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J. S. Harper, Pc v. Matthew Cate

April 12, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge


Screening Order

I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(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. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(2). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

"Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions," none of which applies to section 1983 actions. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). Pursuant to Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). "Such a statement must simply give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512. However, "the liberal pleading standard . . . applies only to a plaintiff's factual allegations." Neitze v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989). "[A] liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled." Bruns v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin., 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Ivey v. Bd. of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982)).

II. Plaintiff's Claims

Plaintiff, an inmate in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) at Kern Valley State Prison, brings this civil right action against correctional officials employed by the CDCR at Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP). The events that give rise to this lawsuit occurred while Plaintiff was housed at PVSP. Plaintiff names the following individual defendants: former Governor Schwarzenegger; CDCR Secretary Matthew Cate; CDCR Director Scott Kernan; PVSP Warden James Yates; Assistant Warden J. Ahlin; Chief Deputy Warden Spearman; Facility Captain D. Allan; Lieutenant. L. Lupkin; Lt. R. Corley; Sergeant B. Martinez; Correctional Counselor P. Ortiz. Plaintiff claims that defendants failed to protect him from serious harm, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that defendants housed Plaintiff with an inmate with a history of sexually assaulting other inmates. As a result, Plaintiff was sexually assaulted by his cellmate.

A. Failure to Protect

"The treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (citing Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993)). Prison officials have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect inmates from physical abuse. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833; Hoptowit v. Ray, 682 F.2d 1237, 1250-51 (9th Cir. 1982). To establish a violation of this duty, the prisoner must establish that prison officials were "deliberately indifferent to a serious threat to the inmates's safety." Farmer, at 834. The question under the Eighth Amendment is whether prison officials, acting with deliberate indifference, exposed a prisoner to a sufficiently substantial 'risk of serious damage to his future health ... .'" Id., at 843 (citing Helling, 509 U.S. at 35). The Supreme Court has explained that "deliberate indifference entails something more than mere negligence ... [but] something less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with the knowledge that harm will result." Id., at 835. The Court defined this "deliberate indifference" standard as equal to "recklessness," in which "a person disregards a risk of harm of which he is aware." Id., at 836-37.

The deliberate indifference standard involves both an objective and a subjective prong. First, the alleged deprivation must be, in objective terms, "sufficiently serious." Id. at 834. Second, subjectively, the prison official must "know of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health or safety." Id. at 837; Anderson v. County of Kern, 45 F.3d 1310, 1313 (9th Cir. 1995)

Thus, in order to state a cognizable claim against prison officials for failure to provide for a prisoner's safety/protection, a prisoner must allege (and eventually prove): (1) a sufficiently serious risk of harm (either current or future); (2) that was caused by the defendant(s); and (3) that the defendants knew that their action(s) exposed the prisoner to that serious risk of harm.

As to each individual defendant, Plaintiff alleges generally that they "conspired to deprive plaintiff of federal rights guaranteed by the constitution" and "failed to provide personal safety and protection to plaintiff against atrocities of cruel and unusual punishments." Plaintiff alleges that on June 4, 2009, while in classification, he "made all defendants aware" that he was an "easy target" for sexual assaults. Plaintiff alleges that while in classification, "a C/O" told Plaintiff that another inmate had requested Plaintiff as a cellmate. Plaintiff was unaware that the inmate had a history of sexually assaulting other inmates.

Plaintiff alleges that on the same evening, June 4, 2009, he was forcibly sexually assaulted by the inmate. After the assault, Plaintiff's cellmate informed him that he had done this twice before. The next day, Plaintiff informed C/O Pruett (not named as a defendant) about the assault. Plaintiff was transported to ...

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