United States District Court, E.D. California
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS, RECOMMENDING THAT DEFENDANTS' RULE 12(b)(6) MOTION TO DISMISS BE DENIED (Doc. 22; also resolves Doc. 39.)
GARY S. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.
Cornell Brown ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case now proceeds on Plaintiff's initial Complaint filed on September 10, 2012, against defendant Harris for excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment, and defendant Nelson for failure to protect Plaintiff in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Doc. 1.)
On December 6, 2013, defendants Harris and Nelson ("Defendants") filed an unenumerated Rule 12(b) motion to dismiss this action for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on the ground that Plaintiff's claims for relief under § 1983 are barred by Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477 (1994) and Edwards v. Balisok , 520 U.S. 641, 648 (1997). (Doc. 22.) On January 27, 2014, Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motions. (Doc. 27.) On January 29, 2014, Defendants filed a notice of errata concerning the motions to dismiss. (Doc. 28.) On February 3, 2014, Defendants filed a reply to Plaintiff's opposition. (Doc. 29.) On February 14, 2014, Plaintiff filed a response to Defendants' notice of errata. (Doc. 30.) On April 30, 2014, Defendants filed a Request to withdraw their exhaustion of remedies argument from the motion to dismiss, in light of the Ninth Circuit's recent opinion in Albino v. Baca , 747 F.3d 1162 (9th Cir. 2014). (Doc. 41.) On May 7, 2014, Plaintiff filed an amended opposition to the motions to dismiss. (Doc. 42.) On May 8, 2014, the court granted Defendants' Request to withdraw their exhaustion of remedies argument from the motion to dismiss. (Doc. 43.) On June 6, 2014, Defendants filed an opposition to Plaintiff's amended opposition. (Doc. 51.)
Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss on the ground that Plaintiff's claims for relief under § 1983 are barred by Heck and Balisok is now before the court. (Doc. 22.)
II. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS
Plaintiff is a state prisoner in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) at Pelican Bay State Prison in Crescent City, California. The events at issue in the Complaint allegedly occurred at the California Correctional Institution (CCI) in Tehachapi, California, when Plaintiff was incarcerated there. Plaintiff names as defendants R. Harris and C. Nelson, Correctional Officers employed by the CDCR at CCI.
Plaintiff alleges that on April 12, 2012, at 0732 hours in the 4A Security Housing Unit (SHU), he was escorted to the shower by Defendant Harris. Plaintiff alleges that Harris "snatched him hard by the arm and stated in a low menacing voice that if you ever disrespect me again, you are going to have serious problems." (Complaint, Doc. 1 at 7:3-10.) Plaintiff ignored the statement and did not speak. Plaintiff alleges that "after we both took a few more steps, the Defendant intentionally stuck one of his legs in front of the Plaintiff's legs and then the Defendant slammed the Plaintiff down on the cement floor. Plaintiff was in restraints with his hands handcuffed behind his back, so Plaintiff was unable to break the fall." ( Id. at 7:17-24.) Plaintiff alleges that he fell face first onto the cement. Plaintiff alleges that Harris used both hands to strike Plaintiff with his baton, using "power blows." ( Id. at 7:27-8:1.) Plaintiff begged Harris to stop. Harris responded by punching Plaintiff in the face with a closed fist. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant C/O Nelson "had a smile on his face as he stood by and watched R. Harris brutally assault the Plaintiff." ( Id. at 8:5-7.)
Plaintiff alleges that he continued to call for help, and Defendant Harris stated that he knew what would shut Plaintiff up. Plaintiff alleges that "as the Plaintiff screamed for help, the Defendant stuck the nozzle part of the pepper spray in the Plaintiff's mouth and continued to spray the Plaintiff inside his mouth. This continued until the pepper spray container was empty." ( Id. at 8:13-15.) Harris then dragged Plaintiff by his braided hair into the section. Plaintiff alleges that at that point he vomited and then lost consciousness. Plaintiff alleges that as a result, he suffered permanent damage in his right eye, blood clots in both legs, and had "extensive" dental work performed. ( Id. at 8:24.)
III. RULE 12(b)(6) MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) operates to test the sufficiency of the complaint. "A state prisoner cannot use a § 1983 action to challenge the fact or duration of his confinement, ' because such an action lies at the core of habeas corpus.'" Simpson v. Thomas , 528 F.3d 685, 693 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Preiser v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 475, 489 (1973)). Thus, where a § 1983 action seeking damages alleging constitutional violations that would necessarily imply the invalidity of a conviction or sentence, the prisoner must first establish that the underlying sentence or conviction has already been invalidated on appeal, by a habeas petition, or terminated in his favor via some other similar proceeding. Heck, 512 U.S. at 438-37. This "favorable termination" rule applies to prison disciplinary proceedings, if those proceedings resulted in the loss of good-time or behavior credits. Balisok , 520 U.S. at 646-48 (holding that claim for monetary and declaratory relief challenging validity of procedures used to deprive prisoner of good-time credits is not cognizable under § 1983); see also Wilkinson v. Dotson , 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005) (explaining that "a state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation) no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit (state conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings) if success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration" (emphasis omitted)). Stated another way, a § 1983 claim is barred if the "plaintiff could prevail only by negating an element of the offense of which he has been convicted.'" Cunningham v. Gates , 312 F.3d 1148, 1153-54 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Heck , 512 U.S. at 487 n. 6). However, when the § 1983 claim does not necessarily implicate the underlying disciplinary action (or criminal conviction), it may proceed. See Muhammad v. Close , 540 U.S. 749, 754-55 (2004).
A. Defendants' Rule 12(b)(6) Motion
Defendants argue that Plaintiff's claims for relief are barred by Heck and Balisok, because success in this lawsuit would invalidate the prison disciplinary finding of Plaintiff's guilt for resisting a peace officer and his resulting loss of credits concerning the same incident. Evidence in Plaintiff's Complaint shows that on April 26, 2012, Plaintiff was found guilty of resisting a peace officer and assessed ninety days loss of behavioral/work credits, based on the April 12, 2012 incident at issue in this case. (Doc. 1 at 28.) Defendants argue that if Plaintiff succeeds on his theory of liability in this case - that he was the victim of an attack by defendant Harris and that defendant Nelson ...