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Walker v. Ahern

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 5, 2014

VERNON L. WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
G. J. AHERN, et al., Defendants.

ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

WILLIAM H. ORRICK, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

In this federal civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, pro se state prisoner Vernon Walker alleges that his jailors at the Alameda County Sheriff's Office are liable under federal and state law for failing to move a violent inmate who later attacked Walker. Defendants seek to dismiss the action and to that end now move for judgment on the pleadings. Although the complaint as drafted must be dismissed because it does not state sufficient facts demonstrating what the defendants knew regarding the dangerousness of Walker's attacker and what Walker told the defendants regarding his own safety concerns, Walker is entitled to amend his complaint to include such facts.[1] Accordingly, the complaint is DISMISSED with leave to file an amended complaint on or before October 25, 2014 in accordance with this Order. Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings is DENIED.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Defendants move for judgment on the pleadings under Rule 12(c). The Court uses the same standards applicable to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See Cafasso, U.S. ex rel. v. General Dynamics C4 Systems, Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1054 n.4 (9th Cir. 2011). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a defendant to move to dismiss on the ground that there is a "failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." A "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Furthermore, a court "is not required to accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations if those conclusions cannot reasonably be drawn from the facts alleged." Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752, 754-55 (9th Cir. 1994). 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. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

B. Legal Claims

Walker alleges that on September 10, 2011, a fellow inmate (Shaw) attacked him while both were in the custody of the Alameda County Sheriff's Department. (Compl. ¶ 4.) He also alleges that five or six days before the attack, he told sheriff's deputies Posedel and Tracy that Shaw had to be moved. He does not state exactly what he told the deputies. ( Id. ¶ 5.)

Walker alleges that defendants are liable under both state and federal law for failing to protect him from Shaw. His specific claims are that Alameda County Sheriff's Deputies Posedel and Tracy, and their supervisors, Lieutenant James, Captain Jackson and Sheriff Ahern, (1) failed to follow the guidelines of California Administrative Code Title 15, Section 3391(a);[2] (2) violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution; (3) violated the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution; (4) violated the Eighth Amendment prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment of the United States Constitution; and (5) are liable for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Claim 1 is DISMISSED without leave to amend. Inmates cannot file a complaint under section 3391. California Administrative Code Title 15, Section 3391(b); Harris v. Horel, No. C 06-7761 SBA (PR), 2009 WL 909825 at *2 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 31, 2009). Further, a violation of section 3391, like any violation of a Title 15 regulation, can be addressed only through a citizen's administrative complaint procedure, not through a court action. Davis v. Kissinger, No. CIV S-04-0878 GEB DAD P., 2009 WL 256574 at *12 n.4 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 3, 2009). In addition, a violation of section 3391 would be a violation of a state law and not a right secured by the United States Constitution or by federal law. It is not cognizable in a section 1983 action. It is violations of rights, not laws, that give rise to section 1983 actions. Gonzaga University v. Doe, 536 U.S. 273, 282-83 (2002).

Walker also has failed to state a claim under the federal Equal Protection Clause (Claim 2). "The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment commands that no State shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, ' which is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike." City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985) (quoting Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 216 (1982). When challenging his treatment with regard to other prisoners, courts have held that in order to present an equal protection claim a prisoner must allege that his treatment is invidiously dissimilar to that received by other inmates. More v. Farrier, 984 F.2d 269, 271-72 (8th Cir. 1993). Thus, the first step in determining whether the inmate's equal protection rights were violated is to identify the relevant class of prisoners to which he belongs. Furnace v. Sullivan, 705 F.3d 1021, 1030 (9th Cir. 2013). Walker fails to identify what class he belongs to and so fails to establish that he was treated differently than any other similarly situated prisoner in custody with the Alameda County Sheriff's Department. Accordingly, Walker's equal protection claim is therefore DISMISSED with leave to amend.

Walker's claim under California's Equal Protection Clause (Claim 3) is DISMISSED with leave to amend on the same grounds. In his amended complaint, he must address the deficiencies described above and show that his state equal protection claim is distinct from, and not just a repetition of, his federal equal protection claim.

Claim 4 is DISMISSED with leave to amend. The treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment. See Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993). The Amendment imposes duties on prison officials, who must provide all prisoners with basic necessities of life, including personal safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment when two requirements are met: (1) the deprivation alleged must be, objectively serious; and, (2) the prison official must possess a sufficiently culpable state of mind. Id. at 834. Where inmate safety is concerned, the necessary state of mind is "deliberate indifference." Id. Moreover, to have the necessary state of mind the official must be both aware of the facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference. Id. at 837.

Walker fails to establish that the supervisory defendants Ahren, Jackson and James possessed a sufficiently culpable state of mind. In his complaint, Walker alleges that Sheriff Ahren was in charge of the detention facility and as such "should at all times have knowledge and information" about the goings on of the facilities. (Compl. at ¶ 3.) Similarly, Walker contends that Captain Jackson and Lieutenant James should have been on notice of any physical or mental deprivations that occurred "within there [ sic ] watch that day or the following day and investigate and act" upon such information accordingly. ( Id. ) However, Walker does not allege any facts showing that Ahren, Jackson or James knew of Shaw's dangerousness or of Walker's request to move Shaw, much less that Ahren, Jackson or James drew the inference that failure to move Shaw would ...


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