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Johnson v. Chapell

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 2, 2014

KEVIN CHAPELL, Warden, et al., Defendants.


CLAUDIA WILKEN, District Judge


Plaintiff, a state prisoner incarcerated at the Sierra Conservation Center (SCC) in Jamestown, California, filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging constitutional violations by staff at San Quentin State Prison (SQSP), where he was previously incarcerated. On June 5, 2014, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's complaint with leave to amend. On July 14, 2014, Plaintiff filed a first amended complaint (1AC), which the Court now reviews under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).


I. Legal Standard

A. Preliminary Screening

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. 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. Id . § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. 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. West v. Atkins , 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

Liability may be imposed on an individual defendant under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 if the plaintiff can show that the defendant's actions both actually and proximately caused the deprivation of a federally protected right. Lemire v. Cal. Dept. Corrections & Rehabilitation , 726 F.3d 1062, 1074 (9th Cir. 2013); 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. Id. at 633. Under no circumstances is there respondeat superior liability under § 1983. Lemire, 727 F.3d at 1074. Or, in layman's terms, under no circumstances is there liability under § 1983 solely because one is responsible for the actions or omissions of another. Taylor v. List , 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989); Ybarra v. Reno Thunderbird Mobile Home Village , 723 F.2d 675, 680-81 (9th Cir. 1984). A supervisor may be liable under § 1983 upon a showing of (1) personal involvement in the constitutional deprivation or (2) a sufficient causal connection between the supervisor's wrongful conduct and the constitutional violation. Henry A. v. Willden , 678 F.3d 991, 1003-04 (9th Cir. 2012). It is insufficient for a plaintiff only to allege that supervisors knew about the constitutional violation and that they generally created policies and procedures that led to the violation, without alleging "a specific policy" or "a specific event" instigated by them that led to the constitutional violations. Hydrick v. Hunter , 669 F.3d 937, 942 (9th Cir. 2012).

B. Deliberate Indifference to Serious Medical Needs

Deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious medical needs violates the Eighth Amendment. Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976); McGuckin v. Smith , 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled on other grounds, WMX Technologies, Inc. v. Miller , 104 F.3d 1133, 1136 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) the deprivation alleged is, objectively, sufficiently serious, and (2) the official is, subjectively, deliberately indifferent to the inmate's health or safety. Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). A "serious" medical need exists if the failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." McGuckin , 974 F.2d at 1059. A prison official exhibits deliberate indifference when he knows of and disregards a substantial risk of serious harm to inmate health or safety. Farmer , 511 U.S. at 837.

In order for deliberate indifference to be established, there must be a purposeful act or failure to act on the part of the defendant and resulting harm. McGuckin , 974 F.2d at 1060. Deliberate indifference may be shown when prison officials deny, delay or intentionally interfere with medical treatment, or it may be shown in the way in which they provide medical care. Id. at 1062.

II. Allegations in 1AC

In the Order of Dismissal, the Court found that Plaintiff attempted to state an Eighth Amendment claim based on deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs by SQSP medical staff, but that he failed to do so. The Court stated that, even if Plaintiff's allegations about his physical ailments met the first requirement under Farmer, that he had serious medical needs, he failed to satisfy the second Farmer requirement because he did not name any specific individual who did not treat his medical needs. The Court explained that, "to show an individual acted with deliberate indifference, Plaintiff must include factual allegations indicating how that person denied, delayed or intentionally interfered with Plaintiff's medical treatment, or provided medical care in a way that indicated his or her deliberate indifference." See Doc. no. 6 at 5.

The Court also found that Plaintiff attempted to state a claim for unsafe prison conditions, but failed to do so because he had not named any individual at SQSP in relation to the claim. The Court stated that, if Plaintiff wished to re-allege this claim, he could do so in an amended complaint, naming ...

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