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Connors v. Baca

United States District Court, C.D. California

November 13, 2014

LEROY BACA, et. al., Defendants.


ALKA SAGAR, Magistrate Judge.


On May 21, 2013, Plaintiff, a prisoner currently housed at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California, proceeding pro se, filed a Complaint alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by former Sheriff Leroy Baca, Sheriff's Deputy Castro and "Sergeant John Doe, " which allegedly took place on March 13, 2012 while Plaintiff was detained at the Los Angeles County Jail. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief in addition to compensatory damages of $500, 000 against each defendant and a jury trial. For the reasons discussed below, the Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend.[1] 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

Congress mandates that District Courts perform an initial screening of complaints in civil actions where a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or employee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. This Court may dismiss such a complaint, or any portions thereof, before service of process if it concludes that the complaint (1) is frivolous or malicious, (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Pro se litigants in civil rights cases, however, must be given leave to amend their complaints unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. Id., at 1127-29.


Plaintiff sues the following Defendants in their individual and official capacities: (1) Deputy Sheriff Castro (Court Bailiff); (2) Sergeant John Doe (Sergeant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department); and (3) Sheriff Leroy Baca (former Los Angeles County Sheriff). (Compl. 3).

Plaintiff alleges that on March 13, 2012, while he was being transported from Department 133 in the Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles, to a holding cell, he asked Defendant Castro, a Sheriff's Deputy who was transporting him, if his handcuffs could be removed so that he could use the bathroom. (Compl. Exh. F). Defendant Castro refused to remove Plaintiff's handcuffs and instead "threw [plaintiff] to the ground and began punching [plaintiff]." Id . Plaintiff alleges that three other deputies began to beat him along with Defendant Castro and that during this beating, an unknown Sergeant ("Defendant John Doe") appeared "but didn't do or say anything." Id. at 1-2. Accordingly, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Doe, who watched the illegal assault, is liable for "failing to correct the misconduct, and encouraging the continued misconduct." (Compl. at 6). Plaintiff also alleges that Defendant Baca, the "final policy maker over the operation of the jail, " violated his civil rights "by not handling the incident." Id. at 7). Plaintiff claims that the beating caused him to suffer bleeding and severe facial bruising and that a subsequent CAT scan revealed a "hemorrhage in his skull." Id. at 2. Based on these facts, Plaintiff claims that all three Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights.

Although Plaintiff also alleges that the defendants violated his First Amendment rights, the only facts that Plaintiff provides in support of this claim is a statement in a civil rights complaint, dated October 2013, attached to the instant complaint which states that Defendant Castro was "beating plaintiff [] for exercise of his right to speak with a captain regarding Defendant Castro's wrong." (See attached Civil Rights Complaint "incorporated by reference, " at 3).


A. The Complaint Fails To Conform To The Requirements Of Rule 8

Under Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." "Each allegation must be simple, concise, and direct." Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 8(d)(1). Conclusory allegations are insufficient. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 686 (2009). "Experience teaches that, unless cases are pled clearly and precisely, issues are not joined, discovery is not controlled, the trial court's docket becomes unmanageable, the litigants suffer, and society loses confidence in the court's ability to administer justice." Bautista v. Los Angeles County, 216 F.3d 837, 841 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations and quotations omitted). A complaint is subject to dismissal if "one cannot determine from the complaint who is being sued, for what relief, and on what theory...." McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1178 (9th Cir. 1996); see also Chevalier v. Ray and Joan Kroc Corps. Community Center, 2012 WL 2088819, at *2 (N.D. Cal. June 8, 2012) (complaint which did not "simply, concisely, or directly identify which wrongs were committed by which Defendant" violated Rule 8). As set forth below, the Complaint fails to conform to the requirements of Rule 8.

