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Turner v. Brazelton

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 20, 2014

ANTHONY TURNER, Plaintiff,
v.
P. D. BRAZELTON, et al., Defendants.

ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

DENNIS L. BECK, District Judge.

Plaintiff Anthony Turner ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action. He filed this action on October 28, 2013, and names Pleasant Valley State Prison ("PVSP") Warden P. D. Brazelton, PVSP Sergeant Thomas and PVSP Correctional Officer Montano as Defendants.[1]

A. LEGAL STANDARD

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). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action or appeal... fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

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 , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (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 that is plausible on its face.'" Id . (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Id.

Bivens actions and actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 "are identical save for the replacement of a state actor under § 1983 by a federal actor under Bivens." Van Strum v. Lawn , 940 F.2d 406, 409 (9th Cir.1991). Under Bivens, a plaintiff may sue a federal officer in his or her individual capacity for damages for violating the plaintiff's constitutional rights. See Bivens, 403 U.S. at 397. To state a claim a plaintiff must allege: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a federal actor.

Plaintiff must also demonstrate that each defendant personally participated in the deprivation of his rights. Id. at 1949. This requires the presentation of factual allegations sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50; Moss v. U.S. Secret Service , 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). The mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50; Moss , 572 F.3d at 969.

B. SUMMARY OF PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

Plaintiff is currently incarcerated at PVSP, where the event at issue occurred.

Plaintiff alleges that while waiting in line to enter the education building, Defendant Thomas told him to tuck in his shirt. Plaintiff walked out of the line because Defendant Thomas wanted to talk to him. Defendant Thomas told Plaintiff that he had no pride in himself. Plaintiff told him that he did have pride in himself.

Defendant Montano, who was standing at the school door taking attendance, came up to Plaintiff and hit him in the back with such force that Plaintiff almost fell. Plaintiff asked Defendant Montano what that was for, and Defendant Montano told Plaintiff that he "was talking shit" to his sergeant. Plaintiff denied it and said that they were having a civil conversation.

Plaintiff cites to the attached 602, which indicates that the incident occurred on March 12, 2013. It includes allegations that Defendant Thomas let the assault occur.

C. DISCUSSION

1. Linkage

Under section 1983, Plaintiff must link the named defendants to the participation in the violation at issue. Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 676-77, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1948-49 (2009); Simmons v. Navajo County, Ariz. , 609 F.3d 1011, 1020-21 (9th Cir. 2010); Ewing v. City of Stockton , 588 F.3d 1218, 1235 (9th Cir. 2009); Jones v. Williams , 297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002). Liability may not be imposed under a theory of respondeat superior, and there must exist some causal connection between the conduct of each named defendant and the violation at issue. Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 676-77; Lemire v. California Dep't of Corr. and Rehab. , 726 F.3d 1062, 1074-75 (9th Cir. 2013); Moss v. U.S. Secret Service , 711 F.3d 941, 967-68 (9th Cir. 2013); Lacey v. Maricopa County , 693 F.3d 896, 915-16 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc); Starr v. Baca , 652 F.3d 1202, 1205-08 (9th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 2101 (2012).

A defendant in a supervisory position, such as Defendant Brazelton, may only be held liable if they "participated in or directed the violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them, " Taylor v. List , 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989); accord Starr v. Baca , 652 F.3d 1202, 1205-08 (9th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 2101 (2012); Corales v. Bennett , 567 F.3d 554, 570 (9th Cir. 2009); Preschooler II v. Clark County School Board of Trustees , 479 F.3d 1175, 1182 (9th Cir. 2007); Harris v. Roderick , 126 F.3d 1189, 1204 (9th Cir. 1997)

Here, although Plaintiff names Warden Brazelton as a Defendant, he does not include any factual allegations against him. In reviewing Plaintiff's exhibits, it appears that Defendant Brazelton reviewed Plaintiff's appeal at the Second Level. Generally, denying a prisoner's administrative appeal does not cause or contribute to the underlying violation. George v. Smith , 507 F.3d 605, 609 (7th Cir. 2007) (quotation marks omitted). However, because prison administrators cannot willfully turn a blind eye to constitutional violations being committed by subordinates, Jett v. Penner , 439 F.3d 1091, 1098 (9th Cir. 2006), there may be limited circumstances in which those involved in reviewing an inmate appeal can be held liable under section 1983. That circumstance has not been presented here.

