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Stephen Jerome Williams v. Larry Small

April 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Michael M. Anello United States District Judge


On September 4, 2009, Plaintiff Stephen Jerome Williams ("Plaintiff"), a state prisoner proceeding pro se, commenced this action seeking relief under Title 42 of the United States Code, section 1983. Plaintiff filed his Third Amended Complaint on October 26, 2011 [Doc. No. 47]. Defendants R. Johnson, J. Kellerman, T. Diaz, S. Anderson, and R. Hopper move to dismiss Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) [Doc. No. 48].*fn1 Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion [Doc. No. 51], to which Defendants replied [Doc. No. 52]. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Defendants' motion.


Plaintiff is a prisoner currently incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison, proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis on his Third Amended Complaint ("TAC"). The Moving Defendants are a group of correctional officers and prison officials at Calipatria State Prison. Plaintiff complains of events occurring at Calipatria State Prison on or about February 26, 2009 through March 3, 2009, during his transfer to Administrative Segregation ("Ad Seg") and placement on contraband watch. The Court recited Plaintiff's allegations against the Moving Defendants in detail in its November 3, 2011 order. See Doc. No. 38 at 2-3. Accordingly, the Court shall not repeat those allegations here and incorporates by reference the "Background" section of that order. Id. To the extent Plaintiff supports his claims with additional factual allegations against the Moving Defendants, the Court discusses those facts below.


1. Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claims in the complaint. See Davis v. Monroe County Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 633 (1999). "The old formula -- that the complaint must not be dismissed unless it is beyond doubt without merit -- was discarded by the Bell Atlantic decision [Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007)]." Limestone Dev. Corp. v. Vill. of Lemont, 520 F.3d 797, 803 (7th Cir. 2008).

A complaint must be dismissed if it does not contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp., 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." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S.__ , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). The court must accept as true all material allegations in the complaint, as well as reasonable inferences to be drawn from them, and must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Cholla Ready Mix, Inc. v. Civish, 382 F.3d 969, 973 (9th Cir. 2004), citing Karam v. City of Burbank, 352 F.3d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 2003); Parks Sch. of Bus., Inc. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995); N.L. Indus., Inc. v. Kaplan, 792 F.2d 896, 898 (9th Cir. 1986).

2. Standards Applicable to Pro Se Litigants

Where a plaintiff appears in propria persona in a civil rights case, the court must construe the pleadings liberally and afford the plaintiff any benefit of the doubt. Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't, 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988). The rule of liberal construction is "particularly important in civil rights cases." Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992). In giving liberal interpretation to a pro se civil rights complaint, courts may not "supply essential elements of claims that were not initially pled." Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). "Vague and conclusory allegations of official participation in civil rights violations are not sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss." Id.; see also Jones v. Cmty. Redev. Agency, 733

F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984) (finding conclusory allegations unsupported by facts insufficient to state a claim under § 1983). "The plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts which defendants engaged in that support the plaintiff's claim." Jones, 733 F.2d at 649 (internal quotation omitted).

The Court must give a pro se litigant leave to amend his complaint "unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts." Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (quotation omitted), citing Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1447 (9th Cir. 1987). Thus, before a pro se civil rights complaint may be dismissed, the court must provide the plaintiff with a statement of the complaint's deficiencies. Karim-Panahi, 839 F.2d at 623-24. But where amendment of a pro se litigant's complaint would be futile, denial of leave to amend is appropriate. See James v. Giles, 221 F.3d 1074, 1077 (9th Cir. 2000).

3. Plaintiff's Claims

Construing his pleading liberally, as the Court is bound to do, Plaintiff alleges four causes of action in his TAC, each arising out of rights articulated in the Eighth Amendment. First, Plaintiff re-alleges an excessive force claim against all named Defendants, based on injuries he sustained as a result of being placed in physical restraints upon transfer to Ad Seg. Second, Plaintiff has reformulated his allegations and now asserts a failure to protect claim against Moving Defendants Diaz, Johnson, and Kellerman. Third, Plaintiff re-alleges a conditions of confinement claim against all named Defendants, based on the circumstances of ...

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