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Singer v. Braman

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 15, 2017

MATTHEW BRAMAN, et al. Defendants.


         Plaintiff Jason Allan Singer, appearing pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a Complaint on May 18, 2017. (ECF No. 1.) The Complaint alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Downtowner Inn in Bakersfield, California; Matthew Braman, the night manager of the Downtowner Inn; Sandy Cartwright, the night clerk at the Downtowner Inn; and Stephany Munoz, a room cleaner at the Downtowner Inn. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants conspired with the Bakersfield Police Department to cause him injury. The Court has screened the Complaint and dismisses Plaintiff's Complaint with leave to amend.


         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court must conduct a review of a pro se complaint to determine whether it “state[s] a claim on which relief may be granted, ” is “frivolous or malicious, ” or “seek[s] monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” If the Court determines that the complaint fails to state a claim, it must be dismissed. Id. Leave to amend may be granted to the extent that the deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by amendment. Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995).

         A complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Id. at 678.

         In determining whether a complaint states an actionable claim, the Court must accept the allegations in the complaint as true, Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trs. of Rex Hospital, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe pro se pleadings liberally in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000), and resolve all doubts in the Plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). Pleadings of pro se plaintiffs “must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (holding that pro se complaints should continue to be liberally construed after Iqbal).


         Plaintiff stayed at Defendant Downtowner Inn on the evening of May 13, 2015. At some point, when Plaintiff had left his room, Defendant Stephany Munoz entered his room to clean it. Munoz observed drug paraphernalia in the room, including pipes for smoking marijuana and methamphetamine. Munoz took pictures of the paraphernalia and texted them to Defendant Matthew Braman, who asked Defendant Sandy Cartwright to call police.

         When police arrived, Defendants provided them with a copy of Plaintiff's driver's license for identification purposes and gave them Plaintiff's room number. The officers identified Plaintiff as a parolee who had previously been convicted of battery and was subject to drug testing and random searches. Braman told the officers that Plaintiff was scheduled to check out of the motel that morning and asked that the officers inform Plaintiff that all illegal drug paraphernalia would need to be removed from the room upon checkout. Braman did not ask the officers to remove Plaintiff from the room, although he gave them a room key to Plaintiff's room.

         The officers went to Plaintiff's room, knocked, and announced that they were from the Bakersfield Police Department. They did not receive any response and attempted to use the room key that Braman had provided. Because the door latch on the door was engaged, however, the officers were only able to partially open the door. From their vantage point, they observed Plaintiff lying on the bed in the room, along with Crystal Sullivan, a female companion of Plaintiff's. Sullivan came to the door and unlocked it. The officers attempted to speak to Plaintiff, but Plaintiff did not respond and stepped out of view of the officers. Concerned that Plaintiff might be seeking a weapon, the officers attempted to push open the door. Plaintiff came to the door and tried to force it shut.

         A short struggle through the door opening ensued before Plaintiff retreated back into the room. As the officers entered the room, they observed a variety of “hand tools, large glass cylinders, and electronic items.” One officer drew his taser and fired it at Plaintiff, but the taser failed to disable Plaintiff. Plaintiff then attempted to climb out of the window of the room. The officer ran to window and reached out to him, but Plaintiff released his grip and dropped three stories onto the ground. The officers summoned an ambulance and Plaintiff was taken to Kern Medical Center and treated. A later search of the room found 286 grams of marijuana and a variety of drug paraphernalia, including equipment that could be used to manufacture illegal drugs.

         Plaintiff contends that Defendants engaged in a conspiracy to conduct an illegal search of his room, which caused him to severely injure himself when he fell from the third story window. Plaintiff does not name the police department or police officers who participated in the search as defendants. Plaintiff asks for compensatory damages related to the injuries he sustained in his fall.


         To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff “must allege a violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (emphasis added). Private parties, such as the Defendants in this action, are not generally acting under color of state law for the purposes of § 1983. Price v. Hawaii, 939 F.2d 702, 707-08 (9th Cir. 1991) (“Careful adherence to the ‘state action' requirement preserves an area of individual freedom by limiting the reach of federal law and federal judicial power. It also avoids imposing on the State, its agencies or officials, responsibility for conduct for which they cannot fairly be blamed”).

         In some circumstances, a conspiracy between private and state actors can render the private actor liable under § 1983. “To prove a conspiracy between private parties and the government under § 1983, an agreement or ‘meeting of the minds' to violate constitutional rights must be shown.” Fonda v. Gray, 707 F.2d 435, 438 (9th Cir. 1983). “To be liable as a co-conspirator, a private defendant must share with the public entity the goal of violating a plaintiff's constitutional rights.” Franklin v. Fox, 312 F.3d 423, 445 (9th Cir. 2002). “The Ninth Circuit requires a ‘substantial degree of cooperation' between the government and ...

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