Accordingly, Plaintiff fails to state a claim against Defendant Brazelton.

2. Eight Amendment-Excessive Force

The unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain violates the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment. Hudson v. McMillian , 503 U.S. 1, 5, 112 S.Ct. 995 (1992) (citations omitted). For claims arising out of the use of excessive physical force, the issue is "whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm." Wilkins v. Gaddy , 559 U.S. 34, 37, 130 S.Ct. 1175, 1178 (2010) (per curiam) (citing Hudson , 503 U.S. at 7) (internal quotation marks omitted); Furnace v. Sullivan , 705 F.3d 1021, 1028 (9th Cir. 2013). The objective component of an Eighth Amendment claim is contextual and responsive to contemporary standards of decency, Hudson , 503 U.S. at 8 (quotation marks and citation omitted), and although de minimis uses of force do not violate the Constitution, the malicious and sadistic use of force to cause harm always violates contemporary standards of decency, regardless of whether or not significant injury is evident, Wilkins , 559 U.S. at 37-8, 130 S.Ct. at 1178 (citing Hudson , 503 U.S. at 9-10) (quotation marks omitted); Oliver v. Keller , 289 F.3d 623, 628 (9th Cir. 2002).

In his complaint, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Montano "came up behind [him] and sock[ed] [him] in the back with such force that it almost made [him] fall." Compl. 3. Without more, however, this does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation. Not every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action. Wilkins , 559 U.S. at 37, 130 S.Ct. at 1178 (citing Hudson , 503 U.S. at 9) (quotation marks omitted). Necessarily excluded from constitutional recognition is the de minimis use of physical force, provided that the use of force is not of a sort repugnant to the conscience of mankind. Wilkins , 559 U.S. at 37-38, 130 S.Ct. at 1178 (citing Hudson , 503 U.S. at 9-10) (quotations marks omitted). An inmate who complains of a "push or shove" that causes no discernible injury almost certainly fails to state a valid excessive force claim. Wilkins , 559 U.S. at 38 (citations omitted).

Plaintiff therefore fails to state a claim against Defendant Montano.

3. Eighth Amendment-Failure to Protect

Although prison conditions may be restrictive and harsh, prison officials must provide prisoners with food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety. Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 825, 832-33, 114 S.Ct. 1970 (1994) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Prison officials have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect inmates from physical abuse. Farmer , 511 U.S. at 833; Hearns v. Terhune , 413 F.3d 1036, 1040 (9th Cir. 2005). The failure of prison officials to protect inmates from attacks by other inmates may rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation where prison officials know of and disregard a substantial risk of serious harm to the plaintiff. E.g., Farmer , 511 U.S. at 847; Hearns , 413 F.3d at 1040.

Based on Plaintiff's statements in his exhibits, it appears that he contends that Defendant Thomas failed to protect him from Defendant Montano. However, where there is no underlying Eighth Amendment violation by Defendant Montano, there is no claim for failure to protect.

Accordingly, Plaintiff fails to state a claim against Defendant Thomas.

D. CONCLUSION AND ORDER

Plaintiff's complaint fails to state any cognizable claims against any Defendant.

Plaintiff will be permitted one opportunity to amend his complaint, but he should only amend if he can do so in good faith. Lopez v. Smith , 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000); Noll v. Carlson , 809 F.2d 1446, 1448-49 (9th Cir. 1987). Plaintiff may not change the nature of this suit by adding new, unrelated claims in his amended complaint. George , 507 F.3d at 607 (no "buckshot" complaints).

Plaintiff's amended complaint should be brief, Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), but it must state what each named defendant did that led to the deprivation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights, Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 676-77. Although accepted as true, the "[f]actual allegations must be [sufficient] to raise a right to relief above the speculative level...." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted).

Finally, an amended complaint supersedes the prior complaint, Forsyth v. Humana, Inc. , 114 F.3d 1467, 1474 (9th Cir. 1997); King v. Atiyeh , 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987), and it must be "complete in itself without reference to the prior or superseded pleading, " Local Rule 220.

Accordingly, it is HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed, with leave to amend, for failure to state a claim;

2. The Clerk's Office shall send Plaintiff a civil rights complaint form;

3. Within thirty (30) days from the date of service of this order, Plaintiff shall file an amended complaint;

4. If Plaintiff fails to file an amended complaint in compliance with this order, this action will be dismissed, with prejudice, for failure to state a claim.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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