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Thomas v. Skrenek

United States District Court, C.D. California

April 23, 2014

JAY SKRENEK, et al., Defendants.


SUZANNE H. SEGAL, Magistrate Judge.



On January 27, 2014, Plaintiff Craig Arnold Thomas ("Plaintiff") filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (the "Complaint") against various defendants. (Complaint at 1-4, 8-10)[1]. For the reasons stated below, the Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend.[2]

Congress mandates that district courts initially screen civil complaints filed by prisoners seeking redress from a governmental entity or employee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). This Court may dismiss such a complaint, or any portions thereof, before service of process if the Court concludes that the complaint (1) is frivolous or malicious, (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) (1)-(2); see also Lopez v. Smith , 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).



Plaintiff sues the following nine employees of California Correctional Institution-Tehachapi ("CCI") in both their individual and official capacities: (1) Correctional Officer Hudson; (2) Law Librarian Carloe, ; (3) Law Library Supervisor Jay Skrenek; (4) Fire Chief K. Fried; (5) Correctional Officer C. Chamberlain; (6) Warden Fernando Gonzalez; (7) Chief Deputy Warden M. Stainer; (8) Associate Warden of Business Services M. Carrasco; and (9) Associate Warden Hedgepeth (collectively, "Defendants").[3] (Complaint at 3-4, 8-10, 13).

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights when they ordered him and two other inmates to move boxes of books "covered in black and green mold" from a storage room without protective gear. (Id. at 7-8). Specifically, from May 26, 2010 through June of 2010, Plaintiff and the other inmates were temporarily reassigned from working at the law library to moving boxes of books from the prison's "silk screen storage room, " where they "encountered a strong pungent odor[.]" (Id. at 5, 7). After detecting "the hazardous and poisonous toxic mold[, ]" Plaintiff notified Defendants Officer Hudson, Law Librarian Carloe and Law Library Supervisor Skrenek of the black mold and "requested protective gear such as rubber gloves and surgical mask[s] to avoid exposure to the toxic mold." (Id. at 7). However, they denied Plaintiff's request and stated that "our higher ups failed to provide it so it's out of our hands.'" (Id.). Fire Chief Fried had previously checked the storage room and had determined that the stained and dirty boxes constituted a potential fire hazard, "but failed to do anything once Defendants were made aware of the toxic black mold." (Id. at 9).

Carloe further stated that "it's a priority [that] the boxes of books be moved" from the storage room and insisted that the job "could not be put off because Chief K. Fried did not provide any protective gear." (Id. at 7). However, Hudson and Carloe "refused to enter the silk schreen [sic] storage room after viewing the toxic black mold." (Id.). Additionally, Plaintiff and the other inmates "personally showed" the toxic mold to Skrenek "to make clear the potential health risk in [the] hazardous area." (Id.). Skrenek failed to provide adequate safety equipment and warned Plaintiff to be careful. (Id.).

The next day, Plaintiff informed Officer Chamberlain about the toxic mold and requested protective gear. (Id. at 8). Instead of providing the gear, Chamberlain merely told Plaintiff to speak with Skrenek. (Id.). Upon Plaintiff's renewed request, Skrenek provided only one pair of cotton gloves to be shared by the three inmates. (Id.). Skrenek further instructed Plaintiff and the other inmates "to avoid carrying the boxes of books so close to [their] mouth and nose to avoid the mold." (Id.). On the third day, after noticing Plaintiff's swollen nose and irritated eyes, Skrenek provided Plaintiff with wet paper towels, rubber gloves and a surgical mask. (Id.).

As a consequence of his exposure to the mold, Plaintiff suffered a "permanent injury to his lungs and/or respiratory system" and continues to experience chronic nasal and sinus congestion, chest pain, headaches, and eye irritation. (Id. at 9-10). Plaintiff was "temporarily subscribe[d]" [sic] nasal and eye medication to treat the nasal and sinus congestion and the "eye burning, reddened eye irritation[.]" (Id. at 10). Also, Plaintiff "was temporarily prescribed pain medication" for the chest pains and headaches. (Id.). "To this present date[, ]" Plaintiff has also been prescribed two inhalers to help with his breathing. (Id. at 9).

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Hudson, Carloe, Skrenek and Chamberlian "caused wanton and unnecessary infliction of pain and substantial risk of harm to Plaintiff" through their "deliberate indifference to Plaintiff[]s health and safety[.]" (Id. at 11-12). Similarly, Plaintiff contends that Fried also showed "deliberate indifference to [his] health and safety" because he failed to properly evaluate the work environment and provide protective gear. (Id. at 9).

