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Kenneth Smith Ardell v. Sacramento Sheriff's Department

April 8, 2013

KENNETH SMITH ARDELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SACRAMENTO SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



ORDER

Plaintiff proceeds pro se with this civil action. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). On February 5, 2013, the court recommended that this action be dismissed for failure to prosecute after plaintiff failed to keep the court apprised of his current address in accordance with Local Rule 183(b). Plaintiff subsequently filed objections, and notified the court of a change in address. Dckt. Nos. 12, 13. Accordingly, the court herein vacates the February 5, 2013 findings and recommendations and screens the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the court is directed to dismiss the case at any time if it determines the allegation of poverty is untrue, or if the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against an immune defendant. Although pro se pleadings are liberally construed, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972), a complaint, or portion thereof, should be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it fails to set forth "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554, 562-563 (2007) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all of the complaint's allegations are true." Id. (citations omitted). Dismissal is appropriate based either on the lack of cognizable legal theories or the lack of pleading sufficient facts to support cognizable legal theories. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hosp. Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor, Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). A pro se plaintiff must satisfy the pleading requirements of Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 8(a)(2) "requires a complaint to include 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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554, 562-563 (2007) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)).

In dismissing the original complaint with leave to amend, the court informed plaintiff of the deficiencies in his complaint. See Dckt. No. 5. Specifically, the court noted that plaintiff failed to identify the individual officer who he claims violated his constitutional rights. Instead, plaintiff claimed that the "Sacramento Sheriff's Department" and unnamed officers violated his rights. The court informed plaintiff that "[m]unicipalities and other local government units . . . [are] among those persons to whom § 1983 applies." Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). However, a municipal entity or its departments, is liable under § 1983 only if plaintiff shows that his constitutional injury was caused by employees acting pursuant to the municipality's policy or custom. See Villegas v. Gilroy Garlic Festival Ass'n, 541 F.3d 950, 964 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing 436 U.S. at 690-94).

The court also informed plaintiff that his allegations were too vague and conclusory to state a cognizable claim for relief. Although the Federal Rules adopt a flexible pleading policy, a complaint must give fair notice and state the elements of the claim plainly and succinctly. Jones v. Community Redev. Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). The court informed plaintiff that he must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts which defendants engaged in that support plaintiff's claim. Id.

In the amended complaint, plaintiff fails to cure these deficiencies. Plaintiff purports to state claims for violations of his civil rights, and lists four causes of action. He includes factual allegations suggesting that he may intend to pursue claims based on retaliation, the denial of medical care, excessive force, and/or conspiracy. While plaintiff links some of these factual allegations to specific individuals, he does not identify those individuals as defendants. If plaintiff intends to assert a claim against a specific person, he must identify that person as a defendant in the caption of the complaint. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a). Plaintiff has failed to do this in his amended complaint.

The only defendants identified in the amended complaint are the Sacramento Sheriff's Department, the "Officer In-charge [at] Sacramento County Jail," and Does 1-10.

Despite the warnings in the initial screening order, the amended complaint does not include facts showing that an employee acting pursuant to a policy or custom of the Sacramento Sheriff's Department caused plaintiff to suffer a constitutional injury. Thus, the amended complaint fails to state a cognizable claim against the Sacramento Sheriff's Department.

Plaintiff's naming of Doe defendants does not cure these deficiencies. The use of Doe defendants in federal court is problematic, see Gillespie v. Civiletti, 629 F.2d 637, 642 (9th Cir. 1980), and ultimately unnecessary. Should plaintiff learn the identities of parties he wishes to serve, he must timely move pursuant to Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to file an amended complaint to add them as defendants. See Brass v. County of Los Angeles, 328 F.3d 1192, 1197-98 (9th Cir. 2003). If the timing of his amended complaint raises questions as to the statute of limitations, plaintiff must satisfy the requirements of Rule 15(c), which is the controlling procedure for adding defendants whose identities were discovered after commencement of the action.*fn1 It is these procedure, not the state court practice of naming fictitious defendants, that plaintiff must follow in seeking to add newly identified parties.

For these reasons, plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed. The court will, however, grant plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint. Plaintiff is hereby informed of the following legal standards that may be applicable to his intended claims for relief:

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

An individual defendant is not liable on a civil rights claim unless the facts establish the defendant's personal involvement in the constitutional deprivation or a causal connection between the defendant's wrongful conduct and the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 646 (9th Cir. 1989); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743-44 (9th Cir. 1978). Plaintiff may not sue any official on the theory that the official is liable for the unconstitutional conduct of his or her subordinates. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1948 (2009). Rather, a plaintiff must plead that each defendant, through his own individual actions, has violated the Constitution. Id. It is plaintiff's responsibility to allege facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949; Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).

"Municipalities and other local government units . . . [are] among those persons to whom § 1983 applies." Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). However, a municipal entity or its departments, is liable under § 1983 only if plaintiff shows that his constitutional injury was caused by employees acting pursuant to the municipality's policy or custom. See Villegas v. Gilroy Garlic Festival Ass'n, 541 F.3d 950, 964 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing 436 U.S. at 690-94). "[A]n act performed pursuant to a 'custom' that has not been formally approved by an appropriate decisionmaker may fairly subject a municipality to liability on the theory that the relevant practice is so widespread as to have the force of law." Board of Cty. Comm'rs. of Bryan Cty. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997). A local governmental entity may also be liable if it has a "policy of inaction and such inaction amounts to a failure to protect constitutional rights." Oviatt v. Pearce, 954 F.2d 1470, 1474 (9th Cir.1992) (citing City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378 (1989)); see also Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-91. The custom or policy of inaction, however, must be the result of a "conscious," City of Canton, 489 U.S. at 389, or "'deliberate choice to follow a course of action . . . made from among various alternatives by the official or officials responsible for establishing final policy with respect to the subject matter in question.'" Oviatt, 954 F.2d at 1477 (quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 483-84 (1986) (plurality opinion)).

To state a viable First Amendment retaliation claim, a prisoner must allege five elements: "(1) An assertion that a state actor took some adverse action against an inmate (2) because of (3) that prisoner's protected conduct, and that such action (4) chilled the inmate's exercise of his First Amendment rights, and (5) the action did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal." Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567-68 (9th Cir. 2005). Conduct protected ...


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