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Baros v. San Bernardino County

United States District Court, C.D. California

July 25, 2017

GERALD BAROS, Plaintiff,




         On May 15, 2017, Gerald Baros (“plaintiff”), who is in custody, is proceeding without a lawyer (i.e., “pro se”), and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, filed a Civil Rights Complaint (“Complaint”) pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) against six unnamed individual defendants connected with the San Bernardino County Jail Glen Helen Facility where plaintiff - apparently then a pretrial detainee - was formerly housed. More specifically, plaintiff essentially claims that on or about June 22, 2013, San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department (“SBSD”) Deputies John Does 1-4, SBSD Deputy Jane Doe, and SBSD Sergeant Doe - all of whom are sued in their individual capacities only - subjected him to excessive force, failed to intervene when others subjected him to excessive force, and acted to deter him from reporting the use of excessive force against himself and others in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and his First Amendment right to seek redress for grievances. Plaintiff seeks monetary and injunctive relief.

         As the Complaint is deficient in multiple respects, including those detailed below, it is dismissed with leave to amend.


         A. The Screening Requirement

         As plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis on a complaint against a governmental defendant, the Court must screen the Complaint, and is required to dismiss the case at any time it concludes the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A; 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c).

         When screening a complaint to determine whether it states any claim that is viable (i.e., capable of succeeding), the Court applies the same standard as it would when evaluating a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Rosati v. Igbinoso, 791 F.3d 1037, 1039 (9th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). Rule 12(b)(6), in turn, is read in conjunction with Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rule 8”). Zixiang Li v. Kerry, 710 F.3d 995, 998-99 (9th Cir. 2013). Under Rule 8, 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). While Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, at a minimum a complaint must allege enough specific facts to provide both “fair notice” of the particular claim being asserted and “the grounds upon which [that claim] rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 & n.3 (2007) (citation and quotation marks omitted); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (Rule 8 pleading standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation”) (citing id. at 555).

         In addition, under Rule 10 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rule 10”), a complaint, among other things, must (1) state the names of “all the parties” in the caption; and (2) state a party's claims in sequentially “numbered paragraphs, each limited as far as practicable to a single set of circumstances.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(a), (b).

         Thus, to avoid dismissal, a complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Nordstrom v. Ryan, 762 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2014) (citations and quotation marks omitted). A claim is “plausible” when the facts alleged in the complaint would support a reasonable inference that the plaintiff is entitled to relief from a specific defendant for specific misconduct. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). Allegations that are “merely consistent with” a defendant's liability, or reflect only “the mere possibility of misconduct” do not “show[] that the pleader is entitled to relief” (as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)), and thus are insufficient to state a claim that is “plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (citations and quotation marks omitted). At this preliminary stage, “well-pleaded factual allegations” in a complaint are assumed true, while “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action” and “legal conclusion[s] couched as a factual allegation” are not. Id. (citation and quotation marks omitted); Jackson v. Barnes, 749 F.3d 755, 763 (9th Cir. 2014) (“mere legal conclusions ‘are not entitled to the assumption of truth'”) (quoting id.), cert. denied, 135 S.Ct. 980 (2015). In addition, the Court is “not required to accept as true conclusory allegations which are contradicted by documents referred to in the complaint, ” Steckman v. Hart Brewing, Inc., 143 F.3d 1293, 1295-96 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted), and “need not [] accept as true allegations that contradict matters properly subject to judicial notice or by exhibit, ” Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir.), amended on denial of reh'g, 275 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted).

         Pro se complaints are interpreted liberally to give plaintiffs “the benefit of any doubt.” Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). If a pro se complaint is dismissed because it does not state a claim, the court must freely grant “leave to amend” (that is, give the plaintiff a chance to file a new, corrected complaint) if it is “at all possible” that the plaintiff could fix the identified pleading errors by alleging different or new facts. Cafasso v. General Dynamics C4 Systems, Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1058 (9th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-30 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         B. Section 1983

         To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege that a defendant, while acting under color of state law, caused a deprivation of the plaintiff's federal rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (citations omitted); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989) (citation omitted). There is no vicarious liability in Section 1983 lawsuits. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676 (citing, inter alia, Monell v. Department of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978)). Hence, a government official - whether subordinate or supervisor - may be held liable under Section 1983 only when his or her own actions have caused a constitutional deprivation. OSU Student Alliance v. Ray, 699 F.3d 1053, 1069 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing id.), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 70 (2013). Allegations regarding causation “must be individualized and focus on the duties and responsibilities of each individual defendant whose acts or omissions are alleged to have caused a constitutional deprivation.” Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 633 (9th Cir. 1988) (citations omitted).

         An individual “causes” a constitutional deprivation when he or she (1) “does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which he [or she] is legally required to do that causes the deprivation”; or (2) “set[s] in motion a series of acts by others which the [defendant] knows or reasonably should know would cause others to inflict the constitutional injury.” Lacey v. Maricopa County, 693 ...

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