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Coleman v. Virga

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 27, 2017

ROBERT COLEMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
T. VIRGA, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          KENDALL J. NEWMAN, UNITED STALES MAGISLRALE JUDGE

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner, proceeding pro se. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         Plaintiff has consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned. (ECF No. 7.)

         Plaintiff submitted a declaration that makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted.

         Plaintiff is required to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a), 1915(b)(1). By this order, plaintiff will be assessed an initial partial filing fee in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). By separate order, the court will direct the appropriate agency to collect the initial partial filing fee from plaintiff's trust account and forward it to the Clerk of the Court. Thereafter, plaintiff will be obligated to make monthly payments of twenty percent of the preceding month's income credited to plaintiff's trust account. These payments will be forwarded by the appropriate agency to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in plaintiff's account exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is paid in full. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

         The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 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. 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 when 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 Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989), superseded by statute as stated in Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000) (“[A] judge may dismiss [in forma pauperis] claims which are based on indisputably meritless legal theories or whose factual contentions are clearly baseless.”); 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)). 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.” Id. at 555. However, “[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement [of facts] need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555, citations and internal quotations marks omitted). In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93, and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds, Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984).

         Plaintiff's Allegations

         Named as defendants are Warden T. Virga, Warden J. Macomber, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”), CDCR Director, Sacramento Institutional Classification Committee (“Sac ICC”), T. Hinrichs, J. Lynch, S. Schmidt, M. Rustad. R. Heise, C. Hurd and B. Strohmaier. All of the individually named defendants are located at California State Prison-Sacramento (“CSP-Sac”). Plaintiff is presently housed at California State Prison-Lancaster (“Lancaster”).

         Plaintiff alleges that he has been denied single cell housing, and adequate mental health treatment, during two different periods of incarceration at CSP-Sac, i.e., from April 2011 to July 2016, and from February 24, 2017 to March 17, 2017. Plaintiff also alleges that during the first period of incarceration, he was improperly housed in cells that contained side by side by beds which aggravated his mental health problems. The undersigned sets forth plaintiff's allegations herein.

         Plaintiff alleges that when he was first incarcerated 26 years ago, he had no history of mental or psychiatric problems. During his incarceration, plaintiff witnessed many violent acts which caused him to develop depression. In 2004, a prison clinician recommended that plaintiff receive single cell status. Prison officials denied this request because plaintiff had no history of in cell violence or predatory behavior. After the request for single cell status was denied, plaintiff appears to claim that his mental health deteriorated and he attempted suicide.

         On April 22, 2011, plaintiff was transferred to CSP-Sac. Due to disabilities, plaintiff required housing in a lower tier cell in a lower bed. Plaintiff was ultimately moved to a cell that had side by side beds, which would “become a detriment to [plaintiff's] mental capacity.” Plaintiff tried to be excluded from this type of housing arrangement, but his requests were denied. Plaintiff refused such housing and was placed in administrative segregation (“ad seg”).

         Plaintiff alleges that defendant Warden Virga allowed plaintiff to be housed in the side by side beds even though he knew that it would harm plaintiff's mental health. On December 19, 2011, plaintiff volunteered to have his lower tier accommodation chrono rescinded so that he would not have to be in a cell with side by side beds.

         Plaintiff alleges that in June 2011, he had a mental breakdown and was placed in CSP-Sac's Crisis Treatment Center (“CTC”). Plaintiff was moved to ad seg after being discharged from CTC. Following his transfer to ad seg, prison officials still tried to house him with cellmates. Plaintiff received rules violation reports for refusing cellmates. Because prison officials refused to grant him single cell status, plaintiff refused to leave ad seg. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Macomber “confirmed” the rules violation report.

         Plaintiff alleges that defendant Rustad wrongly charged him with refusing a cellmate, i.e., inmate Williams. Plaintiff alleges that he and inmate Williams should not have been housed together because they both required the bottom bunk due to disabilities.

         Plaintiff alleges that on May 28, 2014, he received single cell status, which was later revoked. Plaintiff goes on to allege that a few years later, defendant Sac ICC refused his request for single cell status. Plaintiff also claims that he told defendant Sac ICC that his mental health needs could not be met at a Level IV prison. Plaintiff was forcibly escorted to Facility B on May 2, 2016. Upon his arrival at Facility B, plaintiff alleges that he told defendant Heise of his mental health and housing concerns. Plaintiff claims that defendant Heise wrote a report that falsely stated that plaintiff had enemy concerns. Plaintiff alleges that on May 17, 2016, defendant Strohmeier issued plaintiff a rules violation report for refusing a cellmate.

         In July 2016, plaintiff was transferred away from CSP-Sac. In February 24, 2017, plaintiff was temporarily returned to CSP-Sac in order to participate in a settlement conference in case no. 2:13-cv-1021 JAM KJN P. Plaintiff alleges that while housed at CSP-Sac for the settlement conference, he received retaliatory treatment. For example, when he arrived at CSP-Sac on February 24, 2017, he was single celled. However, on March 2, 2017, the day of the settlement conference, plaintiff's single cell status was revoked.

         Plaintiff alleges that while he was housed in the CSP-Sac ad seg from February 24, 2017 to March 2, 2017, prison officials refused to provide him with clothing. Plaintiff only had the paper jumpsuit, paper boxers, paper t-shirt and hard sole shoes provided to him at Wasco State Prison. Plaintiff also alleges that his cell was filthy.

         On March 3, 2017, plaintiff refused to be moved to a cell with another inmate. Thereafter, arrangements were made for plaintiff to be housed in a single cell. After plaintiff arrived at the building where the single cell was located, he told defendant Hurd that he was going to file grievances on this matter. Defendant Hurd and two other officers responded, “Good luck on that. We run the appeal system.” Plaintiff filed his grievance on March 5, 2017. Plaintiff alleges that while housed in the single cell, he was not provided with proper clothing. Without proper clothing, he could not attend outside activities, medical appointment or groups. Plaintiff alleges that his feet bled due to improper shoes. On March 17, 2017, plaintiff was transferred to Lancaster.

         Claim One

         In claim one, plaintiff alleges that defendants Virga, Macomber, Sac ICC and Schmidt violated his Eighth Amendment rights.

         At the outset, the undersigned finds that Sac ICC is not a proper defendant. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Sac ICC is not a “person acting under color of state law.” Accordingly, the Eighth Amendment claim against defendant Sac ICC is dismissed.

         Plaintiff alleges that defendants Virga, Macomber and Schmidt should have known that the denial of his requests for single cell status caused him significant physical and mental harm.

         Other than the allegations specifically alleged in support of claim two, as discussed herein, the complaint contains no specific allegations against defendant Schmidt. 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. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978) (“Congress did not intend § 1983 liability to attach where . . . causation [is] absent.”); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976) (no affirmative link between the incidents of police misconduct and the adoption of any plan or policy demonstrating their authorization or approval of such misconduct). “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 ...


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