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Osegueda v. Stanislaus County Public Safety Center

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 11, 2017

ARMANDO OSEGUEDA, et al., Plaintiffs,



         This is a putative class action suit commenced by Plaintiffs Armando Osegueda and Robert Palomino (“Plaintiffs”) alleging four causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Stanislaus County Public Safety Center (“PSC”); Stanislaus County Sheriff's Office (“Sheriff's Office”); Adam Christianson, the Stanislaus County Sheriff; Bill Duncan, PSC Facilities Captain; Greg Clifton, Lieutenant of Units 1 and 2; Ronald Lloyd, Commander of Bureau Administrative Services; Steven Verver, a sergeant at PSC; and James Shelton, a classification officer at PSC (collectively, “Defendants”). Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) (ECF No. 22). Plaintiffs filed the SAC after the Court issued a memorandum decision and order granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motion to dismiss the First Amended Complaint. See ECF No. 21.

         Now before the Court is Defendants' second motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule[1] of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). ECF No. 23. Plaintiffs filed their opposition (ECF No. 25) and Defendants have replied (ECF No. 26). This matter is suitable for disposition on the papers. See E.D. Cal. L.R. 230(g). For the reasons the follow, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' motion to dismiss.


         A. Classification at Stanislaus County Detention Facilities

         Upon booking in Stanislaus County detention facilities, detainees are asked whether they are “active” or “a drop-out, ” or if they can be housed “with anybody or whether they need protection.” SAC ¶¶ 78-79.[3] They are not provided the option to say that they are neither. Id. ¶ 79. If a detainee is classified as an active Norteño (gang member) he is issued a green and white jumpsuit, which, according to Sheriff's Office policy, denotes “Administrative Segregation and Norteño, ” and is housed in an “active tank[4], ” along with other suspected gang members Id. ¶ 80. According to this policy, detainees subject to “Administrative Segregation” are defined as

Inmates who are determined to be prone to escape, assault staff, assault other inmates, violate facility rules or criminal laws, and/or disrupt the operations of the facility. Administrative segregation shall consist of separate and secure housing, but shall not involve any other deprivations of privileges other than is necessary to obtain the objective of protecting other inmates and staff or as a consequence of the inmates behavior.

Id. ¶¶ 51, 81. Furthermore, the Sheriff's Office maintains a list of “hazard codes, ” assigning codes to Norteño, Sureño, and Northern Hispanic groups (which are typically associated with persons of Hispanic descent), ” but does not assign codes to groups associated with other races, such as the Aryan Brotherhood, Skinheads, Juggalos, Crips, Bloods, and Pirus. Id. ¶ 57, 82. The Sheriff's Office also does not disclose its classification records to defendants or their attorneys, but makes these records available to the prosecution. Id. ¶¶ 56, 83. As a result, detainees cannot “intelligently answer or oppose [their] classification.” Id.

         B. Conditions in Norteño and Northern Hispanic “Tanks” at the Stanislaus County Men's Jail

         Detainees who are classified as active Norteños are housed in “active tanks” upon booking. Id. ¶ 80. The active tanks house both pretrial detainees and individuals serving sentences for misdemeanors and/or serving “local prison” time pursuant to AB 109[5], and pre-trial detainees and convicted inmates are often housed in the same tank. Id. ¶ 90-91. Each active tank is twenty-five feet by twenty feet, contains six bunk beds, and houses twelve men. Id. ¶¶ 84-85. The tanks are also equipped with two toilets and sinks and two large picnic-style tables and a telephone. Id. ¶ 85, 87. Some tanks are “unsanitary and in disrepair” and contain black mold; upper respiratory infections and other illnesses are common among inmates housed in the active tanks. Id. ¶ 89.

         Inmates housed in active tanks are “offered yard privileges outside constrained in a series of cages, without recreational equipment, for three hours a week.” Id. ¶ 91. The three hours are split into two ninety-minute increments. Id. If a detainee is away when his yard time his called, he is not given an alternate time and must wait until the next week for his yard privilege. Id.

         While they are housed in the active tanks, detainees are restrained by waist chains, shackles, and lockboxes that secure their hands tightly to their waist during attorney visits, personal visits, and trips to the courthouse. Id. ¶ 92. The lockboxes at the Men's Jail cause detainees to experience pain and discomfort and make the use of telephones painful and impracticable. Id. ¶ 92-93.

