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Loftis v. S.M. Vasquez

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 8, 2017

MARQUISE DEANGELO LOFTIS, Plaintiff,
v.
S.M. VASQUEZ, Sergeant Correctional Officer, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION TO DISMISS COMPLAINT [ECF NO. 6]

          HON. RUBEN B BROOKS UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Marquise Deangelo Loftis, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on August 17, 2016 [ECF Nos. 1, 3]. Loftis alleges that Defendant Sergeant Correctional Officer S.M. Vasquez violated his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments by placing him in administrative segregation as retaliation for Plaintiff serving Vasquez with a grievance. (Compl. 3, ECF No. 1.)[1] On February 13, 2017, Defendant filed a “Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint” (the “Motion to Dismiss”) with a Memorandum of Points and Authorities, a declaration of Janine K. Jeffery, and an exhibit [ECF No. 6]. Loftis submitted an Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss with an accompanying declaration, which was filed nunc pro tunc to March 22, 2017 [ECF No. 9]. On April 3, 2017, Vasquez filed a Reply [ECF No. 10].

         The Court has reviewed the Complaint and exhibits, the Motion to Dismiss, the Opposition, and the Reply. For the reasons discussed below, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 6] should be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The events that form the basis of Plaintiff's Complaint began on July 11, 2015, while Loftis was incarcerated at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (“Donovan”). (Compl. 1-2, ECF No. 1.)[2] On that date, Plaintiff returned to his cell from the exercise yard to find that items were missing. (Id. at 8-9.) When Loftis asked Vasquez for a cell search receipt, the Defendant allegedly responded, “‘I don't have to give you anything.'” (Id. at 9.) Plaintiff left. (Id.) On July 15, 2015, Loftis gave Vasquez a CDCR Form 22, “requesting issuance of a cell search receipt identifying the disposition of the bottle of vitamins defendant Vasquez removed from the cell Plaintiff was assigned.” (Id.) Loftis left after serving this document on Defendant, but Vasquez called him back, stating, “‘You [forgot] to sign the form, and you likely have safety concerns, didn't you have a fight while I was gone?'” (Id. (alteration in original) (footnote omitted).) Plaintiff signed the form. (Id.) Loftis states that Defendant then “‘rammed' Plaintiff's identification card back at Plaintiff with deliberate force.” (Id.) Loftis asked whether Vasquez was trying to hurt him, took his identification, and left. (Id.)

         Plaintiff then went to the law library, where he was approached by two correctional officers who directed him to be placed in handcuffs. (Id.) Loftis contends that he complied with these orders and was handcuffed and taken to a holding cage. (Id.) At the holding cage, “Plaintiff was informed that defendant Vasquez was ordering Plaintiff placed in administrative segregation on the basis that Plaintiff asserted defendant Vasquez intended to hurt Plaintiff when . . . defendant Vasquez, deliberately with physical force thrust the identification into Plaintiff's hand.” (Id.)

         Loftis was brought to the office of Lieutenant C. Frost, who is not a party to this litigation. (Id. at 10.)[3] There, he was told to make a videotaped statement about what happened with Defendant. (Id.) Plaintiff indicates that in his video statement, he said that Vasquez had been harassing him following an incident that occurred with one of Loftis's prior cellmates. (Id.) He also stated that on July 11, 2015, he returned to find his property scattered around his cell. (Id.) He learned that Defendant searched his cell and took a bottle of vitamins, which was later returned to him. (Id.) In his videotaped statement, Plaintiff included that he had not received a cell search receipt and that he asked Vasquez for one on July 15, 2015, by serving Defendant with a CDCR Form 22. (Id.) Loftis further disclosed his subsequent conversation and interaction with Vasquez, as well as what happened with the two correctional officers who placed him in handcuffs. (Id. at 10-11.)

         Based on his statement to Defendant, Frost told Plaintiff that he would be placed in administrative segregation. (Id. at 11.) After being placed there, Facility-A-Captain E. Garza conducted an administrative segregation review. (Id.) Loftis explained to Garza that Defendant Vasquez had been conducting cell searches to harass Plaintiff after a conflict between Defendant and Loftis's former cellmate. (Id.) Plaintiff gave Garza an additional reason why he was improperly placed in administrative segregation:

Vasquez utilized placing Plaintiff in ad/seg as a means to silence Plaintiff, and make Plaintiff remove the complaint CDCR Form 22 that charged Vasquez of abusing his authority by using cell searches of Plaintiff's assigned cell as a tool for harassment due to Plaintiff's ex-cellmate having filed complaints against Vasquez, which Plaintiff corroborated.

