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George C. Nails v. Officer Timothy Haid

January 22, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Suzanne H. Segal United States Magistrate Judge



On October 12, 2012, plaintiff George C. Nails ("Plaintiff"), a California state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (the "Complaint") against various defendants. For the reasons stated below, the Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend.*fn1

Congress mandates that district courts perform an initial screening of complaints in civil actions where a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or employee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). This Court may dismiss such a complaint, or any portions thereof, before service of process if it concludes that the complaint (1) is frivolous or malicious, (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1-2); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).


Plaintiff sues two City of Fullerton Police Officers in their individual capacity only: (1) Officer Timothy Haid, Badge No. 1213, and (2) Officer Ryan Acosta, Badge No. 1374. (Complaint at 3). In addition, the caption of the Complaint appears to indicate that Plaintiff may be attempting to sue the City of Fullerton, although Plaintiff's intent is unclear. (Id. at 1).*fn2

Plaintiff generally alleges that Officers Haid and Acosta engaged in "Police Brutality, without investigating the case first," and "acted with Outrageous Police Misconduct." (Id. at 3). Plaintiff specifically asserts that on July 7, 2009, when he was a pre-trial detainee, he was taken to St. Jude's Hospital in Fullerton, California due to a head injury. (Id. at 5). Officers Haid and Acosta followed Plaintiff into a restroom at the hospital. (Id.). While Plaintiff was standing at the urinal, Officer Haid said, "Nails, you know what this is about" and kneed Plaintiff from behind without provocation, causing Plaintiff's legs to buckle. (Id.). Officer Haid then slammed Plaintiff's face into the tile wall above the urinal and threw Plaintiff down on the tile floor, breaking Plaintiff's left collarbone. (Id.). In an attachment to the Complaint, Plaintiff states that "the two police officers [then] carried [Plaintiff] th[r]ough the Emergency room and into the rear where [Plaintiff] received 5 stitches above the right eye." (Id. at 8).

Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages sufficient to cover his "medical bills and medication fees," including costs of surgery to reset his collarbone, as well as punitive damages in the amount of $1,000,000.00. (Id. at 6).


Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the Court must dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint due to defects in pleading. Pro se litigants in civil rights cases, however, must be given leave to amend their complaints unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. See Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1128-29. Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiff leave to amend, as indicated below.

A. The Complaint Fails To State A Claim For Excessive Force Against Officer Acosta

The gravamen of Plaintiff's Complaint appears to be a claim of excessive force. The Ninth Circuit has held that "egregious government conduct in the form of excessive and brutal use of physical force constitutes a violation of substantive due process cognizable under section 1983." White v. Roper, 901 F.2d 1501, 1507 (9th Cir. 1990) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 7, 112 S. Ct. 995, 117 L. Ed. 2d 156 (1992) (core judicial inquiry in excessive force claim is whether force was malicious and sadistic or a good-faith disciplinary effort). An excessive force analysis requires evaluation of "(1) the need for the application of force, (2) the relationship between the need and the amount of force that was used, (3) the extent of the injury inflicted, and (4) whether force was applied in a good faith effort to maintain and restore discipline." White, 901 F.2d at 1507. "The 'reasonableness' of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. . . . Not every push or shove, even if it may later seem unnecessary in the peace of a judge's chambers, violates the Fourth Amendment." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396, 109 S. Ct. 1865, 104 L. Ed. 2d 443 (1989) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

The Complaint appears to state a claim for excessive force against Officer Haid, who Plaintiff alleges attacked him without provocation by slamming his head against a wall while he was standing at a urinal then throwing him to the ground, breaking his collarbone. (Complaint at 5).

However, it is unclear why Plaintiff believes Officer Acosta is also liable for excessive force. Plaintiff appears to allege only that Officer Acosta was in the restroom when Officer Haid attacked Plaintiff and helped carry Plaintiff to the hospital's emergency room following the attack. (Id. at 5, 8). The Complaint fails to show what role, if any, Officer Acosta had in the alleged attack, either as a direct participant or co-conspirator. To state a claim, Plaintiff must allege facts establishing that Officer Acosta had personal involvement in the civil rights violation or that his actions or ...

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