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Jones v. Grounds

United States District Court, N.D. California.

June 4, 2014

WARDEN GROUNDS, et al., Defendants.


LUCY H. KOH, District Judge.

Plaintiff, a California state prisoner proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On March 24, 2014, the court screened plaintiff's complaint and dismissed it for failure to state a claim. On April 8, 2014, plaintiff filed an objection to the order of dismissal. The court construes plaintiff's objection as a motion to alter or amend the judgment. So construed, plaintiff's motion is GRANTED for the reasons stated below.


A. Standard of Review

A federal court must conduct a preliminary screening in any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review, the court must identify any cognizable claims and dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must, however, be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

B. Legal Claims

Plaintiff was housed at Salinas Valley State Prison in November 2012. Plaintiff asserted that his cell flooded several times in November and December, and although complaints were made, maintenance did not repair the plumbing in a timely manner, and plaintiff ended up injuring himself by slipping on the wet floor.

The court initially dismissed plaintiff's complaint because claims regarding slippery floors, without more, "do not state even an arguable claim for cruel and unusual punishment." Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 641 (9th Cir. 1989), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000). To state a cognizable claim for relief, there must be a confluence of exacerbating conditions such that the slippery floor posed a serious, unavoidable threat to plaintiff's safety. See Frost v. Agnos, 152 F.3d 1124, 1129 (9th Cir. 1998) ("[s]lippery floors without protective measures could create a sufficient danger to warrant relief" when an inmate alleges facts that exacerbate the danger resulting from such conditions); Osolinski v. Kane, 92 F.3d 934, 938 (9th Cir. 1996) (a single, minor safety hazard does not violate the Eighth Amendment but allegations of conditions which "exacerbate[] the inherent dangerousness of already-existing hazards" or "render[] [an inmate] unable to provide for his own safety" are sufficient to state a cognizable claim for relief (internal quotations, brackets and citation omitted)).

A motion to alter or amend judgment under Rule 59 must be made no later than twenty-eight days after entry of judgment. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) (effective Dec. 1, 2009). A Rule 59(e) motion may be granted if the movant demonstrates that the motion is necessary to correct manifest errors of fact upon which the judgment is based. Here, in plaintiff's motion, plaintiff states for the first time that he is mobility impaired and requires a cane to ambulate. Plaintiff implies that his mobility exacerbated the dangerous condition of the slippery floor. With this additional fact, liberally construed, plaintiff has stated a cognizable claim that prison officials were deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's safety needs.

However, plaintiff has failed to establish legal liability of each named defendant for the claimed violation of his rights. Liability may be imposed on an individual defendant under section 1983 if the plaintiff can show that the defendant proximately caused the deprivation of a federally protected right. See Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 634 (9th Cir. 1988). A person deprives another of a constitutional right within the meaning of section 1983 if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative act or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do, that causes the deprivation of which the plaintiff complains. See id. at 633. Plaintiff will be given an opportunity to file an amended complaint to establish legal liability of the defendants. Plaintiff should be mindful that a complaint containing only sweeping conclusory allegations will not suffice; plaintiff must instead "set forth specific facts as to each individual defendant's" deprivation of protected rights. Id. at 634.

"While a complaint... does not need detailed factual allegations, ... a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.... Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 553-56, (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint should be dismissed if it does not proffer "enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

Accordingly, the complaint is DISMISSED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND. Plaintiff will be provided with thirty days in which to correct ...

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