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Reininga v. Belavich

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 12, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on Defendants Gary Viegas (“Viegas”), Timothy Belavich (“Belavich”) and Jeffrey Beard's (“Beard”) (collectively “Defendants”) Motions to Dismiss.[1](Motions to Dismiss, ECF Nos. 8-1 & 18-1.) Plaintiff Eric Reininga (“Plaintiff) opposes Defendants' motions. (Plaintiff's Opposition to Defendants' Motions to Dismiss, ECF Nos. 11 & 19.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court hereby GRANTS Defendants' motions.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiff alleges he began working as a psychologist for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) in late 2007 and was promoted to Senior Psychologist Specialist in 2010. (Complaint, ECF No. 1 ¶ 3.) In 1995, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California “issued a permanent injunction mandating certain forms of treatment for mentally ill inmates” and assigned a Special Master to “monitor compliance with the court-ordered injunctive relief.” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 10.) In June 2010, Plaintiff was assigned to edit CDCR reports prior to submitting them to the Special Master. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 12.) Plaintiff alleges he was instructed to either edit out negative portions of reports or to curb positive reports to ensure the standard of care for all CDCR prisons remained low. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 12.)

         In September 2013, Joseph Damien Duran, a mentally ill prisoner, “was placed on Suicide Prevention” at Mule Creek State Prison and then reduced to “violence precautions” the following day. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 16-22.) Plaintiff alleges Duran refused to be handcuffed on the same day his status changed “and refused to remove his hands from the food port” when officers attempted to give him medication. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 25.) Plaintiff alleges Duran's lack of cooperation caused the officers to empty a can of OC Pepper Spray “directly into Duran's face and neck with a significant amount entering his throat through the trachestomy [sic] tube.” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 26.)

         Plaintiff alleges correctional staff observed strange behavior after Duran was pepper-sprayed, but the staff did not attempt to remove Duran from his cell or provide him with medical attention. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 28-35.) Plaintiff alleges the “doctor of the day” at the prison and Duran's psychiatrist initially ordered nursing staff to evacuate Duran from his cell, clean his wound, and administer medicine, however, correctional staff failed to comply. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 30-32.) The next morning, “Duran was found unresponsive and not breathing on the floor in his cell and approximately one half hour later was pronounced dead.” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 36.) The Amador County Sheriff-Coroner classified Duran's death as suicide caused by asphyxia. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 40.)

         Plaintiff was not present for any of the events leading up to Duran's death. Plaintiff alleges “that numerous CDCR correctional and medical persons, in order to avoid any implication of wrongdoing . . . deliberately gave false information to the Amador County Sheriff-Coroner[.]” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 39.) Plaintiff alleges “CDCR headquarter staff edited the reviewer's report and pressured the reviewer and coordinator to change portions of the suicide review to decrease the appearance of negligence.” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 43.)

         Plaintiff alleges he strongly believed CDCR's practices would change once the public was aware of Duran's death. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 47.) Plaintiff suspected everyone, including the Attorney General's office, was complicit in covering up Duran's death, so he did not believe he could speak with anyone internally. In December 2013, Plaintiff “provided the original Duran Suicide Report” to a Sacramento Bee reporter. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 49.) The report Plaintiff gave to the reporter was different from the report given to the Special Master on January 7, 2014. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 50- 51.) On January 21, 2014, the Sacramento Bee published an article about Duran's death and CDCR's suspected role in covering up the negligence of the corrections officers. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 52.)

         After the article was published, CDCR launched an expansive internal investigation. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 56.) Plaintiff alleges Defendant Viegas “searched not only work computers but . . . obtained the records of Plaintiff's personal cell phone[.]” (ECF No. 1 ¶ 57.) On February 17, 2015, Viegas instructed Plaintiff to report for an administrative inquiry the following day. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 59.) Plaintiff alleges he requested to continue the inquiry to allow him to bring an attorney to the meeting. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 63.) He alleges Viegas refused to provide an extension. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 63.) Plaintiff attended the meeting with his union representative and “denied certain facts during the interview, including any knowledge of the whistleblow.” (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 65-68.) It is unclear how Defendants became aware that Plaintiff lied during his interview. Once Defendants learned of Plaintiff's misconduct, Plaintiff alleges Belavich and Beard terminated Plaintiff's employment, despite his prior good behavior. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 70-71.)

         II. Standard of Law

         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) requires that a pleading contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” On a motion to dismiss, the factual allegations of the complaint are assumed to be true. Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972). A court is bound to give plaintiff the benefit of every reasonable inference to be drawn from the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint. Retail Clerks Int'l Ass'n v. Schermerhorn, 373 U.S. 746, 753 n.6 (1963). A plaintiff need not allege “‘specific facts' beyond those necessary to state his claim and the grounds showing entitlement to relief.” Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 (2009)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         Nevertheless, a court “need not assume the truth of legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.” United States ex rel Chunie v. Ringrose, 788 F.2d 638, 643 n.2 (9th Cir. 1986). While Rule 8(a) does not require detailed factual allegations, “it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A pleading is insufficient if it offers mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). Additionally, it is inappropriate to assume that the plaintiff “can prove facts that it has not alleged or that the defendants have violated the . . . laws in ways that have not been alleged.” Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal, Inc. v. Cal State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983).

         Ultimately, a court may not dismiss a complaint in which the plaintiff has alleged “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). While the plausibility requirement is not akin to a probability requirement, it demands more than “a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. at 678. This plausibility inquiry is “a ...

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