B. The Complaint Fails To State A Claim Under The Eighth Amendment

The Complaint fails to state a claim for an Eighth Amendment violation. The Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment applies only after conviction. Pierce v. Multonomah County, 76 F.3d 1032, 1042 (9th Cir. 1996). The same standards, however, generally apply to pretrial detainees under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Simmons v. Navajo County, Ariz., 609 F.3d 1011, 1017 (9th Cir. 2010); Lolli v. County of Orange, 351 F.3d 410, 418-19 (9th Cir. 2003). Plaintiff states that the complained-of actions took place while he was a "pretrial detainee of the County Jail of Los Angeles." (See attached Civil Rights Complaint "incorporated by reference, " at 1). Therefore, if Plaintiff chooses to amend his complaint, as discussed below, and if the incident at issue took place while he was in pretrial custody, Plaintiff must bring his claims for excessive force under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, rather than the Eighth Amendment.[2] See Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 671 n.40 (1977).

C. The Complaint Fails To State A Claim For Failure To Protect

The United States Supreme Court has held that the Eighth Amendment imposes upon prison officials the duty to "take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of inmates[.]" See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "For a claim... based on a failure to prevent harm, " a plaintiff must show that: (1) the injury suffered was, "objectively, sufficiently serious, '" and (2) the prison official was "deliberate[ly] indifferen[t]' to inmate... safety[.]" See id. at 834.

With regard to the deliberate indifference requirement, a plaintiff must show that "the [prison] official [knew] of and disregard[ed] an excessive risk to inmate... safety[.]" See id. at 837. Put differently, "the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." See id. "Whether a prison official had the requisite knowledge of a substantial risk is a question of fact subject to demonstration in the usual ways, including inference from circumstantial evidence, and a factfinder may conclude that a prison official knew of a substantial risk from the very fact that it was obvious." Id. at 842 (citations omitted).

Furthermore, even if a prison official "actually knew of a substantial risk to inmate... safety[, ]" and the prisoner was ultimately harmed by that risk, the official "may be found free from liability if [he or she] responded reasonably to the risk[.]" See id. at 844. This is because "[a] prison official's duty under the Eighth Amendment is to ensure reasonable safety [.]" See id. (emphasis added) (quoting Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 33 (1993)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Doe and Baca are based on these Defendants' alleged failure to protect Plaintiff from the beating by Defendant Castro and other unnamed deputies. However, the Complaint does not allege that Defendants Doe and Baca knew of and consciously disregarded an excessive risk to Plaintiff's health and safety. As such the Court cannot determine whether Defendants Doe and Baca were sufficiently put on notice that Plaintiff was subject to a substantial risk of serious harm. "[A]n official's failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot... be condemned as the infliction of punishment." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 834, 838 (1994). Accordingly, the Complaint fails to state a claim for failure to protect against Defendants Doe and Baca. See Wakefield v. Thompson, 177 F.3d 1160, 1163 (9th Cir. 1999) (use of "Doe" Defendants is permissible in certain circumstances).

D. The Complaint Fails To State A Claim For Retaliation

Plaintiff appears to allege that Defendant Castro beat him in retaliation for exercising his right to speak about "Defendant Castro's wrong, " (See attached Civil Rights Complaint "incorporated by reference, " at 3). However, Plaintiff provides no additional facts to support this allegation. Given the lack of specificity of this assertion, the Compliant fails to state a retaliation claim.

