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Blake v. County of Santa Clara

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 1, 2016

SHAWNCEY BLAKE, Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, Defendant.

          ORDER OF DISMISSAL WITH LEAVE TO AMEND; DENYING MOTION FOR CLASS CERTIFICATION RE: DKT. NO. 6

          HAWOOD S GILLIAM JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, an inmate at the Santa Clara County Jail, filed this pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff has also filed a motion to proceed as a class action. Docket No. 6. Plaintiff is granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in a separate order. For the reasons stated below, the complaint is dismissed with leave to amend and the motion for class certification is DENIED.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Standard of Review

         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, however. 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, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citations omitted). Although in order 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, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint must proffer “enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570.

         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. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         B. Legal Claims

         Plaintiff alleges that the following conditions of confinement at the Santa Clara County Jail constitute cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment: inadequate ventilation; poor air circulation; high levels of lead and chemicals in the water; poor sanitation; roach and gnat infestations; exposed plumbing; sewage leakage in the pro-per phone room; mold in the showers; a constant high pitched noise that affects Plaintiff’s ears and Plaintiff’s sleep; and overcrowding that exacerbates his mental health issues. Docket No. 1 (“Compl.”) at 3. Plaintiff also alleges that he has been retaliated against for his civil lawsuits by being forced to remain in a higher classification status than other similarly situated inmates. Id. Plaintiff also alleges that he fears for his safety because prison officials “retaliate [against], beat, and murder mentally ill inmates. Id. Plaintiff names as defendants Santa Clara County and the Santa Clara County Department of Corrections (“DOC”).

         Liberally construed, Plaintiff’s allegations that there is a constant high pitched noise in the prison that affects Plaintiff’s ears and Plaintiff’s sleep; and that the prison is overcrowded, exacerbating his mental health issues, state cognizable Eighth Amendment claims. See Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1090 (9th Cir. 1996), amended, 135 F.3d 1318 (9th Cir. 1998) (“[P]ublic conceptions of decency inherent in the Eighth Amendment require that [inmates] be housed in an environment that, if not quiet, is at least reasonably free of excess noise.”) (quoting Toussaint v. McCarthy, 597 F.Supp. 1388, 1397, 1410 (N.D. Cal. 1984), aff’d in part, rev’d in part on other grounds, 801 F.2d 1080, 1110 (9th Cir. 1986)); see Akao v. Shimoda, 832 F.2d 119, 120 (9th Cir. 1987) (allegations of increase in stress, tension, communicable diseases, and confrontations between inmates due to overcrowding states 8th Amendment claim). However, Plaintiff has not stated an Article III controversy for his allegations regarding inadequate ventilation; poor air circulation; high levels of lead and chemicals in the water; poor sanitation; roach and gnat infestation; exposed plumbing; sewage leakage in the pro-per phone room; and mold in the showers. Article III of the Constitution limits the jurisdiction of federal courts to “Cases” and “Controversies.” U.S. Const., Art. III, § 2. To establish Article III standing, a plaintiff must show (1) an injury in fact, meaning an invasion of a legally protected interest which is both concrete and particularized, and actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; (2) a sufficient causal connection between the injury and the conduct complained of; and (3) a likelihood that the injury will be redressed by a favorable decision. Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Plaintiff has not alleged that he has suffered injury from these particular conditions of confinement. General grievances about conditions of confinement do not state an Article III case or controversy. Lujan, 504 U.S. at 573-74 (“[A] plaintiff raising only a generally available grievance about government-claiming only harm to his and every citizen’s interest in proper application of the Constitution and laws, and seeking relief that no more directly and tangibly benefits him than it does the public at large-does not state an Article III case or controversy.”). In addition, Plaintiff’s vague allegation that there is exposed plumbing does not, without more, state a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim. Plaintiff does not explain how the exposed plumbing constitutes cruel or unusual punishment. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claims regarding inadequate ventilation; poor air circulation; high levels of lead and chemicals in the water; poor sanitation; roach and gnat infestations; sewage leakage in the pro-per phone room; mold in the showers; and exposed plumbing are DISMISSED with leave to amend. Plaintiff may attempt to cure the identified deficiencies in an amended complaint by specifying how these particular conditions of confinement violated his constitutional rights, if he can do so in good faith.

         Liberally construed, Plaintiff’s allegation that he was assigned to a higher classification status than is appropriate in retaliation for filing civil lawsuits states a cognizable First Amendment retaliation claim. See Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567-68 (9th Cir. 2005) (“Within the prison context, a viable claim of First Amendment retaliation entails five basic elements: (1) An assertion that a state actor took some adverse action against an inmate (2) because of (3) that prisoner’s protected conduct, and that such action (4) chilled the inmate’s exercise of his First Amendment rights, and (5) the action did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal.”).

         Plaintiff’s vague and conclusory allegation that he fears for his safety because prison officials retaliate against, beat, and murder mentally ill inmates fails to state a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim. Although the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure adopt a flexible pleading policy, a complaint must give fair notice and state 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 Plaintiff’s claim. Id.

         Plaintiff’s complaint suffers an additional deficiency. The complaint does not state a claim against the named defendants. Plaintiff has named as defendants Santa Clara County, or the Santa Clara County DOC, which is a department of Santa Clara County. To impose liability under Section 1983 against a municipal entity such as Santa Clara County for a violation of constitutional rights, a plaintiff must show: (1) that the plaintiff possessed a constitutional right of which he or she was deprived; (2) that the municipality had a policy; (3) that this policy amounts to deliberate indifference to the plaintiff’s constitutional rights; and (4) that the policy is the moving force behind the constitutional violation. Plumeau v. School Dist. #40 County of Yamhill, 130 F.3d 432, 438 (9th Cir. 1997); see Monell v. Dep’t of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Plaintiff does not allege ...


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