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Price v. Lamb

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 22, 2018

LAMB, et al., Defendants.



         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner, who proceeds without counsel and in forma pauperis, in this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This case proceeds on plaintiff's original complaint against defendants Lamb and RN Ramirez. Presently pending is defendant Lamb's motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons that follow, the undersigned recommends that defendant Lamb be granted qualified immunity, and that this action be dismissed.

         II. The Complaint

         Plaintiff alleges that defendant Lamb, a correctional counselor at Mule Creek State Prison, responsible for assigning inmates to bus routes for transfer to different prisons, failed to route plaintiff on a bus that would not require a layover at Wasco State Prison, an institution located in an area where coccidioidomycosis, also known as “Valley Fever, ” or “cocci, ” is high risk or endemic, particularly for inmates, like plaintiff, who suffer from Non-Hodgkins T-cell lymphoma.[1] In addition to plaintiff's medical records reflecting such diagnosis, plaintiff alleges that he has been designated as “Cocci Area 1 and Area 2” restricted, confirming that due to his lymphoma diagnosis, being exposed to elevated levels of the cocci fungus (prevalent in the San Joaquin Valley), could induce serious illness, including death. Plaintiff alleges that both defendant Lamb, and defendant Ramirez, a Registered Nurse at Mule Creek State Prison, responsible for reviewing medical records for inmates being transferred, were aware of plaintiff's restrictions yet failed to either stop or re-route his transfer. Plaintiff filed an emergency appeal challenging the transfer, but the emergency appeal was not addressed in time to stop or re-route his transfer. Plaintiff seeks money damages.

         III. Motion to Dismiss: Legal Standards

         Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedures provides for motions to dismiss for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). In considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007), and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969); Meek v. County of Riverside, 183 F.3d 962, 965 (9th Cir. 1999). Still, to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, a pro se complaint must contain more than “naked assertions, ” “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007). In other words, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Furthermore, a claim upon which the court can grant relief must have facial plausibility. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Attachments to a complaint are considered to be part of the complaint for purposes of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Hal Roach Studios v. Richard Reiner & Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir. 1990).

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim should not be granted unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claims which would entitle him to relief. Hishon v. King & Spaulding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984). In general, pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The court has an obligation to construe such pleadings liberally. Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n.1 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc). However, the court's liberal interpretation of a pro se complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not pled. Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

         IV. Eighth Amendment

         Under the Eighth Amendment, “prison officials are . . . prohibited from being deliberately indifferent to policies and practices that expose inmates to a substantial risk of serious harm.” Parsons v. Ryan, 754 F.3d 657, 677 (9th Cir. 2014); see also Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 847 (1994) (prison official violates Eighth Amendment if he or she knows of a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate and fails to take reasonable measures to avoid the harm). Deliberate indifference occurs when “[an] official acted or failed to act despite his knowledge of a substantial risk of serious harm.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 841. Thus, a prisoner may state “a cause of action under the Eighth Amendment by alleging that [prison officials] have, with deliberate indifference, exposed him to [conditions] that pose an unreasonable risk of serious damage to his future health.” Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 35 (1993).

         “The second step, showing ‘deliberate indifference, ' involves a two part inquiry.” Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010). “First, the inmate must show that the prison officials were aware of a ‘substantial risk of serious harm' to an inmate's health or safety.” Id. (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837). “This part of [the] inquiry may be satisfied if the inmate shows that the risk posed by the deprivation is obvious.” Thomas, 611 F.3d at 1150 (citation omitted). “Second, the inmate must show that the prison officials had no ‘reasonable' justification for the deprivation, in spite of that risk.” Id. (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 844 (“[P]rison officials who actually knew of a substantial risk to inmate health or safety may be found free from liability if they responded reasonably.”) (footnote omitted).

         IV. Qualified Immunity

         Under the qualified immunity doctrine, government officials acting in their official capacities are immunized from civil liability unless their actions “violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (citations omitted). The qualified immunity analysis includes two prongs: (1) the facts must allege or show “a violation of a constitutional right”; and (2) the right must be “‘clearly established' at the time of defendant's alleged misconduct.” Id. (citations omitted). When engaging in qualified immunity analysis, district courts are required to consider the law at the time the plaintiff's injury occurred. Robinson v. Prunty, 249 F.3d 862, 866 (9th Cir. 2001).

         Courts may “exercise their sound discretion in deciding which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.” Id. at 236. In resolving these issues, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff and resolve all material factual disputes in favor of plaintiff. Martinez v. Stanford, 323 F.3d 1178, 1184 (9th Cir. 2003). “[P]laintiff bears the burden of proof that the right allegedly violated was clearly established.” Tarabochia v. Adkins, 766 F.3d 1115, 1125 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). If the law is determined to be clearly established, the next question is whether, under that law, a reasonable official could have believed his conduct was lawful. Act Up!/Portland v. Bagley, 988 F.2d 868, 871-72 (9th Cir. 1993).

         The measuring rod for determining whether an official's conduct violates a plaintiff's constitutional right was set forth by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, 131 S.Ct. 2075, 2083 (2011). “A Government official's conduct violates clearly established law when, at the time of the challenged conduct, ‘[t]he contours of [a] right [are] sufficiently clear' that every ‘reasonable official would have understood that what he is doing violates that right.'” Lal v. California, 746 F.3d 1112, 1116 (9th Cir. 2014) (citation omitted). As the Supreme Court explained:

“We have repeatedly told courts . . . not to define clearly established law at a high level of generality.” Al-Kidd, supra, at 742, 131 S.Ct. 2074. The dispositive question is “whether the violative nature of particular conduct is clearly established.” Ibid. (emphasis added). This inquiry “‘must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition.'” Brosseau v. Haugen, 543 U.S. 194, 198, 125 S.Ct. 596, 160 L.Ed.2d 583 (2004) (per curiam) [citation omitted].

Mullenix v. Luna, 136 S.Ct. 305, 308 (2015). “In other words, ‘existing precedent must have placed the statutory or constitutional question beyond debate.'” Carroll v. Carman, 135 ...

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