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Walter Howard White v. D. Smyers

December 12, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Allison Claire United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

Plaintiff has submitted a declaration that makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted.

Plaintiff is required to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a), 1915(b)(1). By this order, plaintiff will be assessed an initial partial filing fee in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). By separate order, the court will direct the appropriate agency to collect the initial partial filing fee from plaintiff's trust account and forward it to the Clerk of the Court. Thereafter, plaintiff will be obligated for monthly payments of twenty percent of the preceding month's income credited to plaintiff's prison trust account. These payments will be forwarded by the appropriate agency to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in plaintiff's account exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is paid in full. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

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).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227.

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "requires only '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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim a complaint must contain more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic, id. However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement [of facts] need only '"give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests."'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (quoting Bell, 127 S.Ct. at 1964, in turn quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Erickson, id., and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974).

A. Misjoinder of Parties

In the lengthy complaint filed November 26, 2012, plaintiff brings claims against 29 named defendants and 14 Doe defendants for events occurring while plaintiff was housed at California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility ("CSATF") in Corcoran, California; Salinas Valley State Prison ("SVSP") in Soledad, California; and, most recently, at High Desert State Prison ("HDSP") in Susanville, California. The thread tying these different defendants located at different institutions together is their treatment (or lack thereof) of plaintiff's various medical ailments, which include a Baker's cyst located in the back of his right knee, a job-related spinal injury plaintiff suffered while housed at CSATF, and a failed August 11, 2009 total knee replacement ("TKR") surgery plaintiff underwent while housed at SVSP.

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a), individuals may be joined in one action as defendants if any right to relief asserted against them arises out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions and occurrences, and any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action. See also George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007) ("Unrelated claims against unrelated defendants belong in different suits"). If unrelated claims are improperly joined, the court may dismiss them without prejudice. Fed. R. Civ. P. 21; 7 Alan Wright, Arthur Miller & Mary Kay Kane, Richard Marcus, Fed. Prac. & Proc. Civ. 3d § 1684 (2012); Michaels Building Co. v. Ameritrust Co., 848 F.2d 674, 682 (6th Cir. 1988) (affirming dismissing under Rule 21 of certain defendants where claims against those defendants did not arise out of the same transaction or occurrences, as required by Rule 20(a)).

Plaintiff asserts that all of the defendants are properly joined in this suit because their mistreatment of his medical problems forms a "continuing harm." Having reviewed the multiple claims asserted in the complaint, however, the court finds that they do not all arise from the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences. While all of the claims, generally, relate to the defendants' allegedly inadequate provision of medical care, each claim arises out of different facts and circumstances and is materially different in nature from the others. The defendants' actions are also temporally separated from each other by years.

The court cannot allow plaintiff's unrelated claims to proceed in the same action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 20, 21. The court will permit plaintiff to pursue in the current action only those claims over which this court has jurisdiction -- namely, claims brought against defendants at HDSP. Plaintiff's remaining claims will be dismissed without prejudice to plaintiff asserting them in a separate action.

B. Plaintiff's Claims

As to the remaining claims directed at staff located at or affiliated with HDSP, plaintiff identifies 17 defendants by name and 14 Doe defendants. These defendants include Doctors Mayes, Lee, Rofling, Pomazal; Nurse Practitioners Tyler and Schmidt; Physical Assistant Miranda; Doctor or Physical Assistant Lankford; Chief Medical Officer Swingle; HDSP Chief Executive Officer Young; Appeals Staff Frazier and Garbutt; and Staff Services Managers Shea, Aguila, Mules, and Milliken; and Chief of Inmate Appeals Zamora.

Plaintiff's claims against these defendants are as follows: (1) upon plaintiff's arrival at HDSP on September 22, 2010, Miranda denied plaintiff medical care, falsified medical reports, and confiscated medical devices previously issued to plaintiff; (2) between September 22, 2010 and October 13, 2010, plaintiff was not issued his prescribed pain medication, and Tyler, Lankford, Miranda, and Lee failed to take corrective action regarding this issue; (3) Mayes, Schmidt, and Rofling inadequately treated plaintiff's medical needs; (4) HDSP defendants Miranda, Pomazal, Lee, Swingle, and Zamora reviewed plaintiff's inmate grievances complaining of inadequate medical care and failed to take corrective medical action; (5) CPHCS defendants Shea, Aguila, Nules, Milliken, and Zamora reviewed plaintiff's complaints of deliberate indifference by California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") medical personnel, including HDSP officials, and failed to take corrective medical action; (6) defendants Frazier, Young, Swingle, and Zamora acted in conspiracy to thwart plaintiff's administrative appeal exhaustion efforts by attempting to cover up the institution's failure to timely return plaintiff's appeal following the second level of review and then by screening out plaintiff's appeal at the third level of review as untimely; (7) defendant Garbutt and Zamora violated plaintiff's due process rights by improperly responding to plaintiff's grievances; (8) defendants Miranda, Mayes, ...

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