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Gilchrist v. Yolo County District Attorney's Office

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 30, 2015



DALE A. DROZD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff is a county jail inmate proceeding pro se. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This action was referred to the undersigned by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

Plaintiff has submitted a declaration that makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted.

Plaintiff is required to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a), 1915(b)(1). By this order, plaintiff will be assessed an initial partial filing fee in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). By separate order, the court will direct the appropriate agency to collect the initial partial filing fee from plaintiff's county jail trust account and forward it to the Clerk of the Court. Thereafter, plaintiff will be obligated for monthly payments of twenty percent of the preceding month's income credited to plaintiff's county jail account. These payments will be forwarded by the appropriate agency to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in plaintiff's account exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is paid in full. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).


The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious, " that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) & (2).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227.

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, in order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim a complaint must contain more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555. In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hospital Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969).

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of [state law]... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution... shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). "A person subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

Moreover, supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisorial position, the causal link between him and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley, 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).


In the present case, plaintiff has identified as defendants the Yolo County District Attorney's Office, attorney Steven Sabbadini, Yolo County Superior Court Judge Richardson, the Yolo County Superior Court, Deputy District Attorney Matthew De Moura, the Monroe Detention Center, and Yolo County. In his complaint plaintiff alleges that he has been falsely charged and incarcerated and that the named defendants have tampered with evidence and engaged in a fraudulent prosecution against him on the charge of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. As a result of his incarceration, plaintiff alleges that he was raped by two inmates with the assistance of two correctional officers and now suffers from permanent penile dysfunction. Plaintiff also alleges that he has been denied effective assistance of counsel and is being illegally detained. (Compl. at 1-16.)


The allegations in plaintiff's complaint are so vague and conclusory that the court is unable to determine whether the current action is frivolous or fails to state a claim for relief. The complaint does not contain a short and plain statement as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although the Federal Rules adopt a flexible pleading policy, a complaint must give fair notice to the defendants and must allege facts that support the elements of the claim plainly and succinctly. Jones v. Community Redev. Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). Plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts which defendants engaged in that support his claims. Id. Because plaintiff has failed to comply with the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), the complaint must be dismissed. The court will, however, grant leave to file an amended complaint.

If plaintiff chooses to file an amended complaint, he must allege therein facts demonstrating how the conditions complained of resulted in a deprivation of her federal constitutional or statutory rights. See Ellis v. Cassidy, 625 F.2d 227 (9th Cir. 1980). The amended complaint must also allege in specific terms how each named defendant was involved in the deprivation of plaintiff's rights. This is because there can be no liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unless there is some affirmative link or connection between a defendant's actions and the claimed deprivation. Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976); May v. Enomoto, 633 F.2d 164, 167 (9th Cir. 1980); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations of official participation in civil rights violations are not sufficient. Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

Plaintiff's complaint suffers from a number of additional deficiencies. As an initial matter, plaintiff is advised that a petition for writ of habeas corpus is the proper mechanism for a prisoner seeking to challenge the fact or duration of his confinement. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 484 (1973). Insofar as plaintiff wishes to challenge the legality of a conviction that has led to his current incarceration he must file a habeas corpus action. This is a civil rights action. A civil rights action is the proper mechanism for a prisoner seeking to challenge the conditions of his confinement. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Badea v. Cox, 931 F.2d 573, 574 (9th Cir. 1991).

In his complaint plaintiff has made very serious allegations about being raped by two inmates who were assisted by correctional officers. However, plaintiff has not named any correctional officers as defendants in this case. If plaintiff wishes to bring claims against the correctional officers for failing to protect him from serious harm, he may be able to state an Eighth Amendment claim against them. It is well established that "prison officials have a duty... to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 833 (1994). "Being violently assaulted in prison is simply not part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offense against society.'" Id. at 834.

If plaintiff wishes to proceed on a failure to protect claim, he should name the allegedly responsible correctional officers as defendants in any amended complaint he elects to file. In addition, he must allege facts that, if proven, would establish that subjectively each defendant had a culpable state of mind in allowing or causing the plaintiff's rape to occur. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment "only if he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it." Id. at 847. Under this standard, a prison official must have a "sufficiently culpable state of mind, " one of deliberate indifference to the inmate's health or safety. Id.

Plaintiff has also alleged in his complaint that he did not receive proper medical care after he was assaulted. Again, plaintiff has not named any medical personnel as defendants in this action. If plaintiff wishes to bring claims against the medical personnel for failing to provide him with adequate medical care, he may be able to state an Eighth Amendment claim against them. Plaintiff is advised, however, that inadequate medical care does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment cognizable under § 1983 unless the mistreatment rises to the level of "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). In general, deliberate indifference may be shown when prison officials deny, delay, or intentionally interfere with medical treatment, or may be shown by the way in which prison officials provide medical care. Hutchinson v. United States, 838 F.2d 390, 393-94 (9th Cir. 1988).

