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Suknaich v. Lozano

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 2, 2014

JAMES SUKNAICH, Plaintiff,
v.
C. LOZANO, et al., Defendants.

ORDER DISMISSING ACTION, WITH PREJUDICE, FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM UPON WHICH RELIEF MAY BE GRANTED UNDER SECTION 1983, AND DIRECTING CLERK OF COURT ENTER JUDGMENT (Doc. 16)

SHEILA K. OBERTO, Magistrate Judge.

Second Screening Order

I. Screening Requirement and Standard

Plaintiff James Suknaich ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants Lozano and Brazleton removed this action from Fresno County Superior Court on August 27, 2012. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b). On March 13, 2013, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims for violation of California Code of Regulations, Title 15, and Defendants California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") and Pleasant Valley State Prison ("PVSP"), with prejudice, for failure to state a claim; and the Court dismissed Plaintiff's negligence and Eighth Amendment medical care claims, with leave to amend. After obtaining two extensions of time, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on December 6, 2013.

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an 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).

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, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007)), and courts "are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences, " Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

Under section 1983, Plaintiff must demonstrate that each defendant personally participated in the deprivation of his rights. Jones v. Williams, 297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002). This requires the presentation of factual allegations sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79; Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). Prisoners proceeding pro se in civil rights actions are entitled to have their pleadings liberally construed and to have any doubt resolved in their favor, Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted), but nevertheless, the mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting the plausibility standard, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Moss, 572 F.3d at 969.

II. Discussion

A. Summary of Amended Complaint

In his amended complaint, Plaintiff names former Warden James Yates, [1] Sergeant Reed, Correctional Officer Lozano, Head Nurse Dobbins, Chief Medical Officer Doe, Captain Doe, and additional Does 1 through 10 as defendants. Plaintiff alleges his rights under the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution were violated while he was incarcerated at PVSP in Coalinga, California. Plaintiff's claims arise out of an incident on January 27, 2010, in which inmate Wolfbrandt attempted to murder him by slashing his throat. (Amend. Comp., pp. 10, 19.) Although Plaintiff neglected to specify what relief he seeks, he is limited to monetary damages given that his claims arise from a past event in a prison at which he is no longer incarcerated. 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(1)(A); Summers v. Earth Island Institute, 555 U.S. 488, 493, 129 S.Ct. 1142, 1149 (2009); Alvarez v. Hill, 667 F.3d 1061, 1063-64 (9th Cir. 2012).

B. Eighth Amendment Claims

1. Standard

Under section 1983, Plaintiff must link the named defendants to the participation in the violation at issue. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676-77; 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, 297 F.3d at 934. Liability may not be imposed on supervisory personnel under the theory of respondeat superior, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676-77; Simmons, 609 F.3d at 1020-21; Ewing, 588 F.3d at 1235; Jones, 297 F.3d at 934, and administrators or supervisors, such as Defendants Yates, Dobbins, and Chief Medical Officer Doe, 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). Some culpable action or inaction must be attributable to each defendant for liability to lie. Starr, 652 F.3d at 1205; Jeffers v. Gomez, 267 F.3d 895, 914-15 (9th Cir. 2001); Redman v. County of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1446-47 (9th Cir. 1991); Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 646 (9th Cir. 1989).

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) (citing Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 847, 114 S.Ct. 1970 (1994) and Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347, 101 S.Ct. 2392 (1981)) (quotation marks omitted). While conditions of confinement may be, and often are, restrictive and harsh, they must not involve the wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain. Morgan, 465 F.3d at 1045 (citing Rhodes, 452 U.S. at 347) (quotation marks omitted).

Prison officials have a duty to ensure that prisoners are provided adequate shelter, food, clothing, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety, Johnson v. Lewis, 217 F.3d 726, 731 (9th Cir. 2000) (quotation marks and citations omitted), but not every injury that a prisoner sustains while in prison represents a constitutional violation, Morgan, 465 F.3d at 1045 (quotation marks omitted). To maintain an Eighth Amendment claim, inmates must show deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of harm to their health or safety. E.g., Farmer, 511 U.S. at 847; Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1151-52 (9th Cir. 2010); Foster v. Runnels, 554 F.3d 807, 812-14 (9th Cir. 2009); Morgan, 465 F.3d at 1045; Johnson, 217 F.3d at 731; Frost v. Agnos, 152 F.3d 1124, 1128 (9th Cir. 1998).

2. Claims Arising from Attack

a. Summary of Allegations

In his amended complaint, Plaintiff alleges that on January 27, 2010, he was sitting in his wheelchair in the evening pill line, his caregiver next to him. Defendant Reed was standing fewer than ten feet away when inmate Wolfbrandt got out of his wheelchair, approached Plaintiff from behind, and slashed Plaintiff's throat from side to side within one second. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant "Reed was looking on and seemed confused and unresponsive till [Plaintiff] started to stand up and [yell]...." (Amend. Comp., p.10.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Reed was in charge of the pill line that night, and it took several minutes before inmate Wolfbrandt was apprehended, despite the incident being witnessed by Defendant Reed.

