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Bell v. Lee

United States District Court, N.D. California

February 3, 2015

KEN LEE, Deputy; et al., Defendants.


SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge.


Vincent Keith Bell, an inmate at the San Francisco County Jail, filed this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaining of conditions of confinement at the jail. The court reviewed the complaint and dismissed it with leave to amend so that Bell could cure several pleading deficiencies. He then filed an amended complaint, which is now before the court for review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.


In his amended complaint, Bell alleges that, on September 22, 2013, he was beaten up by San Francisco Sheriff's Department officers De Los Reyes, Ken Lee, Gatman, and Herrion, and lieutenant Krol. Bell alleges that they first beat up him near his cell. Then they forced Bell - who had one leg amputated - to hop on his remaining leg for about 100 feet to a safety cell. Once in the safety cell, they beat him up again. A psychiatrist released Bell from the safety cell the next day.

Bell further alleges that he later went to lieutenant Charles Flewllen of investigative services and made a claim regarding the beating. After Bell filed that claim, lieutenant Krol had his officers retaliate by writing false reports against Bell. Lieutenant Krol held the hearings on these false reports and imposed the maximum discipline on Bell. Bell was locked up in his cell for thirteen months or more, with no access to yard, telephone, visitation, or recreation. Sergeant Weatherly allegedly told Bell that lieutenant Krol had forced him and others to retaliate against Bell. To please lieutenant Krol, sergeant Weatherly and officer Mooney allegedly searched Bell's cell for three hours, and took materials from his lawyers and sent them to lieutenant Flewllen with a request for him give the materials to the prosecutor to retaliate against Bell.


A federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of 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 which 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. at § 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. 1990).

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and (2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

The constitutional right at issue when force is used on a person depends on that person's status at the time forced is used on him. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects a pretrial detainee from the use of force that amounts to punishment. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 n.10 (1989) (citing Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535-39 (1979)). The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishments protects a convict from force used maliciously and sadistically for the very purpose of causing harm. See generally Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 6 (1992). It is not necessary to determine Bell's status for present purposes because the allegations state a cognizable claim under the Due Process Clause or the Eighth Amendment. Liberally construed, the amended complaint states a cognizable § 1983 claim against the following defendants for using excessive force on Bell near his cell and inside the safety cell: officer Ken Lee (badge #2131), lieutenant Krol (badge # 1412), officer Gatman, officer De los Reyes (badge #2016), and officer Herrion.

"Within the prison context, a viable claim of First Amendment retaliation entails five basic elements: (1) An assertion that a state actor took some adverse action against an inmate (2) because of (3) that prisoner's protected conduct, and that such action (4) chilled the inmate's exercise of his First Amendment rights, and (5) the action did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal." Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567-68 (9th Cir. 2005) (footnote omitted). Liberally construed, the amended complaint states a cognizable claim against lieutenant Krol, sergeant Weatherly (badge # 898 or # 889), and officer Mooney for retaliation against Bell for his filing of a claim with the office of investigative services.

The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects individuals against governmental deprivations of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Interests that are procedurally protected by the Due Process Clause may arise from two sources: the Due Process Clause itself and laws of the states. See Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 223-27 (1976). In the prison or jail context, these interests are generally ones pertaining to liberty. Changes in conditions so severe as to affect the sentence imposed in an unexpected manner implicate the Due Process Clause itself, whether or not they are authorized by state law. See Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995) (citing Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 493 (1980) (transfer to mental hospital), and Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 221-22 (1990) (involuntary administration of psychotropic drugs)). Deprivations that are less severe or more closely related to the expected terms of confinement may also amount to deprivations of a procedurally protected liberty interest, provided that the liberty in question is one of "real substance." See Sandin, 515 U.S. at 477-87. An interest of "real substance" will generally be limited to freedom from restraint that imposes an "atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life" or "will inevitably affect the duration of [a] sentence." Id. at 484, 487. The court understands the amended complaint's allegations to mean that there was not sufficient evidence to support the disciplinary decisions made by lieutenant Krol. Liberally construed, the amended complaint states a cognizable claim against lieutenant Krol for violating Bell's right to due process based on the allegations that he held hearings on disciplinary reports that he knew were false and imposed discipline on Bell during such hearings.


1. The amended complaint states the following cognizable claims under § 1983: (a) against defendants Lee, Krol, Gatman, De los Reyes and Herrion for excessive force; (b) against defendants Krol, Weatherly and Mooney for retaliation; and (c) against lieutenant Krol for violating ...

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