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Bird v. McDonnell

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 8, 2014

WILLIAM BIRD, Plaintiff,
(1) SHERIFF JIM McDONNELL, et al., Defendants.




On September 15, 2014, Petitioner/Plaintiff William Bird ("Plaintiff"), "a sentenced state prisoner serving time in county jail, " lodged a document entitled "Writ of Mandate Conditions of Confinement" ("the Complaint"). Because Plaintiff did not then pay the filing fee, the Complaint was forwarded to the Magistrate Judge for consideration of whether the Complaint should be filed without prepayment of the full filing fee.

On September 19, 2014, the Magistrate Judge recommended that the Complaint not be filed without prepayment of the full filing fee because Plaintiff had failed to demonstrate indigency and because "Plaintiff fails to indicate whom he wishes to sue." In accordance with the Magistrate Judge's recommendation, the Chief United States District Judge denied authorization to file the Complaint without prepayment of the full filing fee.

On November 3, 2014, Plaintiff paid the full filing fee and filed the identical Complaint that he had lodged on September 15, 2014. On November 12, 2014, the Court issued a Memorandum and Order Dismissing Complaint with Leave to Amend. On November 26, 2014, Plaintiff filed a "Memorandum With Leave to Amend... A First Amended Complaint, '" which the Court construes as Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint.

The caption of the First Amended Complaint identifies the Defendants as: (1) Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell; (2) the jail "Medical Department"; and (3) the jail "Mental Health Department." Plaintiff alleges that jail officials assertedly deprived Plaintiff of his right to practice Plaintiff's "Native American Indian Cultural beliefs" by allegedly refusing to permit Plaintiff to enter a sweat lodge for cleansing and purification. Plaintiff alleges Defendants denied Plaintiff "equal access" to a "spiritual advisor, Medicine Man" and to a spiritual advisor to burn sage. Plaintiff alleges that the asserted deprivation of religious practices purportedly constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and has caused Plaintiff to suffer spiritually, physically and psychologically.

Plaintiff also alleges that the "Medical Department" failed to treat Plaintiff's hernia and hepatitis C. The "Mental Health Department" allegedly deprived Plaintiff of treatment for depression, insomnia and anxiety "Due to the Religious Deprivation and Spiritual Detachment." Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.


The Court must construe Plaintiff's official capacity claims as claims against the County of Los Angeles. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-66 (1985). Plaintiff may not sue the County or a municipal entity such as the jail "Medical Department" or the jail "Mental Health Department" on a theory of respondeat superior, which is not a theory of liability cognizable under 42 U.S.C. section 1983. See Connick v. Thompson, 131 S.Ct. 1350, 1359 (2011); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009); Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 325 (1981); Gibson v. County of Washoe, Nev., 290 F.3d 1175, 1185 (9th Cir. 2002), cert. denied, 537 U.S. 1106 (2003). The County may be held liable only if the alleged wrongdoing was committed pursuant to a municipal policy, custom or usage. See Board of County Commissioners of Bryan County, Oklahoma v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 402-04 (1997); Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). Conclusory allegations do not suffice to plead a municipal liability claim. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (plaintiff must allege more than an "unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation"; a pleading that "offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do"); Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011) (en banc), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 2101 (2012) ("allegations in a complaint or counterclaim may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively"); see also AE ex rel. Hernandez v. County of Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 637 (9th Cir. 2012) (pleading standards set forth in Starr v. Baca govern municipal liability claims). The First Amended Complaint contains no allegations sufficient to plead a cognizable municipal liability claim.

Plaintiff may not sue Sheriff McConnell or any supervisor on a civil rights claim pursuant to section 1983 on a theory that the supervisor is liable for the acts of his or her subordinates. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676; Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. at 325. A supervisor "is only liable for his or her own misconduct, " and is not "accountable for the misdeeds of [his or her] agents." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677. Mere knowledge of a subordinate's alleged misconduct is insufficient. Id . A supervisor may be held liable in his or her individual capacity "for [his or her] own culpable action or inaction in the training, supervision or control of [his or her] subordinates." Watkins v. City of Oakland, Cal., 145 F.3d 1087, 1093 (9th Cir. 1998) (quoting Larez v. City of Los Angeles, 946 F.2d 630, 646 (9th Cir. 1991)). To state a claim against any individual Defendant, Plaintiff must allege facts showing that the individual Defendant participated in or directed the alleged violation, or knew of the violation and failed to act to prevent it. See Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998), cert. denied, 525 U.S. 1154 (1999) ("A plaintiff must allege facts, not simply conclusions, that show that an individual was personally involved in the deprivation of his civil rights."); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). Plaintiff alleges no facts showing the liability of Sheriff McDonnell under these standards.

Plaintiff's claims for alleged denial of adequate medical or mental health care are also insufficient. Jail officials can violate the Eighth Amendment if they are "deliberately indifferent" to an inmate's serious medical needs. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976); Gibson v. County of Washoe, Nev., 290 F.3d at 1187.[1] To be liable for "deliberate indifference, " a jail 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." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. at 837. "[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." Id. at 838. Allegations of negligence do not suffice. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 105-06; Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1131 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). The First Amended Complaint asserts no facts showing that any jail official exhibited deliberate indifference to any alleged medical or mental health need of Plaintiff.

Finally, Plaintiff may not recover punitive damages against a governmental entity or an individual governmental officer sued in his or her official capacity. See City of Newport v. Fact Concerts, Inc., 453 U.S. 247, 271 (1981); Ruvalcaba v. City of Los Angeles, 167 F.3d 514, 524 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 528 U.S. 1003 (1999).


For the foregoing reasons, the First Amended Complaint is dismissed with leave to amend. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d at 1130; 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915A(b). If Plaintiff still wishes to pursue this action, he is granted thirty (30) days from the date of this Memorandum and Order within which to file a Second Amended Complaint. The Second Amended Complaint shall be complete in itself. It shall not refer in any manner to the Complaint or the First Amended Complaint. Any Second Amended Complaint must identify clearly each claim for relief, the Defendant or Defendants being sued on each claim for relief, and how each Defendant assertedly violated ...

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