United States District Court, C.D. California, Eastern Division
January 16, 2015
RAFAEL BARRALES, Plaintiff,
A. CRUMP et al., Defendants
Rafael Barrales, Plaintiff, Pro se, San Diego, CA.
For A. Crump, Correctional Officer, Defendant: Edgar R Nield, Gabrielle DeSantis-Nield, LEAD ATTORNEYS, Maltzman and Partners PA, Encinitas, CA.
For D. Spears, Correctional Officer, Defendant: Janine K Jeffery, LEAD ATTORNEY, Reily and Jeffery, Northridge, CA; Andrew M Gibson, CAAG - Office of the Attorney General, Los Angeles, CA.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
DOUGLAS F. McCORMICK,
United States Magistrate Judge.
This Report and Recommendation is submitted to the Honorable Valerie Baker Fairbank, United States District Judge, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and General Order 05-07 of the United States District Court for the Central District of California.
A. Procedural History
On September 11, 2013, Plaintiff Rafael Barrales, a state prisoner, filed a pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Dkt. 1 (" Complaint"). The Complaint names two Defendants, A. Crump and D. Spears, who at the time of the underlying events were employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (" CDCR") as correctional officers at Ironwood State Prison (" ISP"). Id. at 2. Plaintiff alleges that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated by Defendants' use of excessive force. Id. at 3. Defendants are sued in both their individual and official capacities. Id. at 2.
On May 22, 2014, Spears filed a Motion to Dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Dkt. 19 (" Motion"). Plaintiff has not filed an Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. For the reasons discussed below, the Court recommends that Spears's Motion to Dismiss be granted in part and denied in part.
B. Allegations of the Complaint
On December 14, 2012, Crump approached Plaintiff and instructed him to return to his assigned housing cell. Complaint at 3. Plaintiff told Crump that it was his section of the dayroom that was out. Id. Crump replied that he " did not give a damn" and began using profanity and aggressive language. Id. Crump then took out his pepper spray and instructed the control booth officer to " clean the 'A' section dayroom." Id. Crump then told Plaintiff to " cuff up, " to which Plaintiff replied that he could not be handcuffed behind his back because he had recently had surgery on his left shoulder rotator cuff. Id. Plaintiff told Crump that he had a medical chrono stating that he could not be handcuffed behind his back. Id.
Crump and Spears then forced Plaintiff to the ground and handcuffed him behind his back, despite Plaintiff repeatedly telling them about his injured shoulder. Id. Defendants told Plaintiff that he was " faking it" and attempted to lift him up by his wrists, which caused Plaintiff to yell and cry that Defendants were hurting him. Id. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants' actions were not performed in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline but were done maliciously in order to cause pain. Id.
Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages of $100, 000, punitive damages of $50, 000, and an injunction preventing Defendants from retaliating against Plaintiff for filing this civil rights action. Id. at 5.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the legal sufficiency of a claim. Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). A complaint may be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of facts alleged under such a theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). A complaint need not plead detailed factual allegations, but the complaint must contain enough facts to establish a plausible entitlement to relief that is more than merely speculative. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). A pleading will be rejected if it offers labels, conclusions, or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action. Id.
The Court must accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe those facts, as well as the inferences from those facts, in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See Knievel v. ESPN, 393 F.3d 1068, 1072 (9th Cir. 2005). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam) (citations omitted). However, the liberal construction doctrine " applies only to a plaintiff's factual allegations." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989). The Court need not accept as true unreasonable inferences or conclusory legal allegations cast in the form of factual allegations. Ileto v. Glock Inc., 349 F.3d 1191, 1200 (9th Cir. 2003) (citing Western Mining Council v. Watt, 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981)).
A. Plaintiff's Claims Against Defendants in Their Official Capacities Should Be Dismissed
Plaintiff has named each Defendant in both his individual and official capacities. Complaint at 2. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages from each Defendant as well as injunctive relief. Id. at 5. The Supreme Court has held that an " official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166, 105 S.Ct. 3099, 87 L.Ed.2d 114 (1985); see also Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471-72, 105 S.Ct. 873, 83 L.Ed.2d 878 (1985); Larez v. City of L.A., 946 F.2d 630, 646 (9th Cir. 1991). Such a suit " is not a suit against the official personally, for the real party in interest is the entity." Graham, 473 U.S. at 166. Here, Defendants are officers or agents of the CDCR. Therefore, all of Plaintiff's claims against Defendants in their official capacities are tantamount to claims against the CDCR.
States, state agencies, and state officials sued in their official capacities are not persons subject to civil rights claims for damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64--66, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989); see also Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 30, 112 S.Ct. 358, 116 L.Ed.2d 301 (1991) (clarifying that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar suits against state officials sued in their individual capacities nor for prospective injunctive relief against state officials sued in their official capacities). The CDCR is an agency of the State of California and, therefore, entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Brown v. Cal. Dep't of Corrections, 554 F.3d 747, 752 (9th Cir. 2009).
To overcome the Eleventh Amendment bar on federal jurisdiction over suits by individuals against a State and its instrumentalities, either the State must have " unequivocally expressed" its consent to waive its sovereign immunity or Congress must have abrogated it. See Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99--100, 104 S.Ct. 900, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984). California has consented to be sued in its own courts pursuant to the California Tort Claims Act, but such consent does not constitute consent to suit in federal court. See BV Engineering v. Univ. of Cal., Los Angeles, 858 F.2d 1394, 1396 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Atascadero State Hosp. v. Scanlon, 473 U.S. 234, 241, 105 S.Ct. 3142, 87 L.Ed.2d 171 (1985) (holding that Art. III, § 5 of the California Constitution did not constitute a waiver of the state's Eleventh Amendment immunity). Furthermore, Congress has not abrogated sovereign immunity against suits under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 341, 99 S.Ct. 1139, 59 L.Ed.2d 358 (1979).
