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Matthews v. E. Black

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 9, 2015

E. BLACK, et al., Defendants.


JAMES DONATO, District Judge.

Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, has brought a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The amended complaint alleges claims against defendant correctional officers Puckett, Bonilla, Urena, and correctional sergeant Black for retaliation and deliberate indifference to plaintiff's safety, and also alleges that Bonilla and Urena used excessive force. Defendant Puckett has moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim, [1] and the remaining defendants have filed motions for summary judgment. Plaintiff has filed an opposition, and defendants have filed a reply. The motions are granted.


A. Background

In the amended complaint, plaintiff states he was transferred from Corcoran Prison to Salinas Valley State Prison ("SVSP") on September 8, 2011, and was temporarily placed in Administrative Segregation ("Ad. Seg.") due to lack of bed space at SVSP at that time. On September 21, 2011, plaintiff continued to be held in Ad. Seg. due to confidential information. In October 2011, plaintiff filed several inmate grievances regarding his legal and personal property that was not returned following his transfer.

On December 1, 2011, a classification committee approved plaintiff's release from Ad. Seg. to general population. On December 1, 2011, plaintiff was taken from his single cell in Ad. Seg. to a double cell in general population. Defendant Puckett was escorting plaintiff to the double cell in general population when plaintiff stated that he had a safety concern. Plaintiff states that Puckett ignored him and placed him into a cell that was occupied by inmate Harris. Puckett left the cell while plaintiff was still handcuffed, which plaintiff asserts placed him in danger because Harris was not handcuffed. Plaintiff yelled to Puckett, who returned, opened the cell door, removed the handcuffs, closed the door, and left. While no harm came to plaintiff, he alleges that Puckett ignored his safety concern and placed him in danger, all in retaliation for plaintiff previously filing grievances about his legal and personal property.

B. Legal Standard

A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claims alleged in the complaint. Ileto v. Glock, Inc., 349 F.3d 1191, 1199-1200 (9th Cir. 2003). All allegations of material fact are taken as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). However, conclusory statements, not supported by factual allegations, need not be accepted. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009) (courts are not bound to accept as true "a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation"). "A plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Rather, the allegations in the complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.

A motion to dismiss should be granted if the complaint does not proffer enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. See id. at 558-59, 574. "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not show[n]'-that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citation omitted).

The Eighth Amendment requires that prison officials take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of prisoners. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). In particular, prison officials have a duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners. Id. at 833; Hearns v. Terhune, 413 F.3d 1036, 1040 (9th Cir. 2005). The failure of prison officials to protect inmates from attacks by other inmates or from dangerous conditions at the prison violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) the deprivation alleged is, objectively, sufficiently serious; and (2) the prison official is, subjectively, deliberately indifferent to inmate safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Hearns, 413 F.3d at 1040-41. A prisoner need not wait until he is actually assaulted to state a claim and obtain relief. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 845.

"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). Accord Pratt v. Rowland, 65 F.3d 802, 806 (9th Cir. 1995) (prisoner suing prison officials under § 1983 for retaliation must allege that he was retaliated against for exercising his constitutional rights and that the retaliatory action did not advance legitimate penological goals, such as preserving institutional order and discipline).

C. Analysis

The allegations in the amended complaint fail to demonstrate that defendant Puckett was deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's safety or that he retaliated against plaintiff over the grievances. Plaintiff alleges that he had a safety concern and did not want to be on the general population yard but plaintiff provides no specific allegations about his safety concern, nor does he state that he conveyed a specific concern to Puckett to demonstrate that he was deliberately indifferent to plaintiff's safety. There is no indication that plaintiff was in danger from his cellmate or that he even knew the identity of the cellmate before he arrived. These vague allegations are insufficient under Iqbal. The allegations that plaintiff was momentarily handcuffed while in his cell before Puckett returned there and removed the handcuffs do not state an Eighth Amendment claim. While this could demonstrate negligence, that is insufficient to state a claim of deliberate indifference. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835-36.

Plaintiff also fails to provide any support for the allegations that Puckett's conduct was in retaliation for his inmate appeals. He presents a conclusory statement that Puckett was retaliating against him, but provides no support to connect Puckett's actions to his prior conduct. As alleged in the amended complaint, Puckett was taking plaintiff to a double cell based on a classification committee decision that concluded plaintiff could be transferred from Ad. Seg. to general population. While the allegations in the ...

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