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Burton v. McDonald

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 18, 2014

HARRISON L. BURTON, Plaintiff,
v.
MCDONALD, et al., Defendants.

ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

EDMUND F. BRENNAN, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. By order filed July 13, 2012, the court dismissed plaintiff's third amended complaint for failure to state a demand for proper relief. ECF No. 63. The court granted plaintiff thirty days in which to file a fourth amended complaint. On August 3, 2012, plaintiff filed a motion to compel the return of his legal materials and for a one-hundred twenty day extension of time to file a fourth amended complaint. By order filed August 24, 2012, defendants were directed to respond within ten days to that motion, and the court vacated the deadline for filing a fourth amended complaint. On December 10, 2012, the court issued an order denying plaintiff's motion to compel and granting plaintiff sixty days from that date in which to file and serve a proposed fourth amended complaint. On January 22, 2013, plaintiff filed his proposed fourth amended complaint. ECF No. 74.

I. Screening Standards

The court is required to screen the proposed amended complaint. See 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.

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "requires only 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, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim 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., 127 S.Ct. at 1964. However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement [of facts] need only "give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests."" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp., 127 S.Ct. at 1964, in turn quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Erickson, 127 S.Ct. at 2200, and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974).

II. Plaintiff's Allegations

Plaintiff names four defendants in his fourth amended complaint: Warden McDonald, Lt. Amero, SCC1 Webster, and Sgt. Moore. However, plaintiff makes no allegations with regard to defendants McDonald, Amero, and Moore. The complaint must allege in specific terms how each named defendant is involved, and specific acts or omissions by each defendant that caused harm to plaintiff. There can be no liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unless there is some affirmative link or connection between a defendant's actions and the claimed deprivation. Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); May v. Enomoto, 633 F.2d 164, 167 (9th Cir. 1980); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). Accordingly, plaintiff's fourth amended complaint fails to set forth facts sufficient to state a claim against any of these three defendants.

With regard to Webster, the sole remaining defendant, plaintiff makes the following allegations. In June 2009, plaintiff was assigned to work in the kitchen at High Desert State Prison, where defendant Webster was working as a relief supervisor on Fridays and Saturdays. Fourth Amended Complaint (ECF No. 74) at 4. On November 20, 2009, Webster engaged in "discriminatory harassment and racial discrimination" when she "aligned herself with the white inmates, intentionally exposing plaintiff to potential racial violence and racial discrimination, with a known risk of violence at the hands of white prisoners." Id. at 4-5. On that day, Webster had a conversation with the white inmates, telling them that the black inmates had strained meat without her permission. Id. at 5. In fact, Webster had given the black inmates permission to strain gravy from the meat left over from the morning meal. Id. at 5-6. Webster further "told the white inmates that the black inmates were responsible' for them not being allowed to strain or cook any meat." Id. at 5. "Th[is] statement created racial unrest and hostility between the black inmates and white inmates." Id. Plaintiff claims that Webster's statement subjected plaintiff to "racial discrimination and racial harassment" by other inmates in the "culinary." Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff alleges that he "was under duress or compulsion that is and was present immanent [sic], and impending, that produced a well-grounded apprehension of death or serious bodily harm." Id. at 6.

Plaintiff claims that the above alleged facts give rise to causes of action under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause of the Eighth Amendment, and a state law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Id. at 5. Specific to his equal protection claim, plaintiff also alleges that an unspecified "discriminatory and unwritten racist" prison policy "had the effect of discriminating against plaintiff, and SCC1 Webster knowingly formented [sic] racial unrest among white and black inmates working in the culinary under her supervision and threatened inmates who complained about her racial discrimination with punitive action." Id. at 6. Plaintiff further claims that Webster created the unspecified rule, at least in part, with "a discriminatory purpose and or intent." Id.

Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief and an injunction requiring defendants to stop "the unwritten policy of treating black inmates different from white inmates." Id. at 4. Plaintiff also requests that "all culinary staff adhere to the Fourteenth Amendment and receive ethnic diversity training." Id.

III. Discussion

A. Equal Protection

The Equal Protection Clause requires the State to treat all similarly situated people equally. See City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). State prison inmates retain a right to equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Walker v. Gomez, 370 F.3d 969, 974 (9th Cir. 2004) (citing Lee v. Washington, 390 U.S. 333, 334 (1968)). "To state a § 1983 claim for violation of the Equal Protection Clause, a plaintiff must show that he was treated in a manner inconsistent with others similarly situated, and that the defendants acted with an intent or purpose to discriminate against the plaintiff based upon membership in a protected class." Thornton v. City of St. Helens, 425 F.3d 1158, 1166-67 (9th Cir. 2005); Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998); see City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, 473 U.S. 432, 439-40 (1985); Freeman v. ...


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