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France v. Mendocino County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 5, 2016





         Plaintiff, currently a California prisoner, filed this pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Mendocino County Sherriff’s Office (“MCSO”) and four MCSO officials based on events that took place while Plaintiff was at the Mendocino County Jail.[1]Plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma pauperis is granted in a separate order. For the reasons explained below, the complaint is ordered served upon Defendants.


         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). The Court must identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint “is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, ” or “seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” Id. § 1915A(b). 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.” “Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (citations omitted). Although to state a claim 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, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint must proffer “enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 1974.

         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 alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).


         Plaintiff alleges that defendants Deputy S. Siderakis and Deputy J. Woida punched and kicked him repeatedly in his jail cell on January 1, 2016. He alleges that he was not threatening them or anyone, but merely tried to defend himself during the altercation by covering his face with his arms. He also alleges that he suffered facial injuries, two black eyes, a bloody nose, contusions and swelling, and a broken ankle. He further alleges that he did not receive any medical care for his injuries because the jail nurses were told by unnamed deputies not to care for him. According to Plaintiff, defendants Captain Timothy Pearce (the Facility Commander) and Lieutenant Bednar (the Second-in-Command) did not discipline Deputies Siderakis and Woida for their conduct, and knew about the Deputies’ history of violent conduct towards inmates. Plaintiff asserts Pearce and Bednar have condoned violent treatment of inmates at the jail.

         When liberally construed, Plaintiff’s allegations state cognizable claims against defendants Siderakis, Woida, Pearce, Bednar and the MCSO for violating his constitutional rights by subjecting him to the use of excessive force and failing to provide him with adequate safety and medical care.

         It is noted that the precise constitutional rights at issue depend on whether Plaintiff was a pretrial detainee or had already been convicted when the violations occurred. When a pretrial detainee challenges conditions of his confinement, the proper inquiry is whether the conditions amount to punishment in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 n.16 (1979). A sentenced inmate, on the other hand, may not be subject conditions of confinement that are "cruel and unusual" under the Eighth Amendment. Id. at 535 n.16; see Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447-48 (9th Cir. 2000) (prisoner who has been convicted but not yet sentenced should be treated as sentenced prisoner, rather than pretrial detainee). Plaintiff does not indicate in his complaint whether he was a pretrial detainee when the violations occurred. Defendants are presumably able to access that information, however, so he will not be required to amend the complaint at this time. Moreover, this distinction may not make a difference in the analysis of Plaintiff’s claims because even though pretrial detainees' claims arise under the Due Process Clause, the Eighth Amendment may serve as a benchmark for evaluating those claims. Redman v. County of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1443 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc) (citation omitted) (“The requirement of conduct that amounts to 'deliberate indifference' provides an appropriate balance of the pretrial detainees' right to not be punished with the deference given to prison officials to manage the prisons.”); see, e.g., Carnell v. Grimm, 74 F.3d 977, 979 (9th Cir. 1996) (Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference standard applicable to pretrial detainees' medical claims) .


         1. The Clerk shall issue a summons and Magistrate Judge jurisdiction consent form and the United States Marshal shall serve, without prepayment of fees, the summons, Magistrate Judge jurisdiction consent form, a copy of the complaint with attachments, and a copy of this order on the Mendocino County Sherriff’s Office, and on Captain Timothy Pearce, Lieutenant Bednar, Deputy S. Siderakis, and Deputy J. Woida at the Mendocino County Sherriff’s Office.

         The Clerk shall also mail a courtesy copy of the Magistrate Judge jurisdiction consent form, the complaint with all attachments and a copy of this order ...

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