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Conyers v. San Diego County Sheriff's Department

United States District Court, S.D. California

February 19, 2014

ZACKERY THOMAS CONYERS, Booking #12577510; CDCR #AD-9555, Plaintiff,
v.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, Defendant.

ORDER: (1) GRANTING MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) [ECF Doc. No. 2] AND (2) DISMISSING COMPLAINT FOR FAILING TO STATE A CLAIM PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) & § 1915A(b)

LARRY ALAN BURNS, District Judge.

Zackery Thomas Conyers ("Plaintiff"), who is currently incarcerated at George Bailey Detention Facility (GBDF) in San Diego, California, and proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Plaintiff claims "all of the San Diego County Sheriff's Department" has denied him adequate medical treatment and meaningful access to the courts since he was first booked in October 30, 2012, detained at the South Bay Detention Facility, and continuing after his transfer to GBDF. See Compl. (ECF Doc. No. 1) at 1-3, 5. Plaintiff seeks $4 million in general and punitive damages. Id. at 14.

Plaintiff has not prepaid the civil filing fee; instead he has filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) (ECF Doc. No. 2).

I. MOTION TO PROCEED IFP

All parties instituting any civil action, suit or proceeding in a district court of the United States, except an application for writ of habeas corpus, must pay a filing fee of $400. See 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a).[1] An action may proceed despite a plaintiff's failure to prepay the entire fee only if he is granted leave to proceed IFP pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). See Rodriguez v. Cook, 169 F.3d 1176, 1177 (9th Cir. 1999). However, a prisoner granted leave to proceed IFP remains obligated to pay the entire fee in installments, regardless of whether his action is ultimately dismissed. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) & (2); Taylor v. Delatoore, 281 F.3d 844, 847 (9th Cir. 2002).

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, as amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), a prisoner seeking leave to proceed IFP must submit a "certified copy of the trust fund account statement (or institutional equivalent) for the prisoner for the six-month period immediately preceding the filing of the complaint." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2); Andrews v. King, 398 F.3d 1113, 1119 (9th Cir. 2005). From the certified trust account statement, the Court must assess an initial payment of 20% of (a) the average monthly deposits in the account for the past six months, or (b) the average monthly balance in the account for the past six months, whichever is greater, unless the prisoner has no assets. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4). The institution having custody of the prisoner must collect subsequent payments, assessed at 20% of the preceding month's income, in any month in which the prisoner's account exceeds $10, and forward those payments to the Court until the entire filing fee is paid. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

In support of his IFP Motion, Plaintiff has submitted a certified copy of his trust account statement pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2) and S.D. CAL. CIVLR 3.2. Andrews, 398 F.3d at 1119. Plaintiff's statement shows an average monthly balance of zero, an average monthly deposit of $56.67, and an available balance of zero in his account at the time it was submitted to the Court for filing. Based on this financial information, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP (ECF Doc. No. 2) and assesses an initial partial filing fee of $11.33 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1).

However, the Watch Commander of GBDF, or his designee, shall collect this initial fee only if sufficient funds in Plaintiff's account are available at the time this Order is executed pursuant to the directions set forth below. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4) (providing that "[i]n no event shall a prisoner be prohibited from bringing a civil action or appealing a civil action or criminal judgment for the reason that the prisoner has no assets and no means by which to pay the initial partial filing fee."); Taylor, 281 F.3d at 850 (finding that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4) acts as a "safety-valve" preventing dismissal of a prisoner's IFP case based solely on a "failure to pay... due to the lack of funds available to him when payment is ordered."). The remaining balance of the $350 total owed in this case shall be collected and forwarded to the Clerk of the Court pursuant to the installment payment provisions set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1).

II. SCREENING PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) & 1915A(b)

The PLRA also obligates the Court to review complaints filed by all persons proceeding IFP and by those, like Plaintiff, who are "incarcerated or detained in any facility [and] accused of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms or conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program, " "as soon as practicable after docketing." See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b). Under these provisions of the PLRA, the Court must sua sponte dismiss complaints, or any portions thereof, which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or which seek damages from defendants who are immune. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A; Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (§ 1915(e)(2)); Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2010) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)).

All complaints 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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is]... a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. The "mere possibility of misconduct" falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id .; see also Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).

"When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity, and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see also Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000) ("[W]hen determining whether a complaint states a claim, a court must accept as true all allegations of material fact and must construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff."); Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998) (noting that § 1915(e)(2) "parallels the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)").

