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Willard v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 31, 2015

KRISTA RENEE WILLARD, and as successor in interest on behalf of the Estate of Douglas Eugene Willard, Plaintiff,


BARBARA A. McAULIFFE, Magistrate Judge.

By motion filed on January 13, 2015, Defendants Diaz, Gipson, Perez, and Stainer moved to dismiss Plaintiffs' first amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs failed to file a timely opposition to the motion, and this Court took the motion under submission pursuant to Local Rule 230(c). (Doc. 26.) Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed an untimely opposition on February 3, 2015. No reply papers were filed. The parties have consented to the Magistrate Judge jurisdiction in this case. (Doc. 14, 15.) Having considered the moving and opposition (in part), and the entire file, the Court rules as follows.


A. The Parties

Krista Renee Willard is the daughter of Douglas Eugene Willard ("Willard"), who was killed by his cellmate, Allen Queen, while incarcerated in a Corcoran State Prison, a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") facility. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶¶ 6, 31.) Defendants are supervisory personal of the CDCR. Defendant Michael Stainer is the Director of CDCR and is responsible for the administration application of CDCR policies. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶ 7.) Plaintiffs allege Stainer was and is ultimately responsible for the operation of all of California's prison facilities, including staff employment and training, and the preparation, selection and implementation of policies, procedure and guidelines concerning the use of force, inmate safety, and inmate classification procedures. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶ 8.)

Plaintiffs name Defendant Ralph Diaz, Associate Director of High Security Inmates for CDCR, who is responsible for the policies and practices of inmate safety and inmate classification. (Doc.32 ¶ 9.) Defendant Connie Gipson is the Warden of Corcoran and responsible for the daily operation of the prison. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶ 10.) Defendant Tim Perez is the Chief Deputy Warden of Corcoran and is responsible for the daily operations of the prison and supervision of prison staff. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶ 11.) Plaintiffs also name DOES defendants 1-30. Plaintiffs allege that the decision to allow inmate Queen to double cell with decedent was made by defendant DOES 1 through 10, who had been trained in policies and procedures regarding CDCR's double cell housing policy. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶ 22.) DOES 11-20 were assigned as control booth or floor officers and failed to intervene. (Doc. 32, ¶ 23.) DOES 1-30 negligently or intentionally provided Queen with information about Willard's commitment offense. (Doc. 32 FAC ¶ 34.)

B. Overview of the Facts

Willard, who had served 4 years of a 6 year term as a sex offender, was housed in a cell on May 23, 2013 with inmate Allen Eugene Queen. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶ 17.) Willard was found lying unresponsive in his cell at about 8:30 p.m. and was later pronounced dead. Willard was 63 years of age, disabled, and at the time of the incident was serving a 6-year sentence. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶ 28-29.) Queen was 48 years of age, and at the time of the incident, was serving 259 years for several convictions from San Joaquin County, including attempted murder of a government officer, possession of a weapon by a prisoner, assault with a deadly weapon on a custody officer and making terrorist threats. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶ 20.) Plaintiffs allege Queen was a known violent inmate with a propensity for violence and mental instability. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶ 20.) Plaintiffs allege that no correctional officer intervened or attempted to intervene in the attack by Queen.

Plaintiffs allege that prior incidents occurred where sex offender inmates were killed by other inmates, including their cellmates. (Doc. 32, ¶ 25-29.) Plaintiffs allege that Queen learned of Willard's commitment offense, when he was given a Form 128, confronted Willard and intentionally murdered Willard. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶ 31.) Plaintiffs allege that Defendants Stainer, Diaz, Gibson, and Perez were aware of the need to keep a sex offender's commitment offense from being included in his cellmate's Form 128 for the protection of the sex offender. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶ 35.) Although aware of the inherent danger to the sex offender, these Defendants knowingly allowed the practice of including a sex offender's information to be contained in their cellmates Form 128. (Doc. 32, FAC ¶ 35.)

Following leave to amend the complaint after Defendants' prior motion to dismiss (Doc. 31), Plaintiffs filed the FAC. The FAC alleges the following claims for relief:

1. First Claim: Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Failure to Protect under the Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment against all defendants;
2. Second Claim: Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Failure to Train, Supervise and Discipline employees against all defendants;
3. Third Claim: Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Denial of Family Rights under the Fourteenth Amendment against all defendants;
4. Fourth Claim: Wrongful Death against all defendants;
5. Fifth Claim: Negligent Supervision, Training, Hiring and Retention against all defendants.

C. Defendants' Arguments

Defendants challenge the First through Third claims of violation of § 1983. Defendants argue that the FAC alleges conclusory allegations despite the additional new allegations - that sex offender inmates are targets of other inmates, and that sex offender inmates are sometimes killed by their cellmates, that Willard was killed by his cellmate after the cellmate learned Willard was a sex offender. Plaintiffs fail to allege that Defendants knew of his housing assignment or a risk to Willard's safety as a result to that assignment. (Doc. 34-1 p.2.) Defendants further argue that the allegations do not separate out each defendant and identify what each defendant did, but merely refers to them collectively as "defendants." (Doc. 34-1, p. 6.) Defendants argue that the allegations are conclusory, without factual support such as "defendants" "knew or should have known that Queen would inflict acts of physical violence" (FAC ¶ 49), "failed to provide training, supervision, [and] discipline regarding protection of the physical safety of inmates" (FAC ¶ 56), failed to enforce laws (FAC ¶ 72.) Defendants argue that allegations that defendants "should have known" of conduct is insufficient because if Defendants did not know of the alleged condition, but merely should have known, they cannot be held liable for Plaintiffs' claimed constitutional violations. (Doc. 34-1 p. 6.) Plaintiff's allegations of negligence are insufficient to maintain a § 1983 claim.

For the failure to protect claim, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs do not allege Stainer, Gipson, Perez, or Diaz were personally involved in housing, cellmate decisions, or assignments. Plaintiffs do not allege a deficient policy. (Doc. 34-1 p.8.) As to the failure to train claim, Defendant argues that the allegations are insufficient because they amount to negligence allegations. (Doc. 34-1 p.9.) There are no allegations that the named defendants participated in or directed any alleged constitution violation or failed to prevent them. On the claim for deprivation of rights to family relations, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs fail to allege any facts showing that the defendants acted with such abuse of power as to shock the conscience. (Doc. 34-1 p.10.)

Defendants argue that the defects in original complaint are not cured because they fail to show that any Defendants knew of Willard's housing assignment or any risk to his safety from his cell assignment, or that any Defendant participated or directed the alleged constitutional violations that resulted in Willard's death. (Doc.34-1 p.2.)

D. Plaintiffs' Arguments

Plaintiffs argue that that the allegations in the FAC are sufficient to withstand a challenge pursuant to Twomby and Iqbal. Plaintiffs argue that the facts allege that each of the defendants, particularly Gipson and Perez: "1) were aware of the fact that sex offender status of Corcoran State prison inmate were being intentionally or negligently released to other inmates with the knowledge that such would affect the health and welfare of the sex offender inmate, and 2) were aware that sex offender inmate, who are known targets of violence by fellow inmates, were being improperly double celled with inmate that posed immediate threat of great body injury or death." (Doc. 36 p.3.) Plaintiffs argue that paragraphs 25-43 state facts regarding each named defendants, that they were in a position to be "well aware that sex offenders are known targets" because in the months leading to the incident, a large number of sex offender inmates were killed at the hands of their ...

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