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Thompson v. Scully

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 10, 2014

JAN SCULLY, et al., Defendants.


ALLISON CLAIRE, District Judge.

Plaintiff, a Sacramento County Jail inmate proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. By order filed on September 16, 2013, plaintiff's complaint was dismissed with leave to amend. ECF No. 10. Following an extension of time, ECF No. 13, plaintiff filed his amended complaint on November 25, 2013. ECF No. 15.


As plaintiff has been previously informed, 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).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy , 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke , 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona , 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin , 745 F.2d at 1227.

A complaint must contain more than a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). "The pleading must contain something more... than... a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action." Id . (quoting 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-35 (3d ed. 2004)). "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 566 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id.

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 Hospital 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).


Plaintiff claims that Deputy District Attorney Carlton Davis violated plaintiff's right to privacy by illegally obtaining and improperly handling confidential mental health treatment records. The complaint alleges the following facts:

In March 2007, plaintiff was accused by his 11-year-old stepdaughter of sexually assaulting her and her 13-year-old sister in Sacramento County. In October 2007, the older stepdaughter called plaintiff from her father's house in Idaho, crying that her father had punched and kicked her and asking for assistance. Plaintiff picked her up and was arrested two days later in Lincoln County, Kansas. While in jail there, he attempted suicide and was admitted to Larned State Hospital in Larned County, Kansas. Plaintiff was released back to the jail on October 26, 2007, and returned to the hospital on October 30 following a suicide threat. Plaintiff "went AWOL" from the hospital on November 3, 2007. He was arrested in Corpus Christi, Texas on September 27, 2008. Plaintiff was extradited to Idaho on charges of second degree kidnapping, where he pled guilty to a charge of child custody interference and was sentenced to a five-year prison term. Amended Complaint, ECF No. 15, at 1-2.

An arrest warrant for plaintiff issued from Sacramento County on April 21, 2011, related to the sexual abuse allegations. ECF No. 15 at 2. Plaintiff was extradited and detained in Sacramento County Jail on August 17, 2011. On October 11, 2011, defendant Deputy District Attorney Davis served a subpoena duces tecum on Larned State Hospital demanding production of "all records that indicate when Mr. Thompson was admitted to your facility, why he was admitted to your facility, when he left your facility, and why he left the facility." Id. at 3. Defendant Davis also stated: "The above are material to the issues involved in this case by reason of the following facts: Mr. Thompson is charged with a crime." Id . Defendant Davis's letter and subpoena advised Larned State Hospital to provide the records to the deputy district attorney's office, warning in large letters that "non-compliance" could result in criminal punishment. Id. at 3-4.

On November 8, 2011 in Sacramento County Superior Court, Davis asked plaintiff's criminal defense attorney to stipulate that Davis could keep the records which had been provided by Larned State Hospital pursuant to the subpoena duces tecum. Counsel for plaintiff did not so stipulate, because the records having been delivered to the district attorney's office signified an "illegal chain of custody." Id. at 4. The next day, defendant Davis sent a second subpoena duces tecum to Larned State Hospital. In this subpoena it was stated that the records sought "are material and necessary to determine the extent of injuries suffered by the patient and for the successful prosecution of this criminal matter." Id.

At a court hearing on November 18, 2011 concerning release of the records, the judge ordered Davis to turn over copies of the subpoena forms to the judge and defense that day. Davis did not do so for another eighteen days, and only after plaintiff's defense counsel had sent many emails to Davis. Id. at 4-5. Davis was also ordered to lodge plaintiff's psychological records with the court, but he did not do so until December 1, 2011.[1] Davis claimed that once he realized that the documents were medical records he had sealed them up. ECF No. 15 at 5-6.

The court held a hearing in camera on a defense motion to quash. The judge concluded that defendant Davis had no right to have accessed plaintiff's medical and psychiatric records. The judge released only five pages of the records, those pages which concerned plaintiff's having gone AWOL from the hospital. Id. at 6-7. Defendant Davis claimed he had never sought documents pertaining to plaintiff's treatment or diagnosis. However, a Sacramento County Public Defender investigator contacted Larned State Hospital and learned from a Mrs. Holmberg that defendant Davis had pursued the "master file" from plaintiff's second admission to the ...

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