However, while the court "ha[s] an obligation where the petitioner is pro se, particularly in civil rights cases, to construe the pleadings liberally and to afford the petitioner the benefit of any doubt, " Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n.1 (9th Cir. 1985)), it may not, in so doing, "supply essential elements of claims that were not initially pled." Ivey v. Board of Regents of the University of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

"Section 1983 creates a private right of action against individuals who, acting under color of state law, violate federal constitutional or statutory rights." Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1074 (9th Cir. 2001). Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred." Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "To establish § 1983 liability, a plaintiff must show both (1) deprivation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and (2) that the deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." Tsao v. Desert Palace, Inc., 698 F.3d 1128, 1138 (9th Cir. 2012).

B. Improper Defendant & Municipal Liability

As an initial matter, the Court finds that to the extent Plaintiff names the entire "San Diego County Sheriff's Department" as a Defendant of his Complaint, his claims must be dismissed sua sponte pursuant to both 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A(b) for failing to state a claim upon which § 1983 relief can be granted. A local law enforcement department (like the San Diego County Sheriff's Department) is not a proper defendant under § 1983. See Vance v. County of Santa Clara, 928 F.Supp. 993, 996 (N.D. Cal. 1996) ("Naming a municipal department as a defendant is not an appropriate means of pleading a § 1983 action against a municipality.") (citation omitted); Powell v. Cook County Jail, 814 F.Supp. 757, 758 (N.D. Ill. 1993) ("Section 1983 imposes liability on any person' who violates someone's constitutional rights under color of law.' Cook County Jail is not a person.'").

While the County of San Diego itself may be considered a "person" and therefore, a proper defendant under § 1983, see Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Hammond v. County of Madera, 859 F.2d 797, 801 (9th Cir. 1988), Plaintiff has not named the County as a Defendant. Moreover, as a municipality, the County may be held liable under § 1983-but only where the Plaintiff alleges facts to show that a constitutional deprivation was caused by the implementation or execution of "a policy statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated" by the County, or a "final decision maker" for the County. Monell, 436 U.S. at 690; Board of the County Commissioners v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 402-04 (1997); Navarro v. Block, 72 F.3d 712, 714 (9th Cir. 1995). In other words, "respondeat superior and vicarious liability are not cognizable theories of recovery against a municipality." Miranda v. Clark County, Nevada, 279 F.3d 1102, 1109-10 (9th Cir. 2002). "Instead, a Monell claim exists only where the alleged constitutional deprivation was inflicted in execution of a government's policy or custom.'" Id. (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 694).

As currently pleaded, Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) because he has failed to allege any facts which "might plausibly suggest" that the County itself violated his constitutional rights. See Hernandez v. County of Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 637 (9th Cir. 2012) (applying Iqbal 's pleading standards to Monell claims); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978) (42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides for relief only against those who, through their personal involvement as evidenced by affirmative acts, participation in another's affirmative acts, or failure to perform legally required duties, cause the deprivation of plaintiff's constitutionally protected rights).

C. Medical Care Claims

In addition, while Plaintiff's includes a catalogue of difficulties he has encountered related to the medical attention he has either received or failed to receive at the South Bay Detention Facility and GBDF, including changes to pain medication for his "bad knees, " problems in gaining a "soft shoe chrono, " and delays in seeing nurses, doctors and dentists, see Compl. at 3, his Complaint fails to contain "sufficient allegations of underlying facts" to show that any individual person caused a violation of Plaintiff's Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment rights.[2] Hernandez, 666 F.3d at 637; Monell, 436 U.S. at 690; Brown, 520 U.S. at 403; Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1207-08 (9th Cir. 2011).

Indeed, even if Plaintiff had sufficiently named individual defendants subject to suit under § 1983, his allegations clearly fail to state an Eighth Amendment claim because prison officials are liable only if they are deliberately indifferent to the prisoner's serious medical needs. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976).

First, Plaintiff's Complaint of "bad knees" is simply insufficient to show a medical needs which is objectively serious. See McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1991) (defining a "serious medical need" as one which the "failure to treat... could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.'"), overruled on other grounds by WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc) (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104). The "existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities; or the existence of chronic and substantial pain are examples of indications that a prisoner has a serious' need for medical treatment." Id. at 1059-60.

Second, nothing in Plaintiff's Complaint demonstrates a plausible claim of deliberate indifference. "In order to show deliberate indifference, an inmate must allege sufficient facts to indicate that prison officials acted with a culpable state of mind." Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 302 (1991). The indifference to medical needs also must be substantial; inadequate treatment due to malpractice, or even gross negligence, does not amount to a constitutional violation. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106; Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1060 (9th Cir. 2004) ("Deliberate indifference is a high legal standard.") (citing Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 1204 (9th Cir. 2002); Wood v. Housewright, 900 F.2d 1332, 1334 (9th Cir. 1990)). A difference of opinion between a prisoner and his doctors as to the appropriate course or type of medical attention does not amount to deliberate indifference, see Snow v. McDaniel, 681 F.3d 978, 987 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Sanchez v. Vild, 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989)), and delays do not by themselves show deliberate indifference, unless the delay is alleged to be harmful. See McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060; Shapley v. Nevada Bd. of State Prison Comm'rs, 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985); Hunt v. Dental Dep't, 865 F.2d 198, 200 (9th Cir. 1989) ("[D]elay in providing a prisoner with dental treatment, standing alone, does not constitute an Eighth Amendment violation.").