If plaintiff wishes to proceed on a claim that he was provided constitutionally inadequate medical care, he should name the medical personnel or officials who allegedly failed to provide him with proper care as defendants in any amended complaint he elects to file. In addition, he must allege therein facts demonstrating how each named defendant's actions rose to the level of "deliberate indifference." Plaintiff is advised that mere differences of opinion between a prisoner and prison medical staff as to the proper course of treatment for a medical condition do not give rise to a § 1983 claim. See Toguchi v. Soon Hwang Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1058 (9th Cir. 2004); Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1996); Sanchez v. Vild, 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin v. Oregon, 662 F.2d 1337, 1344 (9th Cir. 1981).

In addition, before it can be said that a prisoner's civil rights have been abridged, "the indifference to his medical needs must be substantial. Mere indifference, ' negligence, ' or medical malpractice' will not support this cause of action." Broughton v. Cutter Lab., 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir. 1980) (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105-06). See also Wood v. Housewright, 900 F.2d 1332, 1334 (9th Cir. 1990) ("In determining deliberate indifference, we scrutinize the particular facts and look for substantial indifference in the individual case, indicating more than mere negligence or isolated occurrences of neglect.").

Delays in providing medical care may manifest deliberate indifference. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05. To establish a claim of deliberate indifference arising from delay in providing care, however, a plaintiff must allege facts showing that the delay was harmful. See Berry v. Bunnell, 39 F.3d 1056, 1057 (9th Cir. 1994); Hunt v. Dental Dep't, 865 F.2d 198, 200 (9th Cir. 1989); Shapley v. Nevada Bd. of State Prison Comm'rs, 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985). In this regard, "[a] prisoner need not show his harm was substantial; however, such would provide additional support for the inmate's claim that the defendant was deliberately indifferent to his needs." Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006).

Next, the court observes that plaintiff has named Yolo County as a defendant and appears to take issue with unspecified policies at the County's Monroe Detention Center. Plaintiff is advised that a plaintiff must satisfy four conditions in order to establish municipal liability: "(1) that [the plaintiff] possessed a constitutional right of which he was deprived; (2) that the municipality had a policy; (3) that this policy amounts to deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's constitutional right and (4) that the policy is the moving force behind the constitutional violation." Van Ort v. Estate of Stanewich, 92 F.3d 831, 835 (9th Cir. 1996) (internal quotations omitted). In any amended complaint plaintiff elects to file, he should identify the policy (or policies) pertinent to his claims. He must also allege therein facts that show he was raped and/or received inadequate medical care pursuant to the policy and that the policy was the "moving force" or cause of his injury. Hernandez v. County of Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 637 (9th Cir. 2012).

Finally, plaintiff has named several individuals as defendants who are entitled to immunity from damages or are not "state actors" for purposes of § 1983. For example, Yolo County Superior Court Judge Richardson is entitled to absolute immunity from damages under § 1983 for acting within the course and scope of judicial duties. See Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-54 (1967); Olsen v. Idaho State Bd. of Medicine, 363 F.3d 916, 922 (9th Cir. 2004) ("Absolute immunity is generally accorded to judges and prosecutors functioning in their official capacities"). Similarly, Deputy District Attorney Matthew DeMoura is entitled to absolute immunity for engaging "in activities intimately associated with the judicial phase of the criminal process.'" Broam v. Bogan, 320 F.3d 1023, 1028 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976)). See also Ewing v. City of Stockton, 588 F.3d 1218, 1233 (9th Cir. 2009); Ashel man v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072, 1078 (9th Cir. 1986) (en banc) ("Prosecutors are absolutely immune for quasi-judicial activities taken within the scope of their authority."). Lastly, plaintiff's defense attorney, Steven Sabbadini, is not a "state actor" for purposes of § 1983. See Miranda v. Clark County, 319 F.3d 465 (9th Ci r.2003) (en banc) (a public defender is not a state actor); Briley v. State of California, 564 F.2d 849, 855 (9th Cir.1977) ("We have repeatedly held that a privately-retained attorney does not act under color of state law for purposes of actions brought under the Civil Rights Act."). If plaintiff elects to file an amended complaint, he should not name these individuals as defendants in any § 1983 he wishes to attempt to pursue.

Finally, plaintiff is informed that the court cannot refer to a prior pleading in order to make plaintiff's amended complaint complete. Local Rule 220 requires that an amended complaint be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. This is because, as a general rule, an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. See Loux v. Rhay, 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Once plaintiff files an amended complaint, the original pleading no longer serves any function in the case. Therefore, in any amended complaint plaintiff elects to file, as in an original complaint, each claim and the involvement of each defendant must be sufficiently alleged.


Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. No. 6) is granted.

2. Plaintiff is obligated to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. The fee shall be collected and paid in accordance with this court's order to the Sheriff of Yolo County filed concurrently herewith.

3. Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed.

4. Plaintiff is granted thirty days from the date of service of this order to file an amended complaint that complies with the requirements of the Civil Rights Act, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Local Rules of Practice; the amended complaint must bear the docket number assigned to this case and must be labeled "Amended Complaint"; failure to file an amended complaint in accordance with this order will result in a recommendation that this action be dismissed without prejudice.

5. The Clerk of the Court is directed to send plaintiff the court's form for filing a civil rights action.

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