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Johnson v. Sierra Conservation Center

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 6, 2014

ROBERT AUSTIN JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SIERRA CONSERVATION CENTER, et al. Defendants.

ORDER

CRAIG M. KELLISON, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 1).

The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it: (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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Moreover, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that complaints contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This means that claims must be stated simply, concisely, and directly. See McHenry v. Renne , 84 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996) (referring to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e)(1)). These rules are satisfied if the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. See Kimes v. Stone , 84 F.3d 1121, 1129 (9th Cir. 1996). Because plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts by specific defendants which support the claims, vague and conclusory allegations fail to satisfy this standard. Additionally, it is impossible for the court to conduct the screening required by law when the allegations are vague and conclusory.

I. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

Plaintiff alleges in his complaint that the defendants have failed to protect him against a potential serious threat of harm. He states that while housed at Sierra Conservation Center, he was in an altercation with another inmate, Turcot. As a result of that altercation, both plaintiff and inmate Turcot were reassigned and set to be transferred to another institution. Plaintiff states that he was told he would be transferred to "SADF" and that such a transfer would place him in danger as inmate Turcot was also to be transferred there and he had friends in every yard at that facility. He claims such a transfer would place him at substantial risk of serious harm. Since filing this action, plaintiff has been transferred to California State Prison, Corcoran.

II. DISCUSSION

The treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which the prisoner is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. See Helling v. McKinney , 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993); Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). The Eighth Amendment "... embodies broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity, and decency." Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976). Conditions of confinement may, however, be harsh and restrictive. See Rhodes v. Chapman , 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). Nonetheless, prison officials must provide prisoners with "food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety." Toussaint v. McCarthy , 801 F.2d 1080, 1107 (9th Cir. 1986). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) objectively, the official's act or omission must be so serious such that it results in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities; and (2) subjectively, the prison official must have acted unnecessarily and wantonly for the purpose of inflicting harm. See Farmer , 511 U.S. at 834. Thus, to violate the Eighth Amendment, a prison official must have a "sufficiently culpable mind." See id.

Under these principles, prison officials have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect inmates from physical abuse. See Hoptowit v. Ray , 682 F.2d 1237, 1250-51 (9th Cir. 1982); Farmer , 511 U.S. at 833. Liability exists only when two requirements are met: (1) objectively, the prisoner was incarcerated under conditions presenting a substantial risk of serious harm; and (2) subjectively, prison officials knew of and disregarded the risk. See Farmer , 511 U.S. at 837. The very obviousness of the risk may suffice to establish the knowledge element. See Wallis v. Baldwin , 70 F.3d 1074, 1077 (9th Cir. 1995). Prison officials are not liable, however, if evidence is presented that they lacked knowledge of a safety risk. See Farmer , 511 U.S. at 844. The knowledge element does not require that the plaintiff prove that prison officials know for a certainty that the inmate's safety is in danger, but it requires proof of more than a mere suspicion of danger. See Berg v. Kincheloe , 794 F.2d 457, 459 (9th Cir. 1986). Finally, the plaintiff must show that prison officials disregarded a risk. Thus, where prison officials actually knew of a substantial risk, they are not liable if they took reasonable steps to respond to the risk, even if harm ultimately was not averted. See Farmer , 511 U.S. at 844.

Here, plaintiff stated he was going to be transferred to SADF. The court interprets this to mean he was told he was to be transferred to California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison, Corcoran (SATF). Instead, it appears he has been transferred to California State Prison, Corcoran (CSP-C). These are two separate facilities, both located in Corcoran. However, plaintiff claims the risk to his safety lies at SATF, not at CSP-C where he was actually transferred to. Therefore, any potential risk to plaintiff's safety did not come to pass as he expected.

In addition, plaintiff's claims of risk are too tenuous to be sufficient to state a claim. Plaintiff was concerned he would be housed in a yard where inmate Turcot's friends were located. He claims he informed the defendants about the risk, providing them with full knowledge, but the risk was ignored which would likely result in his assault. In order to state a claim, plaintiff has to allege conditions presenting a substantial risk of serious harm. No such situation is presented in plaintiff's complaint. While there may have been a slight risk to plaintiff if he had been transferred to the same prison as inmate Turcot and assigned to the same yard, plaintiff failed to allege sufficient facts of a substantial risk of harm. There is no indication that inmate Turcot was likely to attack plaintiff, held plaintiff responsible for his transfer, or had threatened plaintiff. Similarly, the possibility of transfer to the same prison as inmate Turcot's friends, who may or may not know about the altercation, is too speculative to show actual substantial risk of harm. The mere possibility of harm is insufficient.

As plaintiff has been transferred to another facility, not SATF where the possibility harm was alleged to exist, there is no possibility that an amendment can cure the defects in plaintiff's complaint.

III. CONCLUSION

Because it does not appear possible that the deficiencies identified herein can be cured by amending the complaint, plaintiff is not entitled to leave to amend prior to dismissal of the entire action. See Lopez v. Smith , 203 F.3d 1122, 1126, 1131 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Plaintiff shall show cause in writing, within 30 days of the date of this order, why this action should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff is warned that failure to respond to this order may result in dismissal of the action for the reasons outlined above, as well as for failure to prosecute and comply with court rules and orders. See Local Rule 110.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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