The Ninth Circuit has held that retaliation claims are cognizable under § 1983. Pratt v. Rowland, 65 F.3d 802, 806 (9th Cir. 1995). Such claims have five elements. Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567 (9th Cir. 2005). "First, the plaintiff must allege that the retaliated-against conduct is protected." Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1114 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 568). "Second, the plaintiff must claim that defendant took adverse action against the plaintiff. The adverse action need not be an independent constitutional violation." Id . (citation omitted) (citing Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 568; Pratt, 65 F.3d at 806). "Third, the plaintiff must allege a causal connection between the adverse action and the protected conduct. Because direct evidence of retaliatory intent rarely can be pleaded in a complaint, allegation of a chronology of events from which retaliation can be inferred is sufficient to survive dismissal." Id . (citing Pratt, 65 F.3d at 808; Murphy v. Lane, 833 F.2d 106, 108-09 (7th Cir. 1987)). "Fourth, the plaintiff must allege that the official's acts would chill or silence a person of ordinary firmness from future First Amendment activities.'" Id . (quoting Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 568). However, if this "chilling effect" is not alleged, "[a plaintiff] may still state a claim if [the complaint] alleges he [or she] suffered some other harm, ' that is more than minimal[.]'" Id . (citations omitted) (quoting Brodheim v. Cry, 584 F.3d 1262, 1269 (9th Cir. 2009); Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 568 n.11). "Fifth, the plaintiff must allege that the prison authorities' retaliatory action did not advance [the] legitimate goals of the correctional institution[.]'" Id . (quoting Rizzo v. Dawson, 778 F.2d 527, 532 (9th Cir. 1985)). "The plaintiff bears the burden of pleading and proving the absence of legitimate correctional goals for the conduct he [or she] complains of." Pratt, 65 F.3d at 806 (emphasis added) (citing Rizzo, 778 F.2d at 532). "A plaintiff successfully pleads this element by alleging, in addition to a retaliatory motive, that the defendant's actions were arbitrary and capricious, or that they were unnecessary to the maintenance of order in the institution[.]'" Watison, 668 F.3d at 1114-15 (citations omitted) (quoting Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1230 (9th Cir. 1984)) (citing Rizzo, 778 F.2d at 532).

Here, Plaintiff does not allege sufficient facts that would, if true, establish the five elements of a retaliation claim. Plaintiff fails to "allege that he was retaliated against for exercising his constitutional rights and that the retaliatory action does not advance legitimate penological goals, such as preserving institutional order and discipline." Bruce v. Ylst, 351 F.3d 1283, 1288 (9th Cir. 2003) (citations and internal quotations omitted). Plaintiff also fails to state any facts substantiating the required "causal connection" between the alleged adverse action and the protected conduct ( i.e., the third element of a retaliation claim). Nor does Plaintiff allege any direct or circumstantial evidence of retaliatory intent ( e.g., the chronology of events). See Watison, 668 F.3d at 1114 (citing Pratt, 65 F.3d at 808; Murphy, 833 F.2d at 108-09). Moreover, because Plaintiff provides no information regarding the nature of the "wrong" that he allegedly complained about, the Court cannot determine whether Defendant Castro's actions were arbitrary or capricious, or... "unnecessary to the maintenance of order in the institution[]' [( i.e., the fifth element of a retaliation claim)]." Watison, 668 F.3d at 1115 (citation omitted) (quoting Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1230) (citing Rizzo, 778 F.2d at 532)). Plaintiff's vague and conclusory allegations are insufficient to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. If Plaintiff wishes to recover on the basis of a retaliation claim, he must allege facts sufficient to satisfy all five of the required elements.

E. The Complaint Fails To State An Official Capacity Claim Against Any Of The Defendants

Plaintiff has sued each of the Defendants in their official capacities. (Compl. at 3). "Official-capacity damages claims against individual municipal officers are claims against the municipality itself." Hill v. Baca, 2010 WL 1727655, at *5 (C.D. Apr. 26, 2010); See Monell v. Dept. of Social Serv. Of New York, 436 U.S. 6558, 690 n.55 (1978). A local government entity, however, "may not be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted solely by its employees or agents. Instead, it is when execution of a government's policy or custom... inflicts the injury that the government as an entity is responsible under § 1983." Monell, 436 U.S. at 694. Thus, a plaintiff must establish that "the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy..., ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by "the municipality, or that the action was "visited pursuant to a governmental custom[.]'" Id. at 690-91. In other words, a plaintiff must show that "deliberate action[, ] attributable to the municipality itself[, ] is the moving force' behind the plaintiff's deprivation of federal rights." Board of County Com'rs of Bryan County v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 400 (1997).

Here, Plaintiff has not identified any policy, ordinance, or custom of the County (or the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department) that led to the deprivation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Instead, Plaintiff merely states that Defendant Baca "while not handling the grievance process that I filed on the incident... violated my civil rights by not handling the incident." (Compl. at 7). These allegations are insufficient to state a viable Monell claim. Moreover, Plaintiff does not make any allegations regarding his official capacity suits against Defendants Castro and Doe.

