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Gomes v. Mathis

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 3, 2018

DAVID M. MATHIS, M.D., et al., Defendants.




         Plaintiff Lawrence E. Gomes, a California state prisoner proceeding pro se, constructively filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on September 20, 2017.[1] ("Complaint, " Dkt. No. 1) . The Court dismissed the Complaint with leave to amend due to pleading defects. (Dkt. No. 8). Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint.[2] ("FAC" Dkt. No. 9).

         Congress mandates that district courts perform an initial screening of complaints in civil actions where a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or employee. 28 U.S.C. § l9l5A(a) . This Court may dismiss such a complaint, or any portion, before service of process if it concludes that the complaint (1) is frivolous or malicious, (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § l9l5A(b) (1-2); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). For the reasons stated below, the Court DISMISSES the FAC with leave to amend.[3]


         Plaintiff sues five Defendants: California Medical Facility-Vacaville physicians (1) Dr. David M. Mathis ("Mathis") and (2) Dr. Mariana Lotasztain ("Lotasztain"); (3) J. Clark Kelso, the court-appointed federal Receiver overseeing the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") medical health care system ("Kelso" or "Receiver"); (4) the Western Interstate Corrections Compact ("WICC") Unit of the CDCR's Sacramento Control Office ("SACCO"); and (5) the California Correctional Health Care Services ("CCHCS") . (FAC at 3-4) .[4] Mathis and Lotasztain are sued in their individual capacities. (Id. at 3). Kelso is sued in his official capacity. (Id.).

         Plaintiff alleges that a female correctional officer raped him in an Arizona prison, where he was housed pursuant to the WICC. (Id. at 5) . The FACs allegations do not identify the prison, the correctional officer, or the date of the alleged rape(s). However, several exhibits attached to the FAC indicate that Plaintiff complained to prison officials in Arizona during the Spring and summer of 2008 of an alleged rape. (See, e.g., id. at 37 (Arizona Dep't of Corrections ("ADC") health staff record dated May 30, 2008 reflecting that Plaintiff complained that he had been sexually assaulted by a female staff member on April 2, 2008); id. at 39 (ADC grievance dated July 27, 2008 in which Plaintiff demanded professional counseling "after being rape[d] by a Arizona Dept of Corrections staff member").

         The FAC summarily alleges that Mathis and Lotasztain "failed to provide adequate medical treatment for a variety of conditions and injuries, " including "further PREA [Prison Rape Elimination Act] injuries." (Id. at 5). CCHCS is responsible "for injuries caused when a correctional officer raped Plaintiff in an Arizona prison, " for failure to provide PREA follow-up mental health care, and for failure to maintain Plaintiff's entire mental health medical records relating to the rape, in violation of its own regulations. (Id.). The Kelso and the SACCO WICC Unit "failed to intervene and help [Plaintiff] when he was being raped in the Arizona facility, put in the hole, write up [sic] and retalliated [sic] against." (Id.). Plaintiff also generally alleges that he "has been denied medically necessary and follow up treatment and care plans and necessary referrals by CCHCS physicians . . . and [has been] stonewalled by CCHCS Grievance Coordinator, and told [to] go away." (Id.).

         The FAC alleges that each of the Defendants is liable for deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's serious medical needs. (Id.) . Plaintiff is seeking $100, 00 in compensatory damages, $100, 000 in punitive damages, and $100, 000 in "nominal" damages from each Defendant, which, in the case of CCHCS, Plaintiff specifies are for "past or future medical costs." (Id. at 6) .


         Under 28 U.S.C. section l9l5A(b), the Court must dismiss the FAC due to multiple pleading defects. However, the Court must grant a pro se litigant leave to amend his defective complaint unless "it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by amendment." Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Accordingly, for the reasons stated below, the First Amended Complaint is DISMISSED with leave to amend.

         A. The FAC Fails To State A § 1983 Claim Based On The WICC

         "The [Western Interstate Corrections Compact] is a cooperative agreement enacted by participating states, which provides for the transfer of inmates of a correctional institution of one party state to another party state, where the receiving state has superior or more desirable facilities for rehabilitation or treatment." Monroe v. Kernan, 2017 WL 4082365, at *4 (CD. Cal. June 15, 2017). To the extent that Plaintiff is alleging that the CDCR's "Sacramento Control Office" is somehow liable for implementing or violating the WICC, the FAC fails to state a § 1983 claim because the WICC is not federal law and does not give rise to a federally-protected liberty interest.

