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Samuels v. Ahlin

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 24, 2017

DOUGAL SAMUELS, Plaintiff,
v.
PAM AHLIN, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS, RECOMMENDING THAT PLAINTIFF'S CLAIM AGAINST DEFENDANT FRESNO COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS BE DISMISSED AND THAT THE COUNTY OF FRESNO'S MOTION TO QUASH SERVICE OF PROCESS BE GRANTED (ECF NO. 53) OBJECTIONS, IF ANY, DUE WITHIN TWENTY-ONE DAYS

         I. BACKGROUND

         Dougal Samuels (“Plaintiff”) is a civil detainee proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff's case was initially dismissed at the screening stage for failure to state a claim. (ECF Nos. 12 & 16).[1] The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed in part and remanded, stating “dismissal of Samuel's safe conditions claim was premature” and “Samuels is not barred from bringing suit against the members of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors in their official capacity.” (ECF No. 22, p. 3). Plaintiff filed a Third Amended Complaint on July 15, 2016. (ECF No. 40). Plaintiff's amended complaint named a number of defendants including “Fresno Board of Supervisors, ” among others, but did not name any individual persons who were members of that board. Nor did it name the County of Fresno. After screening, the Court allowed Plaintiff's amended complaint to proceed “against defendants Pam Ahlin, Stephen Mayberg, Fresno County Board of Supervisors, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Audrey King, Brandon Price, Ron Withrow, Karin Hundal, Ron Howard, and Cynthia Radavasky for violation of Plaintiff's right to safe conditions under the Due Process Clause.” (ECF No. 41, at p. 11).

         On January 20, 2017, the County of Fresno filed a motion to quash service of process or to dismiss Plaintiff's action in the alternative, asserting that (1) the Fresno County Board of Supervisors (“FCBS”) is a sub-unit of the County of Fresno (“County”) and therefore not a “person” within the meaning of § 1983, and (2) erroneous service of process was made on the County because it is not a named defendant. (ECF No. 53). The Court held a hearing on the motion, and subsequently issued an order for Plaintiff to notify the Court if he wished to substitute the County of Fresno or any other defendants for FCBS. (ECF No. 70). Plaintiff filed a notice of non-substitution of defendants on May 22, 2017. (ECF No. 71).

         The Court now considers the Motion to Quash service of Process, and Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction, by Fresno County Board of Supervisors. (ECF No. 53). The Court finds that because FCBS is a governmental sub-unit of the County, it is not a “person” subject to suit within the meaning of § 1983 and should be dismissed. The Court also finds that waiver of service was improperly directed to the County of Fresno because the County is not a named defendant. Accordingly, the Court will recommend (1) that Plaintiff's claim against FCBS be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), and (2) that the County of Fresno's motion to quash service of process be granted.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed his initial complaint on April 5, 2010. (ECF No. 1). After screening Plaintiff's initial complaint, the Court dismissed the complaint with leave to amend on July 26, 2012. (ECF No. 12). Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint on November 2, 2012 (ECF No. 15), which the Court screened and dismissed for failure to state a claim on May 3, 2013. (ECF No. 16).

         Plaintiff appealed. (ECF No. 18). On August 21, 2014, the Ninth Circuit issued an order allowing the case to proceed on Plaintiff's safe conditions claim, stating that Plaintiff is “not barred from bringing suit against the members of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors in their official capacity.” (ECF No. 22, p. 3). Accordingly, the Court ordered that the case proceed on Plaintiff's safe conditions claim. (ECF No. 24). On December 2, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 36), but failed to include all previously-named defendants. The Court sought clarification regarding the defendants (ECF No. 37), and granted Plaintiff leave to file a Third Amended Complaint (ECF No. 39) after Plaintiff asserted that he intended to include all previously-named defendants (ECF No. 38). That list of defendants did not include any individual members of the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, nor did it include the County of Fresno. (ECF No. 39).

         The Court screened Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint and found that Plaintiff “state[d] cognizable claims for violation of his safe conditions under the Due Process Clause against Defendants Pam Ahlin, Stephen Mayberg, Fresno County Board of Supervisors, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Audrey King, Brandon Price, Ron Withrow, Karin Hundal, Ron Howard, and Cynthia Radavasky.” (ECF No. 41, p. 11). The Court ordered service upon the named defendants. (ECF No. 43). In response, the County filed a motion to quash service of process or to dismiss Plaintiff's action in the alternative. (ECF No. 53). The County argued that FCBS is not a “person” within the meaning of § 1983 because it is a sub-unit of the County, and that waiver of service was improperly directed to the County. (Id. at 2).

         On April 20, 2017, the Court held a hearing on the County's motion.[2] During the hearing, the Court asked Plaintiff if he wished to substitute the County or any other defendants for FCBS. However, it was difficult to understand Plaintiff due to a poor phone connection. The Court subsequently issued an order for Plaintiff to notify the Court if he wished to substitute the County or any other defendants for FCBS. (ECF No. 70). On May 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed a notice of non-substitution of defendants. (ECF No. 71).

         The case now proceeds on Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint.

         III. PLAINTIFF'S 28 U.S.C. § 1983 CLAIM AGAINST FCBS

         A. Legal Standards

         i. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         “Section 1983 provides a cause of action for ‘the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws' of the United States.” Wilder v. Virginia Hosp. Ass'n, 496 U.S. 498, 508 (1990); 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Section 1983 “‘is not itself a source of substantive rights, ' but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights conferred ...


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