In addition, Plaintiff's official capacity claims against Sheriff Baca also fail because official capacity claims against any individual are based upon that individual's ability to represent an agency due to his or her official position with that agency. Since Defendant Baca no longer holds the position of Sheriff, Plaintiff cannot pursue an official capacity claim against him. Plaintiff can correct this defect - if he is able to state a viable official capacity claim - on amendment by naming the individual who now holds the position of Sheriff or interim Sheriff.

Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state an official capacity claim against any of the Defendants. If Plaintiff chooses to amend the Complaint, he should not re-allege these claims unless he has a good faith belief that he can meet the standards discussed above.

F. The Complaint Fails To State A Claim Againt Sheriff Baca

Although Plaintiff also names Sheriff Baca as a Defendant in his individual capacity, he fails to allege any specific conduct or involvement by Sheriff Baca in the alleged incident giving rise to Plaintiff's constitutional claims. "In order for a person acting under color of state law to be liable under section 1983[, ] there must be a showing of personal participation in the alleged rights deprivation: there is not respondeat superior liability under section 1983." Jones v. Williams, 297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002). See also Ewing v. City of Stockton, 588 F.3d 1218, 1235 (9th Cir. 2009).

To the extent that the allegations in the Complaint suggest that Defendant Baca may have acted as the supervisor of the individuals who caused Plaintiff's injuries, such allegations are insufficient to state a claim under § 1983. Plaintiff must allege that each defendant was personally involved in the alleged deprivation of a constitutional right. Jones, 297 F.3d at 394; see also, Ewing, 588 F.3d at 1235; Redmond v. County of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1446 (9th Cir. 1991) (supervisor only liable under § 1983 if (1) he or she was personally involved in constitutional deprivation, or (2) a sufficient causal connection exists "between the supervisor's wrongful conduct and the constitutional violation").

Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff's claims against Sheriff Baca in his individual capacity must also be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. If Plaintiff chooses to amend the Complaint, he should not re-name Sheriff Baca unless he has a good faith belief that he can meet the standards discussed above.


The Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend. If Plaintiff still wishes to pursue this action, he is granted thirty (30) days from the date of this Order within which to file a First Amended Complaint, curing the defects in the Complaint. The First Amended Complaint shall be complete in itself and shall bear both the designation "First Amended Complaint" and the case number assigned to this action. It shall not refer in any manner to any prior complaint. Plaintiff may not add Defendants without leave of Court. See FED. R. CIV. P. 21. In any amended complaint, Plaintiff should confine his allegations to those operative facts supporting each of his claims. Where a plaintiff is seeking monetary damages, each defendant may only be sued in his or her individual capacity. Plaintiff must clearly show misconduct by each individually-named defendant. Plaintiff is advised that, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), all that is required is a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief."

Plaintiff is explicitly cautioned that failure to file a timely First Amended Complaint in conformity with this Memorandum and Order may result in a recommendation that this action be dismissed for failure to prosecute, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b). See Pagtalunan v. Galaza, 291 F.3d 639, 642-43 (9th Cir. 2002)(court may dismiss action for failure to follow court order); Simon v. Value Behavioral Health, Inc., 208 F.3d 1073, 1084 (9th Cir. 2000), amended, 234 F.3d 428 (9th Cir. 2000), overruled on other grounds, Odom v. Microsoft Corp., 486 F.3d 541 (9th Cir. 2007) (affirming dismissal without leave to amend where plaintiff failed to correct deficiencies in complaint, where court had afforded plaintiff opportunities to do so, and where court had given plaintiff notice of the substantive problems with his claims); Plumeau v. School District #40, County of Yamhill, 130 F.3d 432, 439 (9th Cir. 1997) (denial of leave to amend appropriate where further amendment would be futile).

Plaintiff is further advised that, if he does not wish to pursue this action, he may voluntarily dismiss it by filing a Notice of Dismissal in accordance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1). A sample notice is attached to this Order as well.


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