United States District Court, S.D. California
January 14, 2015
Johnny Joe Haro, Plaintiff,
D. Camargo et al., Defendants
Johnny Joe Haro, Plaintiff, Pro se, Calipatria, CA.
For D. Camargo, Captain, J. Sais, Lt., L. Vega, Lt., D. May, Lt.. Defendants: Sylvie Plamondon Snyder, LEAD ATTORNEY, Attorney Generals Office, San Diego, CA.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION: GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS (Doc.
Peter C. Lewis, United States Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff Johnny Joe Haro, an inmate currently incarcerated at Corcoran State Prison, has filed a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit against Centinela State Prison Officers D. Camargo, J. Sais, L. Vega, and D. May for violations of his Eighth Amendment rights. (Doc. 1.) Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to exhaust administrative remedies, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Doc. 10.) Defendants also seek dismissal of Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief and, in turn, Plaintiff's official capacity claims against Defendants. This Report and Recommendation by the undersigned magistrate judge is submitted to United States District Judge Janis L. Sammartino, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil Rule 72.1 of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.
Plaintiff alleges that Lt. May falsely stated on a final copy of an inmate Rules Violation Report that Plaintiff said certain drugs belonged to his cell mate. (Doc. 1, at 3-4.) Plaintiff alleges that Lt. May maliciously gave the report to a worker inmate to type up, knowing that the allegedly false statement would be read by that inmate, that Plaintiff would be labeled a snitch, and that the label would result in Plaintiff being assaulted. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Cap. Camargo, Lt. Sais, and Sgt. Vega failed to protect Plaintiff when they ignored information from an anonymous female caller that Plaintiff was going to get stabbed. (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff claims that the officers had a duty to place Plaintiff in administrative segregation for his protection, but instead ignored the threat which resulted in Plaintiff getting stabbed multiple times on September 9, 2010 at Centinela State Prison. (Id. at 1-3.) Plaintiff has filed this lawsuit while housed at Corcoran State Prison. (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff alleges that he did not exhaust his administrative remedies because he feared prison officials would retaliate against him and put his life in danger. (Id. at 6.)
Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to exhaust available administrative remedies and to remove the injunctive relief and official capacity claims against Defendants. (Doc. 10-1, at 2.) Defendants have also submitted a list of " judicially noticeable facts" concerning an unrelated civil rights lawsuit and grievances that were filed by Plaintiff in the Central District of California. (Doc. 10-1, at 3.) For the reasons stated below, the Defendants' motion to dismiss should be granted in part and denied in part.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
A Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of Plaintiff's claims. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). The Court must assume the truth of the facts presented in Plaintiff's complaint and construe inferences from them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party when reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007). Additionally, " a document filed pro se is 'to be liberally construed, ' and 'a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Id. (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976)).
The Prison Litigation Reform Act (" PLRA") requires prisoners to exhaust all available administrative remedies before filing a § 1983 action in federal court. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). " The obligation to exhaust 'available' remedies persists as long as some remedy remains 'available.' Once that is no longer the case, then there are no 'remedies ... available, ' and the prisoner need not further pursue the grievance." Brown v. Valoff, 422 F.3d 926, 935 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 739-41, 121 S.Ct. 1819, 149 L.Ed.2d 958 (2001)).
The Ninth Circuit has held that " defendants have the burden of raising and proving the absence of exhaustion." Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1119 (9th Cir. 2003) (overruled on other grounds). This burden requires defendants to demonstrate that the inmate has failed to pursue some avenue of " available" administrative relief. Brown, 422 F.3d at 936-37. Because " failure to exhaust is an affirmative defense under the PLRA, and ... inmates are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in their complaints, " the defendant in a typical PLRA case will have to present probative evidence that the prisoner has failed to exhaust available administrative remedies under § 1997e(a). If in the rare case a prisoner's failure to exhaust is clear from the face of the complaint, a " defendant may successfully move to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim." Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1169 (9th Cir. 2014). However, in the vast majority of cases, a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 is the appropriate avenue for deciding exhaustion issues. Id. Although " disputed factual questions relevant to exhaustion should be decided at the very beginning of the litigation, " the plaintiff should be afforded the post-answer discovery process when appropriate after a defendant has pled the affirmative defense of failure to exhaust administrative remedies. Id. at 1171. Although a motion to dismiss is not the appropriate method for deciding disputed factual questions relevant to exhaustion, " [e]xhaustion should be decided, if feasible, before reaching the merits of a prisoner's claim. If discovery is appropriate, the district court may in its discretion limit discovery to evidence concerning exhaustion, leaving until later -- if it becomes necessary -- discovery directed to the merits of the suit." Id. at 1170. After the initial completion of discovery and before reaching the merits of the case, " [i]f the evidence permits, the defendant may move for summary judgment under Rule 56." Id. at 1169.