D. Access to Courts

Finally, Plaintiff argues that the Sheriff's Department "has made [his] access to the courts almost impossible, " by failing to provide him with pens, as opposed to pencils. See Compl. at 5.

Prisoners do "have a constitutional right to petition the government for redress of their grievances, which includes a reasonable right of access to the courts." O'Keefe v. Van Boening, 82 F.3d 322, 325 (9th Cir. 1996); accord Bradley v. Hall, 64 F.3d 1276, 1279 (9th Cir. 1995). In Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817 (1977), the Supreme Court held that "the fundamental constitutional right of access to the courts requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons who are trained in the law." Id. at 828. To establish a violation of the right to access to the courts, however, a prisoner must allege facts sufficient to show that: (1) a nonfrivolous legal attack on his conviction, sentence, or conditions of confinement has been frustrated or impeded, and (2) he has suffered an actual injury as a result. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 353-55 (1996). An "actual injury" is defined as "actual prejudice with respect to contemplated or existing litigation, such as the inability to meet a filing deadline or to present a claim." Id. at 348; see also Vandelft v. Moses, 31 F.3d 794, 796 (9th Cir. 1994); Sands v. Lewis, 886 F.2d 1166, 1171 (9th Cir. 1989); Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1093 (9th Cir. 1996).

Here, Plaintiff fails to allege that any individual Sheriff's Department officer's refusal to provide him with a pen precluded his pursuit of a non-frivolous direct or collateral attack upon either his criminal conviction or sentence or the conditions of his current confinement. See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 355 (right to access to the courts protects only an inmate's need and ability to "attack [his] sentence[], directly or collaterally, and... to challenge the conditions of [his] confinement."). In addition, Plaintiff must also, but has failed to describe the non-frivolous nature of the "underlying cause of action, whether anticipated or lost." Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415 (2002).

In short, unless Plaintiff can show that "a complaint he prepared was dismissed, " or that he was "so stymied" by the lack of a pen that "he was unable to even file a complaint, " direct appeal, or petition for writ of habeas corpus that was not "frivolous, " his access to courts claim must be dismissed. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351; Christopher, 536 U.S. at 416 ("like any other element of an access claim[, ]... the predicate claim [must] be described well enough to apply the nonfrivolous' test and to show that the arguable' nature of the underlying claim is more than hope.").

For all these reasons, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a plausible claim for relief against any person subject to suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Therefore, his Complaint is subject to sua sponte dismissal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b). See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); § 1915A(b); Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1126-27; Rhodes, 621 F.3d at 1004. Because Plaintiff is proceeding in pro se, however, the Court having now provided him with "notice of the deficiencies in his complaint, " will also provide him an opportunity to "effectively" amend. See Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992)).

III. CONCLUSION AND ORDER

Good cause appearing therefor, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) [ECF Doc. No. 2] is GRANTED.

2. The Watch Commander of GBDF, or his designee, shall collect from Plaintiff's inmate trust account the initial filing fee assessed in this Order, and shall forward the remainder of the $350 filing fee owed by collecting monthly payments from Plaintiff's account in an amount equal to twenty percent (20%) of the preceding month's income and shall forward payments to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in the account exceeds $10 in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). ALL PAYMENTS SHALL BE CLEARLY IDENTIFIED BY THE NAME AND NUMBER ASSIGNED TO THIS ACTION.

3. The Clerk of the Court is directed to serve a copy of this Order on the Watch Commander, George Bailey Detention Facility, 446 Alta Rd., Suite 5300, San Diego, California, XXXXX-XXXX.

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that:

4. Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED without prejudice for failing to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(b) and 1915A(b). However, Plaintiff is GRANTED forty five (45) days leave from the date this Order is filed in which to file an Amended Complaint which cures all the deficiencies of pleading identified in this Order. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint must be complete in itself without reference to his original pleading. See S.D. CAL. CIVLR 15.1; Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1546 (9th Cir. 1989) ("[A]n amended pleading supersedes the original."); King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987) (citation omitted) ("All causes of action alleged in an original complaint which are not alleged in an amended complaint are waived.").[3]


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