         C. Conditions in the “B-Max”

         The B-Max is the maximum security unit at PSC. Id. ¶ 29. Assignment to the B-Max is often based on the charges that the pretrial detainee is facing allegations that have been charged (but not proven) that the person is a Norteño or Northern Hispanic gang member. Id. ¶ 54. At the time the SAC was filed, there were fifteen pretrial detainees housed in the B-Max who were classified as active Norteño or Northern Hispanic gang members. Id. ¶ 49. These detainees have been housed in administrative segregation for periods ranging from between five months and seven years, and half of these detainees have been housed in administrative segregation without meaningful review for more than three years. Id. There are also pretrial detainees who have been housed in the B-Max for more than ten years waiting for their trials. Id. Administrative segregation is “over-used” in the Stanislaus County jail system and the majority of pretrial detainees who are housed in administrative segregation are housed there for “non-disciplinary reasons.” Id. ¶ 51. Pretrial detainees who are assigned to the B-Max are often kept in the B-Max for disciplinary reasons and are often held there for indeterminate lengths after their disciplinary periods are served. Id. ¶ 58.

         A detainee housed in the B-Max shares a “cramped concrete cell” that measures six-and-a-half feet by twelve feet with one other cellmate. Id. ¶ 59. The cell has a bunk bed, a combination toilet-sink unit, a desk, a stool, and a fluorescent light in the ceiling. Id. Detainees in the B-Max stay in their cells for thirty-eight to eighty continuous hours at a time and are only permitted three showers per week and three hours of “yard/recreation” time per week. Id. ¶¶ 59, 64. First-floor detainees are scheduled for yard time on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays for one hour at a time. Id. Second-floor detainees are scheduled for yard time on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays. Id. Morning and evening yard times are alternated. Id.

         The “recreational yard” is an enclosed concrete cell with a window approximately twenty feet high equipped with a telephone and a television. Id. ¶ 63-64. There is no access to the outdoors, no exercise equipment, no recreational equipment, and no seating. Id. ¶ 64. Because the window is covered with a screen or wired mesh, the window does not allow for unobstructed sunlight and fresh air, and does not afford detainees an outdoor environment. Id. B-Max detainees are only exposed to the outdoors during their walks to and from transportation taking them to the courthouse. Id. ¶ 65. Furthermore, the yard schedule and telephone restrictions limit B-Max detainees to only four telephone calls during normal business hours per month. Id. ¶ 67.

         Like detainees housed in active tanks, B-Max detainees are also restrained by waist chains, shackles, and lockboxes that secure their hands to their waist during attorney visits, personal visits, and court. Id. ¶ 71. The lockboxes cause them to experience pain and discomfort and make it painful and impracticable for detainees to use the telephones to speak to their visitors. Id. ¶¶ 72-73.

         B-Max detainees are unable to challenge or request meaningful review of the conditions in the B-Max, including the amount of time in which they are confined to their cells. Id. ¶ 68, 70. Defendant Clifton has informed them that housing is not a “grievable” matter and that housing in the B-Max “is not a restrictive program.” Id. ¶¶ 68, 70. Defendant Verver has informed them that “current policy and procedure are being administered correctly in regards to the classification and housing of inmates in Stanislaus County. You were and are housed with respect to your charges.” Id. ¶ 69. Defendants, “by and through their policies and practices, personally and through their agents, ” have suggested that if detainees are unhappy with their housing, they could always debrief.[6] Id. ¶ 75. Furthermore, detainees are denied the ability to make “citizen's complaints” regarding officer misconduct or the “disproportionately harsh treatment they are afforded, ” and are then informed that they are “not a citizen, you are an inmate.” Id. ¶ 77.

         D. Plaintiffs and Their Putative Classes

         Plaintiff Armando Osegueda is a thirty-five-year-old pretrial detainee. Id. ¶ 47. He was placed in the care and custody of the Sheriff's Office on March 12, 2012. Id. ¶ 30. Osegueda was housed in the B-Max from October 17, 2012 until August 2016. Id. ¶ 31. Despite a Sheriff's Office policy stating that all detainees are granted a classification review every three months, Osegueda did not receive a classification review for nearly four years while he was housed in the B-Max. Id. ¶ 32-33. In May 2016, Osegueda was granted a “downgrade packet, ” but was never afforded the opportunity to challenge his classification or present his views regarding classification. Id. He was granted a green and white jumpsuit (which denotes administrative segregation) rather than the red and white jumpsuit (which denotes maximum security) that he had been wearing since his incarceration. Id. ¶ 34. In August 2016, Osegueda was moved into an active Norteño tank, but was returned to the B-Max, without warning or hearing, on January 20, 2017. Id. ¶ 35-36. As of January 30, 2017, Osegueda had not yet received a hearing or classification review regarding his return to the B-Max. Id. ¶ 37.

         Plaintiff Robert Palomino is a forty-seven-year-old pretrial detainee. Id. ¶ 39, 47. He was placed into the care and custody of the Sheriff's Office on February 26, 2013, and was housed in the B-Max from February 26, 2013 until May 2016. Id. ¶ 38. Palomino did not receive a classification review while he was in the B-Max and repeatedly requested to be downgraded. Id. ¶¶ 40-41. In or about May 2016, Palomino was pulled from his cell and escorted into a room with Defendants Shelton and Verver, and non-party Sergeant Martinez. Id. ¶ 42. Palomino had previously submitted a grievance, which Verver submitted to Defendant Lloyd. Id. Lloyd then decided to remove Palomino from the B-Max. Id. Palomino was subsequently granted a green and white jumpsuit, and was moved into an active Norteño tank. Id. ¶¶ 43-44. However, on January 20, 2017, Palomino was returned to the B-Max without warning or hearing, and as of January 30, 2017, Palomino has not received a classification review or hearing. Id. ¶¶ 45-46.

