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Koch v. Bahaduer

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 12, 2017

MARK FRANCIS KOCH, Plaintiff,
v.
BAHADUER, et al. Defendants.

          ORDER

          CRAIG M. KELLISON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, a former prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 5).

         The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it: (1) is frivolous or malicious; (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Moreover, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that complaints contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This means that claims must be stated simply, concisely, and directly. See McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996) (referring to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e)(1)). These rules are satisfied if the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. See Kimes v. Stone, 84 F.3d 1121, 1129 (9th Cir. 1996). Because plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts by specific defendants which support the claims, vague and conclusory allegations fail to satisfy this standard. Additionally, it is impossible for the court to conduct the screening required by law when the allegations are vague and conclusory.

         I. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

         In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that he has been trying to get treatment for hernias since May 2015. In January 2016, he started wetting the bed due to his medical condition. He was then assaulted by an officer and sergeant. This attack began when he started wetting the bed at 1:00 a.m., then went to the bathroom/shower to clean up. Defendant Bahaduer pointed a light at plaintiff's genitals and would not move it. Plaintiff then went back to his dorm, until he was called to talk to the sergeant. He was told not to shower again. Plaintiff told the officers he would not have to if medical would treat his problem. Defendant Higgons then charged plaintiff, pushed him, and hit him in the side, and yelled at him. Defendant Higgons told plaintiff to return to his dorm, but then ran after plaintiff, yelling, pushing and hitting plaintiff with his fist.

         II. DISCUSSION

         There are several defects in plaintiff's complaint. First, to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff must allege an actual connection or link between the actions of the named defendants and the alleged deprivations. See Monell v. Dep't 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). 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). Rather, the plaintiff must set forth specific facts as to each individual defendant's causal role in the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 634 (9th Cir. 1988).

         Here, it appears plaintiff is upset that he has not received treatment for his medical condition. While the lack of medical treatment appears to be simply background information, if he is trying to state a claim for denial of medical treatment, he fails to allege sufficient facts and fails to identify any defendants responsible for his treatment, or lack thereof. Therefore, the court finds no viable claim for denial of medical treatment. In addition, as the lack of treatment is unrelated to the physical assault claim, if it is plaintiff's intention to raise such a claim, his medical treatment claim would be properly raised in a separate action, not this one.

         In addition, plaintiff names both the California Health Care Facility and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation as defendants to this action. However, the Eleventh Amendment prohibits federal courts from hearing suits brought against a state both by its own citizens, as well as by citizens of other states. See Brooks v. Sulphur Springs Valley Elec. Coop., 951 F.2d 1050, 1053 (9th Cir. 1991). This prohibition extends to suits against states themselves, and to suits against state agencies. See Lucas v. Dep't of Corr., 66 F.3d 245, 248 (9th Cir. 1995) (per curiam); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). A state's agency responsible for incarceration and correction of prisoners is a state agency for purposes of the Eleventh Amendment. See Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978) (per curiam); Hale v. Arizona, 993 F.2d 1387, 1398-99 (9th cir. 1993) (en banc). It does not appear that plaintiff actually intended to name either of these entities as defendants, but rather identified them as the location where the defendants work and he was housed. As these two defendants are protected by the Eleventh Amendment, plaintiff cannot maintain an action against them.

         As to the two individual defendants, it appears plaintiff's main claim is use of excessive force. However, to the extent plaintiff is attempting to state a claim for harassment or verbal abuse, no such claim exists. The treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which the prisoner is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. See Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993); Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). The Eighth Amendment “embodies broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity, and decency.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976). Conditions of confinement may, however, be harsh and restrictive. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). Nonetheless, prison officials must provide prisoners with “food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety.” Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1107 (9th Cir. 1986). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) objectively, the official's act or omission must be so serious such that it results in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities; and (2) subjectively, the prison official must have acted unnecessarily and wantonly for the purpose of inflicting harm. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. Thus, to violate the Eighth Amendment, a prison official must have a “sufficiently culpable mind.” See id.

         Allegations of verbal harassment do not state a claim under the Eighth Amendment unless it is alleged that the harassment was “calculated to . . . cause [the prisoner] psychological damage.” Oltarzewski v. Ruggiero, 830 F.2d 136, 139 (9th Cir. 1987); see also Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1092 (9th Cir. 1996), amended by 135 F.3d 1318 (9th Cir. 1998). In addition, the prisoner must show that the verbal comments were unusually gross, even for a prison setting, and that he was in fact psychologically damaged as a result of the comments. See Keenan, 83 F.3d at 1092. This includes verbal harassment of a sexual nature, and exposure. Austin v. Terhune, 367 F.3d 1167, 1171-72 (9th Cir. 2004).

         Plaintiff alleges defendant Bahaduer harassed him, verbally and by use of her light. However, such harassment is insufficient to state a claim. Similarly, to the extent plaintiff attempts to state a claim against defendant Higgons for yelling at him or for the obscenities used, plaintiff cannot state a claim. While the alleged actions may certainly be inappropriate, they do not rise to the level of a constitutional violation and any such claims must be dismissed.

         Finally, as to the claim against defendant Higgons for use of force, plaintiff fails to provide sufficient facts to state a claim. This defect, however, may be curable and plaintiff will be provided an opportunity to file an amended complaint against defendant Higgons for use of excessive force. As stated above, a prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) objectively, the official's act or omission must be so serious such that it results in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities; and (2) subjectively, the prison official must have acted unnecessarily and wantonly for the purpose of inflicting harm. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834.

         When prison officials stand accused of using excessive force, the core judicial inquiry is “whether force was applied in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline, or maliciously and sadistically to cause harm.” Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 6-7 (1992); Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 320-21 (1986). The “malicious and sadistic” standard, as opposed to the “deliberate indifference” standard applicable to most Eighth Amendment claims, is applied to excessive force claims because prison officials generally do not have time to reflect on their actions in the face of risk of injury to inmates or prison employees. See Whitley, 475 U.S. at 320-21. In determining whether force was excessive, the court considers the following factors: (1) the need for application of force; (2) the extent of injuries; (3) the relationship between the need for force and the amount of force used; (4) the nature of the threat reasonably perceived by prison officers; and (5) efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response. See Hudson, 503 U.S. at 7. The absence of an emergency situation is probative of whether force was applied maliciously or sadistically. See Jordan v. Gardner, 986 F.2d 1521, 1528 ...


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