events. The remaining allegations cannot be properly joined with the claims against defendants Thomas, David, and Duprie, because they are unrelated in that they do not arise out of the same occurrence and involve a common question of law or fact. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2). For example, in one set of allegations, plaintiff claims defendant MacDougall applied excessive force while defendants Martinez and Manning watched, and that MacDougall subsequently filed a false rule violation report, which resulted in plaintiff's confinement to a cell for 36 days without exercise. Plaintiff also asserts claims based on defendants Cox, Marquez and Navarro's alleged interference with plaintiff's mail on various days from May through August of 2010. And in another set of allegations, plaintiff claims that on August 28, 2010, he was escorted by force to a crowded area with 200 inmates and no bathroom, and that defendants Ortiz, Johnson, Cano and Manning allegedly escorted plaintiff to a toilet filled with feces, urine and maggots. ...

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