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Samuels v. Ahlin

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 26, 2017

DOUGAL SAMUELS, Plaintiff,
v.
PAM AHLIN, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS, RECOMMENDING THAT DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS BE DENIED (ECF NO. 45) OBJECTIONS, IF ANY, DUE WITHIN THIRTY DAYS

         I. BACKGROUND

         Dougal Samuels (“Plaintiff”) is a civil detainee proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff has asserted various claims in connection with contracting valley fever while housed at Coalinga State Hospital.

         Plaintiff's case was initially dismissed at the screening stage by Magistrate Judge Gary S. Austin for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 16) The Ninth Circuit reversed in part and remanded, stating “dismissal of Samuels's safe conditions claim was premature. Samuels alleged that defendants knew of the life-threatening risk of building Coalinga State Hospital in a highly endemic area for valley fever, but nonetheless approved or failed to stop the facility's construction. These allegations, liberally construed, were ‘sufficient to warrant ordering [defendants] to file an answer.'” (ECF No. 22, at p. 3).

         In lieu of filing an answer, certain defendants filed a motion to dismiss arguing that they are entitled to qualified immunity because it was not a clearly established violation of the Eighth Amendment to allow inmates to be exposed to a naturally occurring spore (the spore that causes Valley Fever). (ECF No. 45-1, pgs. 2-3).

         As the Court finds that Defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity at this stage in the proceedings, the Court will recommend that Defendants' motion to dismiss be denied.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed his initial complaint on April 5, 2010. (ECF No. 1) After giving Plaintiff leave to amend with legal guidance in a first screening order, (ECF No. 12), on May 3, 2013, Magistrate Judge Gary S. Austin (the assigned magistrate judge at the time) issued an order dismissing this case for failure to state a claim. (ECF No. 16).

         Plaintiff appealed. (ECF No. 18). On August 21, 2014, The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an order that allowed the case to proceed on Plaintiff's safe conditions claim, stating that “dismissal of Samuels's safe conditions claim was premature.” (ECF No. 22, p. 3).

         On June 25, 2015, Plaintiff filed a “motion to provide the Court with the John Doe defendants as requested” (ECF No. 31), which was granted on October 9, 2015 (ECF No. 32). A Second Amended Complaint was then filed, but it omitted previously named defendants. (ECF No. 36). After the Court issued an order requesting clarification (ECF No. 37), and Plaintiff's assertion that the previously named defendants were supposed to be included (ECF No. 38), the Court issued an order granting Plaintiff leave to file a Third Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 39).

         Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint was screened, and the Court found that Plaintiff ‘state[d] cognizable claims for violation of his safe conditions rights under the Due Process Clause against Defendants Pam Ahlin, Stephen Mayberg, Fresno County Board of Supervisors, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Audrey King, Brandon Price, Ron Withrow, Karin Hundal, Ron Howard Cynthia Radavasky.” (ECF No. 41, p. 11). This case now proceeds on Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint.

         This case now proceeds on Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint, filed on July 15, 2016. (ECF No. 40). Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint was screened and the Court found that Plaintiff “state[d] cognizable claims for violation of his safe conditions rights under the Due Process Clause against Defendants Pam Ahlin, Stephen Mayberg, Fresno County Board of Supervisors, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Audrey King, Brandon Price, Ron Withrow, Karin Hundal, [1] Ron Howard and Cynthia Radavasky.” (ECF No. 41, p. 11) (footnote added).

         On December 6, 2016, Defendants Pam Ahlin, Stephen Mayberg, Audrey King, Brandon Price, Ron Withrow, Kiran Hundal, Ron Howard and Cynthia Radavasky filed a motion to dismiss on the basis of qualified immunity. (ECF No. 45). On January 26, 2017, Defendant Arnold Schwarzenegger filed a “Notice of Joinder and Joinder of Defendant Arnold Schwarzenegger in Motion to Dismiss.” (ECF No. 54). On March 1, 2017, Plaintiff filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss.[2] (ECF No. 58). On April 10, 2017, Defendants Pam Ahlin, Stephen Mayberg, Audrey King, Brandon Price, Ron Withrow, Kiran Hundal, Ron Howard, Cynthia Radavasky, and Arnold Schwarzenegger (“Defendants”) filed a reply to Plaintiff's opposition. (ECF No. 67).

         Defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 45) is now before the Court.

         III. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS IN HIS THIRD AMENDED COMPLAINT

         Plaintiff filed his Third Amended complaint on July 15, 2016. (ECF No. 40). In the Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges the following.

         Plaintiff is an African-American male, currently civilly detained at Coalinga State Hospital (“CSH”) in Coalinga, California. Plaintiff named as defendants Pam Ahlin (ex-Executive Director of CSH), Stephen Mayberg (ex-Director of the California Department of States Hospitals), Fresno County Board of Supervisors, Arnold Schwartzenegger (ex-Governor of California), Audrey King (Executive Director of CSH), Brandon Price (interim Director of CSH), Robert Withrow (Medical Director of CSH), Kiran Hundal (Nursing Administrator), Ron Howard (Plant Operations Manager), and Cynthia A. Radavsky (Deputy Director of Long Term Care Services at CSH).[3]

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Ahlin, Mayberg, Fresno County Board of Supervisors, Schwartzenegger, King, Price, Withrow, Hundal, Howard, and Radavsky were aware of dangerous conditions at CSH but took no protective measures for his health and safety to prevent Plaintiff's infection by the disease known as Valley Fever. Plaintiff alleges that on February 16, 2006, he was transferred to CSH. There were rumors and scientific information that the area surrounding CSH was extremely lethal because Valley Fever spores were known to be in the soil. Plaintiff and other detainees were assured by employees that the environment was not life threatening, and because the hospital was a hermetically sealed environment, the chance of contracting an infection was a million to one. Plaintiff became infected with Valley Fever a year after his transfer.

         Defendant Brandon Price, the Hospital Administrator when Plaintiff contracted the disease, knew or should have known that the area where CSH was built had been declared hazardous and life-threatening because of Valley Fever. Defendant Price intentionally concealed the medical and scientific facts, in spite of the number of patients infected at CSH and Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP) next door.

         Defendant Kiran Hundal, the Nursing Administrator at CSH, knew of the risk that Valley Fever posed to patients of color, but deliberately hid all information about the disease.

         Defendant Robert Withrow, the Medical Director, breached his duty to inform patients and employees of the danger of the disease, in violation of the Health and Safety Code. Plaintiff asserts that if Plaintiff had known about the dangers, he might have avoided the infection.

         Defendant Ron Howard, the Plant Operations Manager, knows or knew about the lethal nature of the Valley Fever disease, but he insisted that the ventilation system did not need an upgrade to prevent entry of the windblown spores into the housing area. Plaintiff assumes he contracted the disease through the ...


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