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Hamilton v. Quinonez

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 29, 2014

EDDIE HAMILTON, Plaintiff,
v.
J. QUINONEZ, et al.,

ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT FOR FAILURE TO STATE A COGNIZALBE CLAIM (ECF NO. 1)

MICHAEL J. SENG, Magistrate Judge.

SCREENING ORDER

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Eddie Hamilton, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on August 4, 2014. (ECF No. 1.) His complaint is now before the Court for screening.

II. SCREENING REQUIREMENT

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 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, malicious, " or 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). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action or appeal... fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

III. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT

Plaintiff identifies J. Quinonez and E. Lozano, correctional officers at Wasco State Prison (Wasco), as the sole defendants and alleges the following:

On February 19, 2013, Plaintiff was assaulted by his cellmate Carlos Richee. On March 8, 2013, prison officials formally documented Plaintiff and Richee as enemies. On April 2, 2013, Plaintiff told Defendants Quinonez and Lozano that Richee was back and that he and Richee had fought in February. "Defendant Lozano stated, if anything happen, do what you have to do and you won't get in any trouble." (Compl. at 5.)

That same day Plaintiff was attacked by Richee. (Id.) Plaintiff's nose and mouth were swollen, reddened, and scratched. Plaintiff asserts the Defendants failed to protect him from a substantial risk of harm in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Id. at 6.)

IV. ANALYSIS

A. Section 1983

Section 1983 "provides a cause of action for the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United States." Wilder v. Virginia Hosp. Ass'n , 496 U.S. 498, 508 (1990) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). Section 1983 is not itself a source of substantive rights, but merely provides a method for vindicating federal rights conferred elsewhere. Graham v. Connor , 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989).

To state a claim under Section 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); Ketchum v. Alameda Cnty. , 811 F.2d 1243, 1245 (9th Cir. 1987).

A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief...." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Id . Facial plausibility demands more than the mere possibility that a defendant committed misconduct and, while factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Id. at 1949-50.

B. Eighth Amendment

The Eighth Amendment protects prisoners from inhumane methods of punishment and from inhumane conditions of confinement. Morgan v. Morgensen , 465 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2006). Although prison conditions may be restrictive and harsh, prison officials must provide prisoners with food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety. Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 825, 832-33, 114 S.Ct. 1970 (1994) (internal citations and quotations omitted). Prison officials have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect inmates from physical abuse. Farmer , 511 U.S. at 833.

To establish a violation of this duty, the prisoner must establish that prison officials were "deliberately indifferent" to serious threats to the inmate's safety. Id. at 834. To demonstrate that a prison official was deliberately indifferent to a serious threat to the inmate's safety, the prisoner must show that "the official [knew] of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate... safety; the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and [the official] must also draw the inference." Id. at 837; Anderson v. County of Kern , 45 F.3d 1310, 1313 (9th Cir. 1995). However, to prove knowledge of the risk, the prisoner may rely on circumstantial evidence; in fact, the very obviousness of the risk may be sufficient to establish knowledge. Farmer , 511 U.S. at 842.

Plaintiff alleges he identified inmate Richee as an enemy and, impliedly, as a potential threat to Plaintiff. At some point that same day Richee allegedly attacked and injured Plaintiff.

Plaintiff's factual allegations do not state an Eighth Amendment claim. The Complaint does not explain how soon after Plaintiff notified Defendants of the risk of harm that the attack occurred and whether they had the opportunity to respond before the attack occurred. It is not clear precisely what, if anything, Plaintiff told Defendants about the risk of attack by Richee other than that the two were enemies He does not say if he sought protection or some action Defendants declined to take. If Plaintiff chooses to amend, he should set out clearly his basis for claiming Defendant's should have recognized the risk of harm to him, that they had an opportunity to protect against it, and that they nevertheless declined to act or otherwise ignored the risk. He should say if they took no action or took that proved inadequate.

Defendant Lozano's statement that Plaintiff needed "to do what was necessary" is troubling insofar as it might be read to suggest Lozano appreciated the risk of harm and left it to Plaintiff to respond to it on his own. But the facts are so limited that other reasonable, and non-actionable, inferences could be drawn from the comment.

The Court will grant Plaintiff leave to amend. Any amended complaint must fully address the above issues and omissions and explain the circumstances underlying Plaintiff's claim in more detail, including, ideally, a step by step chronology.

The facts alleged must demonstrate that each Defendant knowingly disregarded an excessive risk of harm to Plaintiff. It is not sufficient to simply allege that Defendants "should have known" that their actions violated the Eighth Amendment. "Deliberate indifference is a high legal standard." Toguchi v. Chung , 391 F.3d 1051, 1060 (9th Cir. 2004). "Under this standard, the prison official must not only be aware of the facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, ' but that person must also draw the inference.'" Id. at 1057 (quoting Farmer , 511 U.S. at 837). "If a prison official should have been aware of the risk, but was not, then the official has not violated the Eighth Amendment, no matter how severe the risk.'" Id . (quoting Gibson v. County of Washoe, Nevada , 290 F.3d 1175, 1188 (9th Cir. 2002)).

V. CONCLUSION AND ORDER

Plaintiff's Complaint does not state a claim for relief. The Court will grant Plaintiff an opportunity to file an amended complaint. Noll v. Carlson , 809 F.2d 1446, 1448-49 (9th Cir. 1987). If Plaintiff opts to amend, he must demonstrate that the alleged acts resulted in a deprivation of his constitutional rights. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. at 1948-49. Plaintiff must set forth "sufficient factual matter... to state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Id. at 1949 (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must also demonstrate that each named Defendant personally participated in a deprivation of his rights. Jones v. Williams , 297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002).

Plaintiff should note that although he has been given the opportunity to amend, it is not for the purposes of adding new claims. George v. Smith , 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). Plaintiff should carefully read this Screening Order and focus his efforts on curing the deficiencies set forth above.

Finally, Plaintiff is advised that Local Rule 220 requires that an amended complaint be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. As a general rule, an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. See Loux v. Rhay , 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Once an amended complaint is filed, the original complaint no longer serves any function in the case. Therefore, in an amended complaint, as in an original complaint, each claim and the involvement of each defendant must be sufficiently alleged. The amended complaint should be clearly and boldly titled "First Amended Complaint, " refer to the appropriate case number, and be an original signed under penalty of perjury. Plaintiff's amended complaint should be brief. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Although accepted as true, the "[f]actual allegations must be [sufficient] to raise a right to relief above the speculative level...." Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted).

Accordingly, it is HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. The Clerk's Office shall send Plaintiff a blank civil rights complaint form;

2. Plaintiff's Complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted;

3. Plaintiff shall file an amended complaint within thirty (30) days; and

4. If Plaintiff fails to file an amended complaint in compliance with this order, the Court will recommend that this action be dismissed, with prejudice, for failure to state a claim and failure to comply with a court order.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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