Plaintiff also alleges that the pill line is an inherently dangerous setting, as up to three-hundred men stand in line in a small area for up to one-hundred twenty minutes to get their medication. Inmates punch, shove, spit, cut in line, and deal drugs; some men are territorial over their place in line; and many threats are made by inmates in line.

Finally, Plaintiff alleges that inmate Wolfbrandt warned Defendant Lozano that he was going to cut someone if he did not get moved off the yard, but Defendant failed to take action based on the comment. Plaintiff alleges that when inmate Wolfbrandt came to the yard, his behavior was problematic and he was placed on single cell status. Inmate Wolfbrandt had been in prison for more than twenty years, and he spoke of attacking others throughout the years and of the thrill he got from killing others.

b. Findings

Plaintiff's allegations do not support a claim against Defendant Reed for violation of the Eighth Amendment. Deliberate indifference is shown where a prison official "knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it." Farmer, 511 U.S. at 847. "A prison official's duty under the Eighth Amendment is to ensure reasonable safety, a standard that incorporates due regard for prison officials' unenviable task of keeping dangerous men in safe custody under humane conditions." Id. at 844-45 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, "prison officials who actually knew of a substantial risk to inmate health or safety may be found free from liability if they responded reasonably to the risk, even if harm ultimately was not averted." Id. at 844.

Plaintiff's allegations establish that he was attacked from behind and the attack was over quickly. There are no facts pled which support a claim that Defendant Reed knew inmate Wolfbrandt presented a substantial risk of harm to Plaintiff's safety, pre-attack, and failed to take reasonable measures to abate the risk. As a result, Plaintiff's allegations do not support a claim against Defendant Reed under section 1983.

Plaintiff's allegations regarding the pill line likewise do not support a claim. Notwithstanding the facts that Plaintiff may not sue CDCR or PVSP and that he has not linked any individuals to the pill line conditions, his allegations do not demonstrate that the pill line itself created a risk of harm to inmate safety so substantial that the condition was an Eighth Amendment violation.

Finally, Plaintiff's allegations against Defendant Lozano fail to support a claim that Defendant Lozano acted with deliberate indifference toward Plaintiff's safety. Inmate Wolfbrandt was on single cell status and assuming he told Defendant Lozano he would cut someone if not removed from the yard, this threat falls short of demonstrating (1) the existence of a substantial risk of harm either to Plaintiff's safety or to the safety of all inmates on the yard (2) which was knowingly disregarded by Defendant Lozano. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835.

The attack on Plaintiff was unquestionably horrific and the Court sympathizes with Plaintiff. However, the Constitution offers redress only if prison officials were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's safety, and here, there is no indication they were, given the sudden surprise attack on Plaintiff by inmate Wolfbrandt. (Amend. Comp., p. 10, 19.)

3. Medical Care Claim

Plaintiff also alleges that it took several minutes for medical assistance to arrive and the nurses seemed perplexed. Plaintiff was feeling lightheaded, was "drifting, " and was bleeding profusely. (Amend. Comp., p.10.) Plaintiff was taken to the Central Triage Center ("CTC"), where he waited for an ambulance to take him to the hospital forty-five minutes away because he was too heavy to be airlifted. Plaintiff alleges "it seem[ed] that even as [his] life was in danger, staff was making erroneous, inflammatory comments and acted with deliberate indifference pertaining to the care that [he] received." (Amend. Comp., p. 10.)

No individual staff members are linked to Plaintiff's medical care claim, but notwithstanding that deficiency, Plaintiff's allegations do not support a claim that medical staff members acted with deliberate indifference to his medical care. Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1122 (9th Cir. 2012). Following the attack, Plaintiff was taken to the CTC, where he waited for an ambulance to take him to an outside hospital. In terms of needing an ambulance ride to a hospital and having to wait for the ambulance to arrive, these events unfolded exactly as they would have had Plaintiff been attacked as a free citizen who was not in prison. Further, even if staff made comments which were callous, verbal harassment does not violate the Eighth Amendment, Oltarzewski v. Ruggiero, 830 F.2d 136, 139 (9th Cir. 1987), and the amended complaint is devoid of any facts which suggest staff acted with knowing disregard toward a serious risk of harm to Plaintiff's medical needs, Snow v. McDaniel, 681 F.3d 978, 985 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation and quotation marks omitted), overruled in part on other grounds, Peralta v. Dillard, ___ F.3d ___, ___, No. 09-55907, 2014 WL 878830, at *3 (9th Cir. Mar. 6, 2014); Wilhelm, 680 F.3d at 1122.

III. Conclusion and Order

Plaintiff's amended complaint fails to state any claims upon which relief may be granted under section 1983.[2] Plaintiff was previously provided with notice of the deficiencies in his Eighth Amendment claims and the applicable legal standard, and based on the nature of the deficiencies at issue, the Court finds that a second opportunity to amend is not warranted. Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212-13 (9th Cir. 2012); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000); Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448-49 (9th Cir. 1987).

Accordingly, based on the foregoing, this action is HEREBY DISMISSED, with prejudice, for failure to state a claim under section 1983, and the Clerk of the Court shall enter judgment in favor of Defendants.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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