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Segura v. O'Neal

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 29, 2015

MOLLY O'NEAL, Defendant.


JAMES DONATO, District Judge.

Robert Segura, a civil detainee, has filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He is civilly committed pursuant to California's Sexually Violent Predators Act (SVPA). See Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code 6600, et seq. He is committed in Coalinga which is located in the Eastern District of California. The underlying commitment proceeding originated in Santa Clara County, which is in this district. He has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis.



Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 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. Id. at 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Although a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations, ... a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.... Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint must proffer "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. The United States Supreme Court has explained the "plausible on its face" standard of Twombly : "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

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


Segura alleges that his civil commitment was the result of a faulty mental health assessment and he seeks protection from future faulty assessments and states his appointed counsel was ineffective for not adequately challenging the assessment.

"Federal law opens two main avenues to relief on complaints related to imprisonment: a petition for habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254, and a complaint under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, Rev. Stat. § 1979, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Challenges to the lawfulness of confinement or to particulars affecting its duration are the province of habeas corpus.'" Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 573, 579 (2006) (quoting Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 750 (2004)). "An inmate's challenge to the circumstances of his confinement, however, may be brought under § 1983." Id.

Habeas is the "exclusive remedy" for the prisoner who seeks "immediate or speedier release'" from confinement. Skinner v. Switzer, 131 S.Ct. 1289, 1293 (2011) (quoting Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 82 (2005)); see Calderon v. Ashmus, 523 U.S. 740, 747 (1998); Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 648 (1997); Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973). "Where the prisoner's claim would not necessarily spell speedier release, ' however, suit may be brought under § 1983.'" Skinner, 131 S.Ct. at 1293 (quoting Wilkinson, 544 U.S. at 82). As a consequence, challenges to prison conditions traditionally have been cognizable only via § 1983, while challenges implicating the fact or duration of confinement must be brought through a habeas petition. Docken v. Chase, 393 F.3d 1024, 1026 (9th Cir. 2004).

Although plaintiff is a civilly committed patient, rather than a criminally convicted prisoner, the habeas versus § 1983 proper remedy distinction applies. Cf. Hubbart v. Knapp, 379 F.3d 773, 779-81 (9th Cir. 2004) (upholding constitutionality of SVPA against habeas challenge under 28 U.S.C. § 2254) with Hydrick v. Hunter, 669 F.3d 937, 941-42 (9th Cir. 2012) (accepting defendants' qualified immunity defense to civil committees' § 1983 challenge to their conditions of confinement).

Segura states that he was subject to a faulty mental health assessment that was used as evidence to determine that he should be subject to civil commitment. He alleges that the California Department of State Hospitals conducted the assessment. The sole defendant in this case is the supervising deputy of the Santa Clara County Public Defender's Office, who Segura alleges supervised the assigned deputy public defender. He states that defendant should have been aware that the assigned public defender was providing ineffective assistance of counsel which resulted in Segura receiving the faulty mental health assessment. He alleges that the faulty health assessments prevent outpatient treatment in violation of his Constitutional rights. For relief, he seeks protection from future faulty mental health assessments.

To the extent that Segura seeks to challenge his underlying commitment or seek relief that would entitle him to immediate or earlier release from his civil commitment, he must file a petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 after exhausting state judicial remedies. See Skinner, 131 S.Ct. at 1293; see also Nelson v. Sandritter, 351 F.2d 284, 285 (9th Cir. 1965) (constitutionality of state civil ...

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