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Fratus v. Gonzales

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 24, 2017

JOHN FRATUS, Plaintiff,
GONZALES, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff has paid the filing fee. Plaintiff alleges defendants used excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Before the court is plaintiff's complaint for screening. For the reasons set forth below, the court finds plaintiff has stated cognizable Eighth Amendment claims against all defendants.


         I. Legal Standards

         The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) & (2).

         A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227.

         Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, in order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim a complaint must contain more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;” it must contain factual allegations sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555. In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hospital Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969).

         The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of [state law] . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution . . . shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). “A person ‘subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made.” Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

         Moreover, supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisorial position, the causal link between him and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley, 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

         II. Allegations of the Complaint

         The events complained of occurred during plaintiff's incarceration at California State Prison-Sacramento (“CSP-Sac”). (ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff alleges defendants subjected him to excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment and retaliated against him. Plaintiff seeks relief against the following defendants in their individual capacities: Sergeant Gonzales, Officer Mills, and Officer Carothers. (Id. ¶¶ 3-7.)

         Plaintiff alleges that at all relevant times he was participating in the Enhanced Outpatient Program for mentally ill inmates. On October 2, 2014, defendants Carothers and Mills escorted him from a suicide watch mental health crisis bed back to A3 building in the Psychiatric Services Unit. Plaintiff had been on suicide watch for one week. However, when he was returned to A3, he was placed in a different cell. Plaintiff was so upset about this cell placement that he told Carothers and Mills, “I am suicidal.” Carothers and Mills then escorted plaintiff back to a holding cage. (Id. ¶¶ 8-17.)

         Plaintiff became more upset and argued with defendant Gonzales about why he had been moved. He then “lost his temper” and spit in Gonzales' face. Carothers and Mills “immediately slammed plaintiff down onto the ground face first.” Gonzales, who was wearing boots, then kicked plaintiff in the face and body. Mills punched plaintiff in the face and head. After he been shackled and was “no longer a threat, ” Carothers twisted plaintiff's left knee and stomped on it in an attempt to break it. (Id. ¶¶ 18-28.)

         As a result of the beatings, plaintiff's face was bruised, swollen, and scraped. Plaintiff's knee was swollen and bruised. Plaintiff had a black eye. (Id. ¶ 30.)

         Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages for his physical injuries and emotional distress. (Id. ¶¶ 38, 39.)

         III. Does Plaintiff State ...

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