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Bobadilla v. Lizzaraga

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 26, 2017

J. LIZZARAGA, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. After a dismissal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (ECF No. 11), he has filed an amended complaint (ECF No. 12) and two motions for injunctive relief (ECF Nos. 13, 14).

         Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint “is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, ” or “seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.” Id. § 1915A(b).

         The court has reviewed plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to § 1915A and concludes that it must be dismissed without further leave to amend. Like the original complaint, the amended complaint concerns an allegedly unauthorized patdown search by defendant Guzman on November 28, 2013. Specifically, the amended complaint asserts claims of sexual misconduct, excessive force, and violations of the Fourth Amendment based on allegations that Guzman, with “no reasonable suspicion, ” “ran his four (4) fingers up and down between plaintiff's buttocks” after plaintiff exited the dining hall. ECF No. 12, ¶¶ 24-31. The court previously informed plaintiff of the legal standards applicable to plaintiff's intended claims for relief:

“When prison officials use excessive force against prisoners, they violate the inmates' Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.” Clement v. Gomez, 298 F.3d 898, 903 (9th Cir. 2002). In order to establish a claim for the use of excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must establish that prison officials applied force maliciously and sadistically to cause harm, rather than in a good-faith effort to maintain or restore discipline. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 6-7 (1992). In making this determination, the court may evaluate (1) the need for application of force, (2) the relationship between that need and the amount of force used, (3) the threat reasonably perceived by the responsible officials, and (4) any efforts made to temper the severity of a forceful response. Id. at 7; see also Id. at 9-10 (“The Eighth Amendment's prohibition of cruel and unusual punishment necessarily excludes from constitutional recognition de minimis uses of physical force, provided that the use of force is not of a sort repugnant to the conscience of mankind.” (internal quotation marks and citations omitted)).
. . . A guard's physical sexual assault of an inmate, however, is “offensive to human dignity” and may violate the Eighth Amendment. Schwenk v. Hartford, 204 F.3d 1187, 1196-97 (9th Cir. 1987). For an allegedly inappropriate body search to violate the Eighth Amendment, the plaintiff must demonstrate that the search amounted to the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain. Jordan v. Gardner, 986 F.2d 1521, 1525-26 (9th Cir. 1993) (concluding that “momentary discomfort” is not enough). In the absence of a preexisting mental condition or a particularly invasive search, the humiliation allegedly suffered because of unwanted physical contact from a correctional officer “does not rise to the level of severe psychological pain required to state an Eighth Amendment claim.” Watison, 668 F.3d at 1112-14 (affirming dismissal of Eighth Amendment claim against correctional officer who allegedly entered inmate's cell while on the toilet, and rubbed his thigh against the inmate's thigh, while smiling and laughing).
For purposes of the Fourth Amendment, searches of prisoners must be reasonable to be constitutional. Nunez v. Duncan, 591 F.3d 1217, 1227 (9th Cir. 2010). “The test of reasonableness under the Fourth Amendment is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application. In each case it requires a balancing of the need for the particular search against the invasion of personal rights that the search entails. Courts must consider the scope of the particular intrusion, the manner in which it is conducted, the justification for initiating it, and the place in which it is conducted.” Id. (quoting Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 559, (1979)).

ECF No. 11 at 6, 7-8. In addition, the court warned that a complaint must contain more than “naked assertions, ” “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007). Despite this guidance, the allegations in the amended complaint are as vague and conclusory as those in the prior complaint. There are no specific factual allegations demonstrating that the search was malicious and sadistic, that it caused anything beyond momentary discomfort, or that it was unreasonably invasive within the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, the search allegedly took place upon plaintiff's exit from the dining hall, and it is well established that there is a legitimate penological interest in controlling the movement of contraband within penal institutions. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 553-555 (1979); see also Grummett v. Rushen, 779 F.2d 491, 495 (9th Cir. 1985) (routine pat down searches which include the groin area, even when performed by guards of the opposite sex, do not violate a prisoner's constitutional rights). For these reasons, the allegations regarding defendant Guzman's search fail to demonstrate a constitutional violation. Similarly, the allegations that defendant Cochran witnessed the search but failed to intervene or that any other defendant failed to report the search or to discipline Guzman for his alleged misconduct, fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

         The amended complaint also alleges that numerous defendants improperly handled or reviewed plaintiff's administrative appeals. The court previously informed plaintiff that

[t]here are no constitutional requirements regarding how a grievance system is operated. See Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 860 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding that prisoner's claimed loss of a liberty interest in the processing of his appeals does not violate due process because prisoners lack a separate constitutional entitlement to a specific prison grievance system). Thus, plaintiff may not impose liability on defendants simply because they played a role in processing plaintiff's inmate appeals. See Buckley v. Barlow, 997 F.2d 494, 495 (8th Cir. 1993) (an administrative “grievance procedure is a procedural right only, it does not confer any substantive right upon the inmates. Hence, it does not give rise to a protected liberty interest requiring the procedural protections envisioned by the fourteenth amendment.” (internal quotations omitted)).

ECF No. 11 at 8. Like the original complaint, the amended complaint fails to state a claim based upon any defendant's purported role in processing plaintiff's administrative appeals.

         The amended complaint also alleges that defendants Montes, Coffin, and Telander displayed a deliberate indifference to plaintiff's serious mental health needs. In this regard, the original screening order informed plaintiff as follows:

To succeed on an Eighth Amendment claim predicated on the denial of medical care, a plaintiff must establish that he had a serious medical need and that the defendant's response to that need was deliberately indifferent. Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006); see also Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). A serious medical need exists if the failure to treat the condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain. Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096. Deliberate indifference may be shown by the denial, delay or intentional interference with medical treatment or by the way in which medical care is provided. Hutchinson v. United States, 838 F.2d 390, 394 (9th Cir. 1988).
To act with deliberate indifference, a 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 the inference. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). Thus, a defendant is liable if he knows that plaintiff faces “a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it.” Id. at 847. A physician need not fail to treat an inmate altogether in order to violate that inmate's Eighth Amendment rights. Ortiz v. City of Imperial, 884 F.2d 1312, 1314 (9th Cir. 1989). A ...

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