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De Conte v. County of Santa Clara

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 20, 2016

COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, et al., Defendants.


          WILLIAM H. ORRICK United States District Judge


         Plaintiff Carlo Del Conte filed this federal civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and other statutes regarding his treatment at the Santa Clara County Jail. He describes being attacked by a misclassified, homophobic inmate within earshot of an inattentive guard who did nothing to protect him. He suffered multiple injuries and fractures to his face, was placed with his attacker on at least two other occasions thereafter, causing great emotional distress, and was not given necessary HIV medication in a timely fashion. Those facts could certainly form the basis of plausible causes of action. However, as I explain below, the defendants he names are all high-ranking supervisors and officials that Del Conte does not link to the injuries he suffered. As a result, after considering defendants’ motion to dismiss and the standards of review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), the Court DISMISSES the complaint with leave to file an amended complaint on or before September 7, 2016.


         A. Standard of Review

         A federal court must conduct a preliminary screening in any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review, the court must identify any cognizable claims and dismiss any claims that 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. See Id. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).

         A “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Furthermore, a court “is not required to accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations if those conclusions cannot reasonably be drawn from the facts alleged.” Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752, 754-55 (9th Cir. 1994). To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential 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. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         B. Legal Claims

         Plaintiff raises several claims arising from his detention at the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department in 2014. He alleges that an unnamed sheriff’s deputy failed to protect him from a physical attack by another inmate; he suffered distress when transported to the hospital in the presence of the other inmate after the attack; an unnamed deputy made offensive comments; he was falsely accused of not taking his medication and was rehoused based on these false charges; he was deprived of due process; and he was not given an appropriate amount of medication when he was released. He seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985; the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”); and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794. The defendants he names are public entities and persons in supervisory positions.

         1. Claims Against the State of California

         Del Conte names the State of California as a defendant. However, the Eleventh Amendment of the Constitution “bars suits which seek either damages or injunctive relief against a state, an ‘arm of the state, ’ its instrumentalities, or its agencies.” Franceschi v. Schwartz, 57 F.3d 828, 831 (9th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). Therefore, California is DISMISSED as a defendant with prejudice. Del Conte may not raise claims against the State of California in his amended complaint.

         2. Individual Supervisory Defendants

         Del Conte names many persons as defendants based on, apparently, a theory of supervisory liability.[1] Naming them is all he has done--Del Conte has not alleged specific facts showing liability on the part of any defendant.[2] Unless he pleads sufficient facts against these defendants in his amended complaint, these persons will be dismissed. For now, all claims against all persons named in this action are DISMISSED with leave to amend.

         It is difficult to plead claims against high-ranking supervisors unless there are facts showing that they had a personal involvement in any of the allegedly unconstitutional acts. There is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983, see Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989), which means that a person is not automatically held responsible simply because he or she is a supervisor of an employee who commits a wrong. It is not enough that the supervisor merely has a supervisory relationship over the defendants; the plaintiff must show that the supervisor “participated in or directed the violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them.” Id. (emphasis added). Furthermore, supervisor defendants are entitled to qualified immunity where the allegations against them are simply “bald” or “conclusory” because such allegations do not ...

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