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Bulkin v. Ochoa

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

November 13, 2013

KEITH BULKIN, Plaintiff, OCHOA, et al., Defendants.

FIRST SCREENING ORDER, DISMISSING PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT, WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

DENNIS L. BECK, District Judge.

I. Background

Plaintiff Keith Bulkin ("Plaintiff") is a prisoner in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"). Plaintiff filed his original complaint on March 18, 2013, and is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

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. Id. § 1915A(b)(1), (2).

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)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Id.

II. Summary of Complaint

Plaintiff is incarcerated at California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility ("CSATF") in Corcoran, California, where the events giving rise to this action occurred. Plaintiff names correctional officers V. Ochoa (driver), E. Mares (navigator), and M. Alvarez (supervisor on duty) as defendants in this action.

Plaintiff alleges the following. On February 24, 2011, Defendants recklessly, intentionally, and deliberately created an unsafe and dangerous condition by refusing to provide Plaintiff with a seatbelt in a transportation vehicle. Defendants provided other prisoners in the vehicle with seatbelts but refused Plaintiff's request for one. Defendants responded that Plaintiff had "lost the privilage[sic] to have a seatbelt."

Additionally, Defendant Ochoa drove the vehicle in a reckless manner and increased the likelihood of injury or death. As a result, Plaintiff was thrown from his seat while he was in full body restraints ("handcuffs locked to belly chain and manacles on feet"). Plaintiff sustained serious injuries to his neck, back, and head, including, but not limited to a concussion, neck sprain, cervical damage, back sprain, sciatic nerve and cervical nerve damage.

Plaintiff requests compensatory and punitive damages as relief.

III. Analysis

A. Eighth Amendment-Conditions and Confinement

The Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment protects prisoners not only from inhumane methods of punishment but also from inhumane conditions of confinement." Morgan v. Morgensen, 465 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2006). "[W]hile conditions of confinement may be, and often are, restrictive and harsh, they must not involve the wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain.'" Id. (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347, 101 S.Ct. 2392 (1981)). "What is necessary to show sufficient harm for purposes of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause depends upon the claim at issue...." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8, 112 S.Ct. 995 (1992). "[E]xtreme deprivations are required to make out a[n] [Eighth Amendment] conditions-of-confinement claim." Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9 (citation omitted). With respect to this type of claim, "[b]ecause routine discomfort is part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society, only those deprivations denying the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities are sufficiently grave to form the basis of an Eighth Amendment violation." Id. (quotations and citations omitted).

Where a prisoner alleges injuries stemming from unsafe conditions of confinement, prison officials may be held liable only if they acted with "deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm." Frost v. Agnos, 152 F.3d 1124, 1128 (9th Cir. 1998). The deliberate indifference standard involves an objective and a subjective prong. First, the alleged deprivation must be, in objective terms, "sufficiently serious...." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 114 S.Ct. 1970 (1994) (citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298, 111 S.Ct. 2321 (1991)). Second, the prison official must "know[] of and disregard[] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety...." Farmer , 511 U.S. at 837. Thus, a prison official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying humane conditions of confinement only if he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it. Id. at 837-45. Prison officials may avoid liability by presenting evidence that they lacked knowledge of the risk, or by presenting evidence of a ...


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