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Michael Williams v. Phillips

March 29, 2012




Order on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff, Michael B. Williams, a civil detainee proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on March 7, 2011. (Doc. 1.) This action is proceeding on Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, filed May 17, 2011, against Defendant Debbie Phillips, the Coalinga State Hospital Patient's Trust Officer, and Defendant Pamela Ahlin, the Executive Director of Coalinga State Hospital, ("Defendants") for violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, Equal Protection Clause, and Takings Clause via the policy implementing California Welfare & Institutions Code § 7281 ("§ 7281") through which monies from his trust account were withdrawn without his prior consent, including interest thereon, and on a state claim for violation of the no-contest clause of Plaintiff's father's will since Plaintiff received the monies in question via disbursement of his father's estate.*fn1 (Doc. 17.) Plaintiff is committed at Coalinga State Hospital ("CSH") as a Sexually Violent Predator ("SVP") pursuant to California Welfare & Institutions Code § 6600, et seq.. (Doc. 14, 1st AC, pp. 1-2.)

On August 23, 2011, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss on the grounds both that Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and that Defendants are entitled to immunity. (Doc. 23.) Plaintiff filed an opposition on September 6, 2011 and Defendants filed a reply on September 19, 2011.*fn2

(Docs. 25, 26.) This motion is deemed submitted. L.R. 230 (l). For the reasons discussed herein, Defendants motion is granted.

II. Legal Standard for Motions to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of a claim and dismissal is proper if there is a lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Conservation Force v. Salazar, 646 F.3d 1240, 1241-42 (9th Cir. 2011) (quotation marks and citations omitted).

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim that is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, __, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007)) (quotation marks omitted); Conservation Force, 646 F.3d at 1242; Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). The Court must accept the well-pleaded factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. Daniels-Hall, 629 F.3d at 998; Sanders, 504 F.3d at 910; Huynh, 465 F.3d at 996-97; Morales v. City of Los Angeles, 214 F.3d 1151, 1153 (9th Cir. 2000). However, while prisoners proceeding pro se in civil rights actions are entitled to have their pleadings liberally construed and to have any doubt resolved in their favor, Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted), courts are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences, Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009) (quotation marks and citation omitted), and need not accept legal conclusions "cast in the form of factual allegations," Western Mining Council v. Watt, 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981).

In resolving a 12(b)(6) motion, a court's review is generally limited to the operative pleading. Daniels-Hall v. National Educ. Ass'n, 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir. 2010); Sanders v. Brown, 504 F.3d 903, 910 (9th Cir. 2007); Schneider v. California Dept. of Corr., 151 F.3d 1194, 1197 n.1 (9th Cir. 1998). However, the court may properly consider matters subject to judicial notice and documents incorporated by reference in the pleading without converting the motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. U.S. v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2003), see also, Durning v. First Boston Corp., 815 F.2d 1265, 1267 (9th Cir. 1987) (court may consider facts established by exhibits attached to the complaint), Mullis v. United States Bankruptcy Ct., 828 F.2d 1385, 1388 (9th Cir. 1987) (facts which may be judicially noticed), Mack v. South Bay Beer Distributors, 798 F.2d 1279, 1282 (9th Cir. 1986) (matters of public record, including pleadings, orders, and other papers filed with the court). Under the doctrine of incorporation by reference, a court may also consider a document provided by a defendant which was not attached to the pleading if the plaintiff refers to the document extensively or if it forms the basis of the plaintiff's claim. Ritchie, 342 F.3d at 908; see also Daniels-Hall, 629 F.3d at 998.

A pro se litigant is entitled to notice of the deficiencies in the complaint and an opportunity to amend, unless the complaint's deficiencies could not be cured by amendment. See Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987).

III. Plaintiff's Allegations -- Overview

Plaintiff is an SVP and is housed at CSH. On September 26, 2008, funds in the amount of $10,525.30 were deposited into Plaintiff's trust account at CSH. (Doc. 14, 1st AC, ¶¶ 22, 23.) Defendants placed these funds "on hold for Cost of Care purposes." (Id.) On January 25, 2011, Defendants deducted $10,598.30 from Plaintiff's trust account as a payment for the cost of Plaintiff's hospital care. (Id., at ¶¶ 1, 13, 22, 35-37.)

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his rights by deducting the monies he inherited in the absence of his "knowing, affirmative and unequivocal consent. . . ." (Id., at ¶ 33.) Plaintiff alleges that the taking of $10,598.30 from his trust account at CSH violated the Takings Clause (id., at ¶¶ 16-27); the Due Process Clause (id., at ¶¶ 28-34); and the Equal Protection Clause (id., at ¶¶ 35-37); that such action also violated the "no-contest" clause in his father's will under California law (id., at ¶¶ 38-40); and that Defendants' failure to pay Plaintiff interest on monies in his trust account violated the Takings Clause (id., at ¶¶ 41-44).

IV. Plaintiff's Status

Plaintiff is being held under the Sexually Violent Predator ("SVP") Act ("SVPA") at CSH. To be determined to be an SVP, the detainee must have been convicted of a sexually violent offense and have a diagnosed mental disorder that makes it "likely that he ... will engage in sexually violent criminal behavior." Cal. Welf. & Instit. Code § 6606(a)(1). SVPs may be held for an indeterminate term but the continued need for detention must be reviewed annually. Cal. Welf. & Inst.Code § § 6604, 6605.

