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Medina v. Allman

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Francisco Division

November 19, 2014



RICHARD SEEBORG, District Judge.


This is a federal civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by a civil detainee. The original complaint was dismissed with leave to amend. Plaintiff's first amended complaint failed to correct the deficiencies of the first. Consequently, the action was dismissed and judgment was entered in favor of defendants in March 2013.

In May 2014, plaintiff filed a second amended complaint. In response, the Court reopened the action, and vacated the judgment and the order of dismissal. The Court now reviews the second amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).


A. Standard of Review

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. See 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. See id. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).

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

Plaintiff, who is being civilly detained at Coalinga State Hospital under California's Sexually Violent Predator Act, alleges that while he was in the custody of the Mendocino County Sheriff for 17 days (1) he was deprived of food for nearly 24 hours by unnamed defendants who ignored his requests, owing to Sheriff Allman's failure to train and supervise his employees; (2) Allman, in violation of state law, falsely booked him; (3) Deputy Zaied, a Doe defendant, and Allman failed to allow him to telephone his attorney on two occasions; (4) Deputy Zaied failed to give him a rulebook of the institution, in violation of state law; (5) his detention in an isolation cell rather than in administrative segregation violated state law; (6) defendants refused to clean his blood-stained cell and also refused plaintiff protective gear to use when he cleaned his cell; (7) the conditions of his confinement in an isolation cell violated his right to privacy; (8) he was denied medical care; (9) he was denied treatment for his diagnosed mental disorder; (10) he was denied exercise from April 26, 2012 to May 12, 2012.

Claim 1 is DISMISSED without leave to amend. A civil detainee is entitled to conditions of confinement that are not punitive. Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 933 (9th Cir. 2004. "[A] restriction is punitive where it is intended to punish, or where it is excessive in relation to [its non-punitive] purpose... or is employed to achieve objectives that could be accomplished in so many alternative and less harsh methods." Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Plaintiff's allegations regarding a single instance of deprivation of food for less than 24 hours fail to meet the punitive standard. The circumstances constitute at worst negligence or gross negligence, neither of which is actionable under § 1983, either within or without the prison context. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 835-36 & n.4 (1994); see also County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 849 (1998). The allegations also fail as pleadings. He does not name any specific person directly responsible - only two Doe defendants and Allman as a supervisory defendant.

In nearly all his claims, plaintiff asserts that Allman is liable as supervisor. This is not sufficient to state claims against him. There is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983. Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). It is not enough that the supervisor merely has a supervisory relationship over the defendants; the plaintiff must show that the supervisor "participated in or directed the violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them." Id. Furthermore, supervisor defendants are entitled to qualified immunity where the allegations against them are simply "bald" or "conclusory" because such allegations do not "plausibly" establish the supervisors' personal involvement in their subordinates' constitutional wrong. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1948-52 (2009). If plaintiff wishes to allege liability against Allman based on supervisory liability, he must allege facts sufficient to meet these stringent standards.

Claims 2, 4, and 5 are DISMISSED without leave to amend. They allege violations of rights created by state law and therefore are not cognizable under § 1983, which provides a cause of action only when state actors have violated rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.

Claim 3 is DISMISSED with leave to amend. The right of access to the courts is guaranteed to people who are civilly committed. See Cornett v. Donovan, 51 F.3d 894, 897 (9th Cir. 1995). Mere denial of access is not sufficient to state a claim, however. A plaintiff must demonstrate that the denial caused him an actual injury by hindering his efforts to pursue a nonfrivolous legal claim. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349, 351 (1996). Here, plaintiff has provided no ...

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