(Id.) According to Loftis, Garza found no support for Defendant placing Plaintiff in administrative segregation and ordered that he be immediately released into the general prison population. (Id.)

         Loftis contends that Vasquez's placing him in administrative segregation had no legitimate penological objective and was designed to chill Plaintiff from exercising his rights. (Id. at 12.) He asserts that Frost allowed Loftis to be placed in administrative segregation even though she knew that Plaintiff had not violated any regulation. (Id.) Loftis states that Defendant and Frost knew or should have known that their actions violated Loftis's constitutional rights. (Id. at 12-13.)

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Standards Applicable to Pro Se Litigants

         Where a plaintiff appears in propria persona in a civil rights case, the court must construe the pleadings liberally and afford the plaintiff any benefit of the doubt. Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't, 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988). The rule of liberal construction is “particularly important in civil rights cases.” Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). In giving liberal interpretation to a pro se civil rights complaint, courts “may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled.” Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). “Vague and conclusory allegations of official participation in civil rights violations are not sufficient to withstand a motion to dismiss.” Id.; see also Jones v. Cmty. Redevelopment Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984) (finding conclusory allegations unsupported by facts insufficient to state a claim under § 1983). “The plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts which defendants engaged in that support the plaintiff's claim.” Jones, 733 F.2d at 649 (citation omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Nevertheless, the court must give a pro se litigant leave to amend his complaint “‘unless it determines that the pleading could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts.'” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (quoting Doe v. United States, 58 F.3d 494, 497 (9th Cir. 1995)). Thus, before a pro se civil rights complaint may be dismissed, the court is required to provide the plaintiff with a statement explaining the complaint's deficiencies. Karim-Panahi, 839 F.2d at 623-24 (citation omitted). But where amendment of a pro se litigant's complaint would be futile, denial of leave to amend is appropriate. See James v. Giles, 221 F.3d 1074, 1077 (9th Cir. 2000).

         B. Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the claims in the complaint. See Davis v. Monroe Cty. Bd. of Educ., 526 U.S. 629, 633 (1999). A complaint must be dismissed if it does not contain “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic 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 court accepts as true all material allegations in the complaint, as well as reasonable inferences to be drawn from them, and construes the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Cholla Ready Mix v. Civish, 382 F.3d 969, 973 (9th Cir. 2004) (citing Karam v. City of Burbank, 352 F.3d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 2003)); Parks Sch. of Bus. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1484 (9th Cir. 1995); NL Indus. v. Kaplan, 792 F.2d 896, 898 (9th Cir. 1986) (citation omitted).

         The court does not look at whether the “plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.” Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984); see Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 563 n.8. A dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is generally proper only where there “is no cognizable legal theory or an absence of sufficient facts alleged to support a cognizable legal theory.” Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988)).

         The court need not accept conclusory allegations in the complaint as true; rather, it must “examine whether [they] follow from the description of facts as alleged by the plaintiff.” Holden v. Hagopian, 978 F.2d 1115, 1121 (9th Cir. 1992) (citation omitted); see also Cholla Ready Mix, 382 F.3d at 973 (stating that on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “‘is not required to accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations if those conclusions cannot reasonably be drawn from the facts alleged'” (quoting Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752, 754-55 (9th Cir. 1994))). “Nor is the court required to accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences.” Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

         In addition, when resolving a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, courts may not generally consider materials outside of the pleadings. Schneider v. California Dep't of Corr., 151 F.3d 1194, 1197 n.1 (9th Cir. 1998); Jacobellis v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 120 F.3d 171, 172 (9th Cir. 1997); Allarcom Pay Television v. Gen. Instrument Corp., 69 F.3d 381, 385 (9th Cir. 1995). “The focus of any Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal . . . is the complaint.” Schneider, 151 F.3d at 1197 n.1. This precludes consideration of “new” allegations that may be raised in a plaintiff's opposition to a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Id. (citing Harrell v. United States, 13 F.3d 232, 236 (7th Cir. 1993)). “When a plaintiff has attached various exhibits to ...


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