         Plaintiff David Lomeli has been in the care and custody of the Sheriff's Office since April 22, 2013. Id. ¶ 17. He denies any gang membership, has never received a classification review, and at all relevant times, has been housed in an active tank. Id.

         Plaintiff Jairo Hernandez was in the care and custody of the Sheriff's Office from December 15, 2015 through January 24, 2017, when the charges against him were dismissed. Id. ¶ 21. Hernandez was housed in an active tank. Id.

         E. Excessive Force Allegations

         Plaintiffs and those similarly situated are subjected to “excessive force” during “raids” and routine searches of their cells. Id. ¶ 96. When correctional officers and members decide to search inside an active tank, they use “flash bang” grenades on the tier before approaching the cells and shooting into the cell with shotguns or block guns while ordering detainees to get down. Id. ¶ 98-99. Because the doors are closed and locked, the correctional officers are not in any danger as they conduct these searches. Id.

         In or about October 2012, when Osegueda was in an active tank, officers came inside his cell and shot pepper balls into it, spraying powder everywhere, despite there being no threat to the officers. Id. ¶ 100. The officers shouted obscenities at the detainees, handcuffed them, and took them to another room, where the detainees were strip searched and the cell was searched. Id.

         In or about July 2013, pretrial detainees in the B-Max, including Osegueda and Palomino, were removed from their cells and placed in a concrete “yard” in only their boxers and were forced to remain on their knees with block guns pointed at them for hours. Id. ¶ 105. They were not permitted to move, shift, access restrooms or drink water while the cells in the B-Max were being searched. Id.

         In or about June 2014, Osegueda and Palomino returned from court and entered the B-Max. Id. ¶ 102. Detainees were in the yard, on their knees, with guns pointed at them. Id. Osegueda and Palomino were stripped and placed in the yard on their knees, with guns pointed at them, for another one to two hours. Id.

         In or about November 2014, members of the Correctional Emergency Response Team (“CERT”) entered the B-Max after dinner and told detainees to “cuff up” through the tray slot and threatened to shoot detainees if they shifted. Id. ¶ 103. The officers pointed guns and tasers at the detainees, who were moved to the multipurpose room or showers to be strip searched before being brought to the dayroom, where they remained for another two to three hours. Id.

         In or about December 2015, Lomeli and Hernandez were housed in the active tank. Id. ¶ 104. At about 6:00 or 7:00 pm, Lomeli was in the dayroom watching television. Id. CERT members began to conduct a search and shot “pepper balls” and deployed a “flash-bang grenade” near the cell shared by Lomeli and Hernandez. Id. Hernandez was hit with shrapnel. Id. Lomeli backed up to get out of the way, but was struck by rounds in the neck and leg when he tried to duck behind the table. Id. There was no ongoing incident and no known threat to the officers, and no contraband was located. Id.

         On or about January 29, 2017, at approximately 6:00 am, while Lomeli was sleeping in his cell in the active tanks, CERT members approached his cell and started shooting from outside the bars. Id. ¶ 106. Detainees were placed in mechanical restraints as officers searched the cell. Id.


         On January 17, 2017, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion to dismiss the FAC. ECF No. 21. Specifically, the Court found that the FAC had stated cognizable constitutional violations with regard to Fourteenth Amendment conditions of confinement and due process, dismissed the remaining claims and some of the originally named Defendants, and granted Plaintiffs leave to amend most of their claims. Id. at 22-23.

         In the SAC, Plaintiffs now bring four constitutional claims based on the allegations described above: conditions of confinement, due process, equal protection, and excessive force. ECF No. 22. The SAC also re-asserts Monell liability against the Sheriff's Office and PSC. Id. Plaintiffs seek monetary damages, punitive damages, declaratory relief, and injunctive relief. Id. at 27-28.


         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is a challenge to the sufficiency of the allegations set forth in the complaint. Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper where there is either a “lack of a cognizable legal theory” or “the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balisteri v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the court generally accepts as true the allegations in the complaint, construes the pleading in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and resolves all doubts in the pleader's favor. Lazy Y. Ranch LTD v. Behrens, 546 F.3d 580, 588 (9th Cir. 2008).

         To survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted). Thus, “bare assertions . . . amount[ing] to nothing more than a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements' . . . are not entitled to be assumed true.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681. “[T]o be entitled to the presumption of truth, allegations in a complaint . . . must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). In practice, “a complaint . . . must contain either direct or inferential ...

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