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Li v. Contra Costa County

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 30, 2017

ANDY LI, Plaintiff,
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, et al., Defendants.


          EDWARD M. CHEN United States District Judge.


         Andy Li, formerly an inmate at the Martinez Detention Facility in Martinez, California, filed a pro se civil rights complaint seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint is now before the Court for review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.


         In his complaint, Andy Li alleges the following: On November 30, 2016, he was working in “intake” at the Martinez Detention Facility and “was physically attacked/ass[au]lted by a newly booked violent offender.” (Docket No. 1 at 3.) Nurse Dhanoa, aware of the offender's violent behavior, pulled that offender out of his single cell safety status “in hopes” that Mr. Li would be attacked and was motivated by retaliatory intent. Deputy Ball failed to protect Mr. Li, as deputy Ball was not within close distance to prevent attacks on any workers and failed to follow “customs to be at hand.” (Id.) Contra Costa County condoned a custom and practice “that deputies are suppose[d] to be near and within helping distances to prevent an attack on workers (inmates or non-inmates).” (Id.).


         A federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review the court must identify any cognizable claims, and dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See Id. at § 1915A(b).

         The 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). “Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only . . . give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, . . . a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. . . . Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint must proffer “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. Pro se complaints must be liberally construed. See Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and (2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         Fourteenth Amendment claim:

         When a pretrial detainee challenges conditions of his confinement, the proper inquiry is whether the conditions amount to punishment in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 & n.16 (1979). Jail officials may be liable under the Fourteenth Amendment for failure to protect a pretrial detainee from a risk of harm by other inmates. A deliberate indifference standard applies to failure-to-protect claims from both pretrial detainees and prisoners. However, unlike the subjective standard that applies to prisoner's claim (i.e., the prison official “must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw that inference, ” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 US. 825, 837 (1994)), an objective standard applies to a pretrial detainee's claim. See Castro v. County of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1069-71 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 831 (2017). To state a due process claim for deliberate indifference based on a failure to protect a pretrial detainee, a plaintiff must allege facts showing these elements:

(1) The defendant made an intentional decision with respect to the conditions under which the plaintiff was confined; (2) Those conditions put the plaintiff at substantial risk of suffering serious harm; (3) The defendant did not take reasonable available measures to abate that risk, even though a reasonable officer in the circumstances would have appreciated the high degree of risk involved-making the consequences of the defendant's conduct obvious; and (4) By not taking such measures, the defendant caused the plaintiff's injuries.

Id. at 1071.

         The complaint fails to state a claim for deliberate indifference to Mr. Li's safety because it fails to allege facts that suggest that any Defendant acted with the requisite mental state of deliberate indifference. First, the sequence of events is unclear, in that the complaint does not explain whether the “violent offender” attacked Mr. Li upon his arrival at the jail (as suggested by the allegations that Mr. Li was attacked while “working in intake” and the attacker was “newly booked”) or after the “violent offender” had been at the jail for some time and after the “violent offender” had attacked two other inmates. If Mr. Li was the first person attacked by the “violent offender” in the jail, Mr. Li needs to allege facts showing why reasonable jail officials would have been aware of the violent nature of the person, or that he posed a risk to other inmates. Second, Mr. Li fails to allege facts supporting his conclusion that nurse Dhanoa was aware of the attacker's violence when she “pull[ed] him out of single cell safety status, ” nor does Mr. Li even explain the meaning of the quoted phrase. And Mr. Li ...

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