Plaintiff claims that Warden Gonzalez, Chief Deputy Warden Stainer, Associate Warden Carrasco, and Associate Warden Hedgepeth are liable for the actions of Hudson, Carloe, Skrenek and Chamberlain. (Id. at 8-10). According to Plaintiff, these four officials "knew or reasonably should have known" about the "unsafe and unhealthy environment" because they are responsible for training employees and making sure that safety and health standards are met. (Id. at 10-13).

Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages of $180, 000.00, punitive damages of $225, 000.00, and "the cost of this suit and any further fee's [sic] the court deems just and necessary." (Id. at 6). Plaintiff also seeks a declaratory judgment "that defendants[] actions complained of herein violated Plaintiff's rights under the U.S. Constitution in order to prevent future incidents where unsafe unhealthy work environments arise." (Id.).



Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b), the Court must dismiss the Complaint due to defects in pleading. Pro se litigants in civil rights cases, however, must be given leave to amend their complaints unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. Lopez , 203 F.3d at 1127-29. Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiff leave to amend, as indicated below.

A. The Claims Against Defendants In Their Official Capacity Are Defective

Plaintiff sues Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. (Complaint at 3-4, 13). A suit against a state official in his official capacity is functionally a suit against the state. Flint v. Dennison , 488 F.3d 816, 824-25 (9th Cir. 2007). However, the Eleventh Amendment bars federal actions for damages, such as a civil rights suit under Section 1983, against states. Pena v. Gardner , 976 F.2d 469, 472 (9th Cir. 1992). Consequently, the Eleventh Amendment also bars claims for damages against state officials acting in their official capacity. Flint , 488 F.3d at 824-25 ("[S]tate officials sued in their official capacities... are not persons' within the meaning of § 1983 and are therefore generally entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity."). Thus, the allegations against Defendants in their "official capacity" are defective and must be dismissed. To the extent that Plaintiff intends to seek damages for violation of his civil rights, he may sue Defendants under Section 1983 in their individual capacity only.

B. The Complaint Fails To State An Eighth Amendment Claim As To Defendants Gonzalez, Stainer, Carrasco And Hedgepeth

Deliberate indifference to serious medical needs of prisoners violates the Eighth Amendment. West v. Atkins , 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988). A prisoner must show that he was confined under conditions posing a risk of "objectively, sufficiently serious" harm and that the officials had a sufficiently culpable state of mind in denying the proper medical care. Morgan v. Morgensen , 465 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2006); Wallis v. Baldwin , 70 F.3d 1074, 1076 (9th Cir. 1995). There must be a purposeful act or failure to act on the part of the official resulting in harm to Plaintiff. See Jett v. Penner , 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006).

Deliberate indifference "entails something more than mere negligence.'" Hearns v. Terhune , 413 F.3d 1036, 1040 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 825, 835 (1994)); see also Wood v. Housewright , 900 F.2d 1332, 1334 (9th Cir. 1990) ("[M]ere malpractice, or even gross negligence, " in the provision of medical care does not establish a constitutional violation). A "mere delay" in providing medical treatment does not establish deliberate indifference. Shapley v. Nevada Bd. of State Prison Com'rs , 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985). "A defendant must purposefully ignore or fail to respond to a prisoner's pain or possible medical need in order for deliberate indifference to be established." May v. Baldwin , 109 F.3d 557, 566 (9th Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Wallis v. Baldwin , 70 F.3d 1074, 1077 (9th Cir. 1995) (finding deliberate indifference where an inmate was required to work in an attic containing asbestos without adequate protection despite circumstantial evidence that should have put prison officials on notice).

Furthermore, to demonstrate a civil rights violation against government officials, a plaintiff must show either direct, personal participation or some sufficient causal connection between the officials' conduct and the alleged constitutional violation. See Starr v. Baca , 652 F.3d 1202, 1207 (9th Cir. 2011). To be held liable, a supervising officer has to personally take some action against the plaintiff or "set in motion a series of acts by others... which he knew or reasonably should have known, would cause others to inflict the constitutional injury" on the plaintiff. Larez v. City of Los Angeles , 946 F.2d 630, 646 (9th Cir. 1991) (internal quotations omitted). Government officials may not be held liable for the unconstitutional conduct of their subordinates just because their subordinates allegedly caused plaintiff harm. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009). Rather, "[s]upervisory liability [may be] imposed against a supervisory official in his individual capacity [only] for his own culpable action or inaction in the training, supervision, or control of his subordinates, for his acquiescence in the constitutional deprivations of which the complaint is made, or for conduct that showed a reckless or callous indifference to the rights of others." Preschooler II v. Clark County Bd. of Trustees , 479 F.3d 1175, 1183 (9th Cir. 2007).

