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Stanley v. Schmidt

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 9, 2014

PAUL SCHMIDT, et al., Defendants.


CAROLYN K. DELANEY, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

Plaintiff has submitted a declaration that makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. §1915(a). Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted.

Plaintiff is required to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. 28 U.S.C. §§1914(a), 1915(b)(1). By separate order, the court will direct the appropriate agency to collect the initial partial filing fee from plaintiff's trust account and forward it to the Clerk of the Court. Thereafter, plaintiff will be obligated for monthly payments of twenty percent of the preceding month's income credited to plaintiff's prison trust account. These payments will be forwarded by the appropriate agency to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in plaintiff's account exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is paid in full. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

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 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.

In order to avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim a complaint must contain more than "naked assertions, " "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555-557 (2007). In other words, "[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). Furthermore, a claim upon which the court can grant relief has facial plausibility. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570. "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." Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. at 1949. When considering whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court must accept the allegations as true, Erickson v. Pardus , 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007), and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Scheuer v. Rhodes , 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974).

Plaintiff alleges that, prior to arriving at the Nevada County jail in February 2014, he was diagnosed with chronic lower back pain and a herniated disk and prescribed the non-narcotic painkiller Tramidol. A jail physician, defendant Britton, took plaintiff off Tramidol and put him on another medication, Naproxin, that did not provide relief for plaintiff's chronic lower back pain. Plaintiff contends that Britton and two other defendants have been deliberately indifferent to his serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth Amendment's ban on cruel and unusual punishment. (ECF No. 1.)

Denial or delay of medical care for a prisoner's serious medical needs may constitute a violation of the prisoner's Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Estelle v. Gamble , 429 U.S. 97, 104-05 (1976). An individual is liable for such a violation only when the individual is deliberately indifferent to a prisoner's serious medical needs. Id .; see Jett v. Penner , 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006); Hallett v. Morgan , 296 F.3d 732, 744 (9th Cir. 2002); Lopez v. Smith , 203 F.3d 1122, 1131-32 (9th Cir. 2000).

In the Ninth Circuit, the test for deliberate indifference consists of two parts. Jett , 439 F.3d at 1096. First, the plaintiff must show a "serious medical need" by demonstrating that "failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.'" Id., citing Estelle , 429 U.S. at 104.

Second, the plaintiff must show the defendant's response to the need was deliberately indifferent. Jett , 439 F.3d at 1096. This second prong is satisfied by showing (a) a purposeful act or failure to respond to a prisoner's pain or possible medical need and (b) harm caused by the indifference. Id . Under this standard, the prison official must not only "be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, " but that person "must also draw the inference." Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). This "subjective approach" focuses only "on what a defendant's mental attitude actually was." Id. at 839.

A showing of merely negligent medical care is not enough to establish a constitutional violation. Frost v. Agnos , 152 F.3d 1124, 1130 (9th Cir. 1998), citing Estelle , 429 U.S. at 105-106. A difference of opinion about the proper course of treatment is not deliberate indifference, nor does a dispute between a prisoner and prison officials over the necessity for or extent of medical treatment amount to a constitutional violation. See, e.g., Toguchi v. Chung , 391 F.3d 1051, 1058 (9th Cir. 2004); Sanchez v. Vild , 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989). In Jackson v. McIntosh , 90 F.3d 330, 333 (9th Cir. 1996), the Ninth Circuit held that

where a defendant has based his actions on a medical judgment that either of two alternative courses of treatment would be medically acceptable under the circumstances, plaintiff has failed to show deliberate indifference, as a matter of law. To prevail under these principles, [plaintiff] must show that the course of treatment the doctors chose was medically unacceptable under the circumstances, ... and the plaintiff must show that they chose this course in conscious disregard of an excessive risk to plaintiff's health.

(Internal citations omitted.)

Here, liberally construing this pro se complaint, the court finds that plaintiff has stated a deliberate indifference claim as to defendant Britton.

Plaintiff alleges in conclusory terms that defendant McKnight was deliberately indifferent, but fails to allege in specific terms how this defendant was responsible for any constitutional violation suffered by plaintiff.

As to defendant Schmidt, supervisory personnel are generally not liable under §1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisorial position, the causal link between him and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley , 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld , 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 442 U.S. 941 (1979). Plaintiff's allegations as to Schmidt fail to "plausibly establish the defendant's knowledge of' and acquiescence in' the unconstitutional conduct of his subordinates." Hydrick v. Hunter , 669 F.3d 937, 941 (9th Cir. 2012). Thus plaintiff fails to state a claim as to this supervisory defendant.

As to defendant Nevada County, "[m]unicipalities and other local government units... [are] among those persons to whom § 1983 applies." Monell v. Dept. of Soc. Servs. , 436 U.S. at 690. However, a municipal entity or its departments is liable under § 1983 only if plaintiff shows that his constitutional injury was caused by employees acting pursuant to the municipality's policy or custom. See Villegas v. Gilroy Garlic Festival Association , 541 F.3d 950, 964 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing Monell , 436 U.S. at 690-94). "[A]n act performed pursuant to a custom' that has not been formally approved by an appropriate decisionmaker may fairly subject a municipality to liability on the theory that the relevant practice is so widespread as to have the force of law." Board of County Comm'rs. of Bryan County v. Brown , 520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997). A local governmental entity may also be liable if it has a "policy of inaction and such inaction amounts to a failure to protect constitutional rights." Oviatt v. Pearce , 954 F.2d 1470, 1474 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing City of Canton v. Harris , 489 U.S. 378, 389 (1989)); see also Monell , 436 U.S. at 690-91. "[A] policy is a deliberate choice to follow a course of action... made from among various alternatives by the official or officials responsible for establishing final policy with respect to the subject matter in question.'" Oviatt , 954 F.2d at 1477 (quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati , 475 U.S. 469, 483-84 (1986)). Here, plaintiff has not alleged that defendant Britton or any other defendant was acting according to a county policy or custom.

Plaintiff's allegations as to these defendants are insufficient to state a claim. However, plaintiff will have the opportunity to file an amended complaint to attempt to state a claim against these defendants.

Plaintiff will be given 30 days from the date of service of this order to amend his complaint to cure the deficiencies outlined above. Plaintiff is not required to file an amended complaint, but failure to do so will be construed as plaintiff's consent to dismiss the above-mentioned defendants and causes of action with prejudice.

If plaintiff chooses to amend the complaint, plaintiff must demonstrate how the conditions complained of have resulted in a deprivation of plaintiff's constitutional rights. See Ellis v. Cassidy , 625 F.2d 227 (9th Cir. 1980). Also, the complaint must allege in specific terms how each named defendant is involved. 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). Furthermore, vague and conclusory allegations of official participation in civil rights violations are not sufficient. Ivey v. Board of Regents , 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

In addition, plaintiff is informed that the court cannot refer to a prior pleading in order to make plaintiff's amended complaint complete. Local Rule 220 requires that an amended complaint be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. This is because, as a general rule, an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. See Loux v. Rhay , 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Once plaintiff files an amended complaint, the original pleading 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.

In accordance with the above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's request for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2) is granted.

2. Plaintiff is obligated to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. All fees shall be collected and paid in accordance with this court's order to the Director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation filed concurrently herewith.

3. Plaintiff's claims against defendants Schmidt, McKnight, and County of Nevada are dismissed with leave to amend.

4. If plaintiff elects to amend, any amended complaint must bear the docket number assigned this case and must be labeled "Amended Complaint."

5. Upon the filing of an amended complaint or expiration of the time allowed therefor, the court will make further orders for service of process upon some or all of the defendants.

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