"Sexually violent predators are involuntarily committed because their mental disease makes them dangerous to others. Neither the commitment nor the evaluation proceeding is something they themselves seek in order to obtain a cure. The state evaluates and commits to protect others from them." Seaton v. Mayberg, 610 F.3d 530, 540 (9th Cir.2010) (footnote omitted). Likewise, in Garcetti v. Superior Court, 85 Cal.App.4th 1113, 1117 (Cal.App.2d, 2000), California's SVPA was held to be "aimed at protecting society from, and providing treatment for, that 'small but extremely dangerous group of sexually violent predators' who have diagnosable mental disorders identified while they are incarcerated for designated violent sex crimes, and who are determined to be unsafe and, if released, to represent a danger to others through acts of sexual violence."

Plaintiff's status under the SVPA makes him a civil detainee. "Persons who have been involuntarily committed are entitled to more considerate treatment and conditions of confinement than criminals whose conditions of confinement are designed to punish." Youngberg v. Romeo, 457 U.S. 307, 322 (1982). Civil detainees are "entitled to conditions of confinement that are not punitive." Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 933 (9th Cir.2004); see also Youngberg 457 U.S. at 321-22 ("[P]ersons who have been involuntarily committed are entitled to more considerate treatment and conditions of confinement than criminals whose conditions of confinement are designed to punish");Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979) (pretrial detainees retain greater liberty protections than individuals detained under criminal process).

Further, "when a SVPA detainee is confined in conditions identical to, similar to, or more restrictive than, those in which his criminal counterparts are held, we presume that the detainee is being subjected to 'punishment.'" Jones, 393 F.3d at 933, citing Sharp v. Weston, 233 F.3d 1166, 1172-73 (9th Cir. 2000) (finding that Youngberg required that individuals civilly confined at a commitment center receive "more considerate" treatment than inmates at the correctional center in which the commitment center was located). Due to the lack of legal authority as to the rights of SVPs on varying legal issues, cases involving incarcerated persons have been viewed to provide constitutional minimums to which SVPs are entitled. E.g., McNeal v. Mayberg, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 101926 at *3, 2008 WL 5114650 (E.D.Cal. Dec. 3, 2008).

V. Plaintiff's Claims

A. Due Process

The Due Process Clause protects prisoners from being deprived of property without due process of law, Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974), and prisoners have a protected interest in their personal property, Hansen v. May, 502 F.2d 728, 730 (9th Cir. 1974). An authorized, intentional deprivation of property is actionable under the Due Process Clause. See Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 532, n.13 (1984) (citing Logan v. Zimmerman Brush Co., 455 U.S. 422 (1982)); Quick v. Jones, 754 F.2d 1521, 1524 (9th Cir. 1985). An authorized deprivation is one carried out pursuant to established state procedures, regulations, or statutes. Logan, 455 U.S. at 436; Piatt v. McDougall, 773 F.2d 1032, 1036 (9th Cir. 1985); see also Knudson v. City of Ellensburg, 832 F.2d 1142, 1149 (9th Cir. 1987). Defendants deducted the money from Plaintiff's trust account per § 7281. Thus, this case is appropriately analyzed under the rubric for authorized deprivations.

An inmate has a protected property interest in the funds in his prison trust account, Quick, 754 F.2d 1521, 1523 (9th Cir. 1985), and in funds received from an outside source, Wright v. Riveland, 219 F.3d 905, 913 (9th Cir. 2000). Doubtless, a SVP's interest in the funds in their state hospital trust account are protected as well. See Youngberg, 457 U.S. at 322. Once a protected property interest is found, the amount of process due is a question of law. Quick, 754 F.2d at 1523. "[D]ue process is flexible and calls for such procedural protection as the particular situation demands," Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471, 481 (1972). Where, as here, officials' actions follow an administrative process, predeprivation processes should be provided. Quick, 754 F.2d at 1524, citing Logan, 455 U.S. 422, 435-36 (1982). However, process due inmates for removal of funds from inmate account for medical services is minimal. Gardner v. Wilson, 959 F.Supp. 1224, 1229 (C.D. Cal. 1997) (finding that due process requires no more than notice and the post-deprivation grievance process) citing Myers v. Klevenhagen, 97 F.3d 91. 95-96 (5ht Cir. 1996) (notice and adequate post-deprivation remedy); Reynolds, 936 F.Supp. at 1227 (same); Scott v. Angelone, 771 F.Supp. 1064, 1067 (D.Nev.1991) (no due process violation where money for medical charges deducted from inmate's account).

1. Plaintiff's Allegations

Plaintiff alleges, on September 26, 2008, $10,525.30 was deposited into his account and that, on January 25, 2011, his rights under the Due Process Clause were violated when Defendants removed $10,598.30 from his account without his consent. (Doc. 14, 1st AC, ¶¶ 28-34.)

a. Parties' Positions

Defendants argue that Plaintiff has a reduced property interest in his trust fund (Doc. 23-1, MTD P&A, pp. 4-7) and that Defendants were not required to obtain Plaintiff's consent prior to deducting the funds for the cost of his care, but that he was provided with proper notice and opportunity to be heard such that his rights to due process were not violated (id., at pp. 7-9).

Plaintiff responds that: pretrial detainees are entitled to the same due process protection as ordinary citizens (Doc. 25, Opp., p. 2); Defendants were not required to deduct the money in question from Plaintiff's account, but could only have done so if he consented to such deductions (id., at pp. 4, 7, 8, 10); and that CSH is responsible for the cost of his care since "there has been no formal state court adjudication of [Plaintiff's] guilt of being a sex offender brought against [sic] at the time that Plaintiff ...

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