While the Eleventh Amendment would not bar a claim for prospective injunctive relief against Defendants in their official capacity, Plaintiff's Complaint does not include any such relief that is not moot. Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims against Defendants in their official capacities must be dismissed.
B. Plaintiff Has Stated an Excessive Force Claim
Spears contends that Plaintiff has failed to allege facts sufficient to state an Eighth Amendment excessive force claim. Motion at 6-9. Spears contends that Defendants used the minimal force necessary in a good faith attempt to restore discipline, citing Plaintiff's alleged refusal to obey Crump's orders to submit to being handcuffed. Id. at 6-7.
The Eighth Amendment prohibits the use of excessive physical force against inmates. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832, 114 S.Ct. 1970, 128 L.Ed.2d 811 (1994). To prevail on an Eighth Amendment excessive force claim, the plaintiff must show that the force used against him " was applied [not] in a good faith effort to maintain or restore discipline [but] maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm." Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320-21, 106 S.Ct. 1078, 89 L.Ed.2d 251 (1986).
" [N]ot every malevolent touch by a prison guard gives rise to a federal cause of action." Wilkins v. Gaddy, 559 U.S. 34, 37, 130 S.Ct. 1175, 175 L.Ed.2d 995 (2010) (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9, 112 S.Ct. 995, 117 L.Ed.2d 156 (1992)) (quotation marks omitted). Necessarily excluded from constitutional recognition is the de minimis use of physical force, provided that the use of force is not of a sort repugnant to the conscience of mankind. Id. at 37-38 (quoting Hudson, 503 U.S. at 9-10) (quotations marks omitted). In determining whether the use of force was wanton and unnecessary, courts may evaluate the extent of the prisoner's injury, the need for application of force, the relationship between that need and the amount of force used, the threat reasonably perceived by the responsible officials, and any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response. Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7 (quotation marks and citations omitted).
Plaintiff's allegations of excessive force against Defendants are sufficient to state a claim. Liberally construed, the Complaint alleges that Defendants placed Plaintiff in handcuffs behind his back despite knowledge that Plaintiff had recent shoulder surgery that made it very painful for him to be handcuffed behind his back, and, in so doing, forced him to the ground and thus used more force than was necessary. Liberally construing the allegations of the Complaint, the Court concludes that these allegations are sufficient, at least at this early stage of the litigation, to state a federal civil rights claim for excessive force. Whether Defendants acted in a good faith attempt to maintain and restore discipline, or instead sadistically and maliciously in order to cause harm, is a disputed question of fact which is better decided by way of a motion for summary judgment.
C. Plaintiff's Request For Punitive Damages Should Not Be Stricken
The Court may strike from a pleading any material that is " redundant, immaterial, impertinent or scandalous." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). " The [essential] function of a [Rule] 12(f) motion to strike is to avoid the expenditure of time and money that must arise from litigating spurious issues by dispensing with those issues prior to trial." Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi--Craft Co., 618 F.3d 970, 973 (9th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted). In particular, " [a] Rule 12(f) motion may be used to strike a prayer for relief when the damages sought are not recoverable as a matter of law." Wells v. Bd. of Trustees of Cal. State Univ., 393 F.Supp.2d 990, 994 (N.D. Cal. 2005). However, " because of the limited importance of pleadings in federal practice, " motions to strike under Rule 12(f) are disfavored. Bureerong v. Uvawas, 922 F.Supp. 1450, 1478 (C.D. Cal. 1996).
Spears argues that Plaintiff's request for punitive damages should be stricken because Plaintiff has not pleaded facts showing either evil motive or intent or reckless and callous indifference to federally protected rights. Motion at 13 (citing Smith v. Wade, 461 U.S. 30, 56, 103 S.Ct. 1625, 75 L.Ed.2d 632 (1983)). However, Plaintiff's ultimate entitlement to punitive damages against Defendants in their individual capacity under section 1983 depends not on the allegations in the Complaint but on the facts that will be developed during discovery and presented at trial. Under the Federal Rules, a pleading need only contain " a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" and " a demand for the relief sought." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)-(3). Moreover, the Federal Rules provide that " [m]alice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person's mind may be alleged generally." Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b). Accordingly, Spears's motion to strike Plaintiff's request for punitive damages should be denied without prejudice to the extent Plaintiff seeks punitive damages against Spears in his individual capacity.
IT THEREFORE IS RECOMMENDED that the District Judge issue an Order: (1) approving and accepting this Report and Recommendation; (2) granting in part Defendant Spears's motion to dismiss on the ground that the Complaint fails to state a claim against Defendants in their official capacities; (3) denying in part Defendant Spears's motion to dismiss on the ground that the Complaint states a claim of excessive force against Spears in his individual capacity; (4) denying Defendant Spears's motion to strike the Complaint's request for punitive damages; and (5) allowing Plaintiff to file a First Amended Complaint within twenty-one (21) days of the District Judge's Order if he wishes to pursue this action. In a First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff is advised to correct the deficiencies identified in this Report and only allege claims that have legal and factual support.