         "A state compact is transformed into federal law, and thus may be the basis for a 1983 action, when (1) it falls within the scope of the Constitution's Compact Clause, (2) it has received congressional consent, and (3) its subject matter is appropriate for congressional legislation." Ghana v. Pearce, 159 F.3d 1206, 1208 (9th Cir. 1998) (some internal citations omitted). However, as the Ninth Circuit explained with respect to the Interstate Corrections Compact ("ICC"), which is substantively identical to its regional counterpart, the WICC, [5] such a compact is not federal law because the procedures governing the transfer of prisoners "are a purely local concern and there is no federal interest absent some constitutional violation in the treatment of these prisoners." Id. Furthermore, the compact does not create a federally-protected liberty interest because the application of its procedures "does not impose an 'atypical and significant hardship.'" Id. (quoting Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995)). As such, the ICC (and the WICC) "cannot be the basis for a section 1983 action." Ghana, 159 F.3d at 1208; see also Daugaard v. Baldwin, 1999 WL 778585, at *7 (D. Or. Sept. 17, 1999) ("[V]iolations of the ICC and the WICC are not subject to federal § 1983 challenges[.]"). Accordingly, the FAC must be dismissed, with leave to amend.

         B. The Eleventh Amendment Bars Claims For Money Damages Against The CDCR, Including Its Arms The SACCO And CCHCS

         The FAC sues two arms of the CDCR - the WICC Unit of the CDCR's Sacramento Control Office, and the California Correctional Health Care Services. (FAC at 6). However, the Eleventh Amendment bars suits for money damages against states and their agencies under § 1983. See Howlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 365 (1990); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989) (dismissal of civil rights action "as to the Department of Prisons was proper" because "[t]he Nevada Department of Prisons, as a state agency, clearly was immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment"). "California has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to claims brought under § 1983 in federal court." Brown v. Cal. Dep't of Corr., 554 F.3d 747, 752 (9th Cir. 2009) . Therefore, the CDCR, a state agency, is protected from suit under the Eleventh Amendment, id., as are its arms, including the SACCO and the CCHCS. See Valdez v. Warden of PVSP, 2017 WL 3705306, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 28, 2017) ("Because CCHCS is a state agency, it is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit."). However, a plaintiff may seek monetary damages under § 1983 from state employees in their individual capacity. See Adler v. Lewis, 675 F.2d 1085, 1098 (9th Cir. 1982) ("State officials must be sued in their individual capacity in an action for monetary damages."). Accordingly, the FAC is dismissed, with leave to amend.

         C. The FAC's Claims Against The Receiver May Be Barred By The Doctrine Of Quasi-Judicial Immunity

         The FAC alleges that J. Clark Kelso, in his official capacity as the Receiver over the CDCR's health care services, is liable for failing to "intervene and help [Plaintiff] when he was being raped in the Arizona facility, put in the hole, write up, and retalliated against [sic] ." (FAC at 5) . As the Court explained in dismissing the original Complaint, the Receiver may be sued in his official capacity for claims related to the business operations of the CDCR's health care department. See Medical Dev. Int'l v. Cal. Dep't Corr. and Rehab., 585 F.3d 1211, 1221-22 (2009) (allowing breach of contract claim to proceed against Receiver in his official capacity in action seeking damages for the "Receiver's refusal to pay for services [plaintiff] performed under contract with the CDCR"). However, Plaintiff is advised that the Receiver's acts or omissions related to inmate medical needs may be protected from suit pursuant to the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity.

         "[A]bsolute quasi-judicial immunity from damages for civil rights violations" applies when non-judicial officers "perform tasks that are an integral part of the judicial process." Mullis v. U.S. Bankr. Court for the Dist. of Nev., 828 F.2d 1385, 1390 (9th Cir. 1987); see also In re Castillo, 297 F.3d 940, 947 (9th Cir. 2002) ("Absolute judicial immunity . . . extends to nonjudicial officers for 'all claims relating to the exercise of judicial functions.'") (quoting Burns v. Reed, 500 U.S. 478, 499 (1991) (Scalia, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part)). The two primary exceptions to judicial immunity arise when the judge's action is "not taken in the judge's judicial capacity, " and when the judge's action, "though judicial in nature, is taken in complete absence of all jurisdiction." Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11-12 (1991); see also Burton v. Infinity Capital Mgmt., 753 F.3d 954, 961 (9th Cir. 2014) (immunity exists "even in the absence of a judicial directive so long as the acts were not done in the clear absence of all jurisdiction") (internal quotation marks omitted). Receivers may be eligible for quasi-judicial immunity. Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 442 (9th Cir. 1978) ("[A]bsolute immunity has been extended to other officials of the judiciary: clerks of court, ...

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