A. Exhaustion Issue
In this case, although Plaintiff admitted that he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies before filing suit, it is not clear from the face of Plaintiff's complaint whether he failed to pursue some " available" administrative relief before filing suit.
See Albino, 747 F.3d at 1172. Plaintiff alleges that he did not exhaust his administrative remedies because he feared prison officials would retaliate against him and put his life in danger. The government has set forth its own evidence refuting this claim; however, outside evidence cannot be considered on a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6). See id. at 1166. The proper procedural mechanism for evaluating the exhaustion issue in this case would be on a post-answer motion for summary judgment so that Plaintiff can be afforded the opportunity to conduct discovery and put forth his own outside evidence regarding the exhaustion issue. Thus, Defendants' motion to dismiss on exhaustion grounds should be DENIED on procedural grounds.
B. Injunctive Relief Claims
Plaintiff requests an injunction preventing defendants " from harassing Plaintiff, and to cease placing Plaintiff's life in danger, cease falsifying reports." (Doc. 1, at 7.) Plaintiff alleges that the events occurred at Centinela State Prison and that he is now housed at Corcoran State Prison. (Doc. 1, at 1-2.)
A claim is considered moot if it has lost its character as a present, live controversy, and if no effective relief can be granted. Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 95, 88 S.Ct. 1942, 20 L.Ed.2d 947 (1968). Where injunctive relief is involved, questions of mootness are determined in light of the present circumstances. Mitchell v. Dupnik, 75 F.3d 517, 528 (9th Cir. 1996).
Because Plaintiff is housed at Corcoran State Prison, where none of the named Defendants work, an injunction ordering the employees of Centinela State Prison to stop taking retaliatory measures against him would not grant Plaintiff any relief, as Plaintiff no longer is at this institution. Plaintiff's request lacks " sufficient immediacy and reality to warrant" injunctive relief. See Preiser v. Newkirk, 422 U.S. 395, 403, 95 S.Ct. 2330, 45 L.Ed.2d 272 (1975). Accordingly, the Court recommends that Defendants' motion to dismiss the injunctive claims for relief be GRANTED without prejudice.
C. Official Capacity Claims
Defendants move to dismiss the claims against the defendants which are brought against them in their official capacities. Naming an employee in his official capacity is " in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165-166, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985). Per the Eleventh Amendment, a state prisoner cannot sue a state defendant in his official capacity for monetary relief to correct an unconstitutional prison condition.
See Peralta v. Dillard, 744 F.3d 1076, 1083 (9th Cir. 2014). While the Eleventh Amendment does not prohibit injunctive relief against defendants sued in their official capacities, Aholelei v. Dep't of Public Safety, 488 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2007), Plaintiff's injunctive relief claims should be dismissed as described above. As such, Plaintiff no longer has validly stated claims against Defendants in their official capacities. Thus, Defendants' motion to dismiss the official capacity claims against the Defendants should be GRANTED.
For the foregoing reasons, the court RECOMMENDS that Defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust administrative remedies be DENIED. The court RECOMMENDS that Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's injunctive relief and official capacity claims be GRANTED. Any written objections to this Report and Recommendation must be filed with the Court and a copy served on all parties on or before January 30, 2015. The document should be captioned " Objections to Report and Recommendation." Any reply to the objections shall be served and filed on or before February 6, 2015. The parties are advised that failure to file either of these documents within the specified time periods may waive the right to raise those objections on appeal of this Court's order. Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153, 1156 (9th Cir. 1991).
IT IS SO ORDERED