Here, Plaintiff claims his Eighth Amendment rights were violated when he was assigned to move boxes that contained toxic mold. (Complaint at 7-8). While Plaintiff appears to have adequately alleged claims for deliberate indifference against Defendants Hudson, Carloe, Skrenek, Chamberlain and Fried, he fails to allege sufficient facts showing the participation of Defendants Gonzalez, Stainer, Carrasco and Hedgepeth in the alleged violation. Plaintiff does not state any facts to suggest that these supervisory Defendants had any knowledge that Plaintiff's health was at risk, much less that they were deliberately indifferent to that risk despite having notice. Although Plaintiff generally alleges that Gonzalez, Stainer, Carrasco and Hedgepeth are responsible for training employees and insuring compliance with safety and health standards, these conclusory allegations fail to describe any role or responsibility they had in training Hudson, Carloe, Skrenek or Chamberlain. Even assuming they had any such training responsibilities, Plaintiff fails to establish how that training was defective and directly caused Plaintiff's injuries.

Plaintiff must allege facts showing that each specific Defendant was aware of the hazardous situation but was deliberately indifferent to the serious health risk it posed. Plaintiff must also explain how each individual Defendant's actions or inactions directly caused a violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Accordingly, the Complaint must be dismissed with leave to amend.

C. The Complaint Fails To Satisfy Federal Rule Of Civil Procedure 8

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. V. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, (2007). Rule 8(e)(1) instructs that "[e]ach averment of a pleading shall be simple, concise, and direct." A complaint violates Rule 8 if a defendant would have difficulty understanding and responding to the complaint. Cafasso, U.S. ex rel. v. General Dynamics C4 Systems, Inc. , 637 F.3d 1047, 1059 (9th Cir. 2011).

Here, the Complaint does not comply with the standards of Rule 8. The Complaint includes repetitious and conclusory allegations. Also, because Plaintiff is not required to provide evidence supporting his claims at this stage of the litigation, the numerous exhibits attached to the Complaint are unnecessary. Plaintiff has also failed to name all Defendants in a single list in the same section of the Complaint. Therefore, the Complaint does not provide Defendants with fair notice of the claims in a clear and concise statement. See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Accordingly, the Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend. Should Plaintiff choose to file an Amended Complaint, Plaintiff is advised to name all Defendants in the same section of the Complaint and to clearly identify the nature of the legal claims he is brining, the specific facts giving rise to his claims against each individual Defendant, and the relief sought.



For the reasons stated above, the Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend. If Plaintiff still wishes to pursue this action, he is granted thirty (30) days from the date of this Memorandum and Order within which to file a First Amended Complaint. In any amended complaint, the Plaintiff shall cure the defects described above. Plaintiff shall not include new defendants or new allegations that are not reasonably related to the claims asserted in the original complaint. The First Amended Complaint, if any, shall be complete in itself and shall bear both the designation "First Amended Complaint" and the case number assigned to this action. It shall not refer in any manner to any previously filed complaint in this matter.

In any amended complaint, Plaintiff should confine his allegations to those operative facts supporting each of his claims. Plaintiff is advised that pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), all that is required is a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Plaintiff is strongly encouraged to utilize the standard civil rights complaint form when filing any amended complaint, a copy of which is attached. In any amended complaint, Plaintiff should identify the nature of each separate legal claim and make clear what specific factual allegations support each of his separate claims. Plaintiff is strongly encouraged to keep his statements concise and to omit irrelevant details. It is not necessary for Plaintiff to cite case law or include legal argument. Plaintiff is also advised to omit any claims for which he lacks a sufficient factual basis.

Plaintiff is explicitly cautioned that failure to timely file a First Amended Complaint, or failure to correct the deficiencies described above, will result in a recommendation that this action be dismissed with prejudice for failure to prosecute and obey Court orders pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b). Plaintiff is further advised that if he no longer wishes to pursue this action, he may voluntarily dismiss it by filing a Notice of Dismissal in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1). A form Notice of Dismissal is attached for Plaintiff's convenience.

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