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Cuff v. Department of State Hospitals (Stockton) California Health Care Facility

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 30, 2017

BYRON DEWAYNE CUFF, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE HOSPITALS (STOCKTON) CALIFORNIA HEALTH CARE FACILITY, OFFICIALS, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          DEBORAH BARNES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges defendants subjected him to excessive force and involuntarily medicated him. Before the court are plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis and plaintiff's complaint for screening. For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, finds plaintiff has stated cognizable claims against some defendants, and will give plaintiff leave to amend his complaint.

         IN FORMA PAUPERIS

         Plaintiff has submitted a declaration that makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted.

         Plaintiff is required to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a), 1915(b)(1). By this order, plaintiff will be assessed an initial partial filing fee in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). By separate order, the court will direct the appropriate agency to collect the initial partial filing fee from plaintiff's trust account and forward it to the Clerk of the Court. Thereafter, plaintiff will be obligated for monthly payments of twenty percent of the preceding month's income credited to plaintiff's prison trust account. These payments will be forwarded by the appropriate agency to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in plaintiff's account exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is paid in full. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

         SCREENING

         I. Legal Standards

         The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) & (2).

         A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227.

         Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, in order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim a complaint must contain more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;” it must contain factual allegations sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555. In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hospital Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969).

         The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). “A person ‘subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made.” Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

         Moreover, supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisorial position, the causal link between him and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley, 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

         II. Allegations of the Complaint

         Plaintiff states that on November 17, 2015, he was housed at the Department of State Hospitals - Stockton (“DSH”).[1] Plaintiff identifies the following defendants: (1) R. Cunningham, Unit Supervisor; (2) McCarthy, Psychiatric Technician; (3) 19 unnamed additional male Psychiatric Technicians; (4) Ward, Correctional Officer; (5) Ramos, Correctional Sergeant; (6) Dr. Harris, Psychologist; (7) E. Palmer, Senior Psychiatric Technician; (8) J. Celaya, Senior Psychiatric Technician; and (9) Osuj, R.N. All defendants appear to be employees of DSH. (Compl. (ECF No. 1) at 2-3.)

         On that date, plaintiff had a verbal altercation with a psychiatric technician (“Psych Tech”) regarding the handling of the food trays. The psychiatric technician informed plaintiff's treatment team about plaintiff's “angry tone.” As a result, plaintiff lost some privileges. Plaintiff protested the loss of privileges by “yelling obscenities toward the staff through the crack of his cell-door for about a half hour, admittedly upset.” (Id. at 5.)

         After plaintiff had calmed down, “twenty (plus) male Psych-Techs had gathered in front of [plaintiff's] cell door in order to administer a medicated shot that had been ordered by psychiatrist Dr. Harris.” Defendant Ward approached plaintiff's cell and explained that a shot had been ordered for plaintiff. Plaintiff objected, telling Ward he was not under a Keyhea order for involuntary medication.[2] Ward then told plaintiff he would check with his sergeant, defendant Ramos, about what to do. (Id.)

         Defendant Ramos approached plaintiff's cell door and asked plaintiff if he was under a Keyhea order. Plaintiff responded that he was not. Ramos left to “check on it.” Plaintiff states that Ramos and Ward did not return to plaintiff's cell, but waited a few cell-doors down in the hallway.

         Defendant Cunningham then came to the cell door and told plaintiff to stand back. Plaintiff repeated that he was not under a Keyhea order. Cunningham told plaintiff to “stand down, ” unlocked the door, and opened it. Plaintiff states that defendant McCarthy stood at the entrance to plaintiff's door and “took an aggressive stance.” Fearing for his safety, plaintiff struck McCarthy. McCarthy and other Psych-Techs pushed plaintiff back into his cell and ...


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