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Leonard v. Thompson

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 4, 2017

FREDERICK E. LEONARD, Plaintiff,
v.
M. THOMPSON, 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 that due to a mistake on the part of a correctional officer, he was forced into a fight and found guilty of “mutual combat.” Before the court is 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, dismiss the complaint, and give plaintiff leave to file an amended 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

         At all times discussed herein, plaintiff was incarcerated at Solano County's Stanton Correctional Facility in the “Administrative Separation Program.” Plaintiff identifies the following defendants: M. Thompson, Deputy; S. Clemente, Deputy; and J. Metzger, Deputy. (Compl. (ECF No. 1 at 2).)

         A. Claim I

         In his first claim, plaintiff states that on July 11, 2016, inmate Jeffrey Butler made a racist remark and threated to kill plaintiff. (Id. at 3, 10.) Plaintiff states that Butler often made highly racists remarks. (Id. at 9-10.) Plaintiff is African American. Both he and Butler were housed at that time in the Administrative Separation (“Ad Sep”) area. (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff states that he is in the Ad Sep area by choice because he suffers from paranoia and schizophrenia. (Id. at 11.)

         On the morning of July 12, 2016, Butler told plaintiff he was not going to “lock down” so that he could “move” on plaintiff. (Id. at 10.) At some point later that day, defendant Thompson failed to make sure inmate Butler was secure in his cell before letting plaintiff out of his cell. Thompson then left his unit office for fifteen minutes. (Id. at 3, 7.)

         When plaintiff was released from his cell, he walked down the stairs and noticed that defendant Thompson was not in the unit office. He then heard Butler yelling. He also saw Butler look directly into plaintiff's cell and yell, “Now where is this nigger!” Plaintiff felt he was in a “fight or flight situation because I had already lock my cell door behind me, and Officer Thompson was not in the unit.” Butler then threatened to ambush plaintiff ...


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