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Moody v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 28, 2019

Ronnie L. MOODY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF NO. 18)

          HON. ANDREW G. SCHOPLER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Four state inmates claim they were attacked by prison guards. They sued the guards, the warden, and the state prison agency for excessive force and a host of ancillary claims. Defendants now move to dismiss much of the complaint.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         On July 17, 2017, the four plaintiffs―Ronnie Moody, Gary Deans, Billy Williams, and Donnel Jones―were incarcerated in the same unit at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility. (ECF No. 1, at 4-5 ¶¶23-24.) Things went awry when a counselor kicked Moody's feet for blocking his way and a fight ensued. In a clumsy attempt to subdue Moody, a tower guard fired a “block gun” at him, but missed the mark and struck the counselor's face, breaking his nose. (Id. at 5 ¶¶34-36.) Finally, an alarm sounded, summoning a flood of guards with better aim. The officers shot Moody―successfully, this time―with a block gun, pepper-sprayed his face, beat him with batons, handcuffed him behind his back, and left him lying facedown and motionless on the ground. (Id. at 5-6 ¶¶37-42.) Then, for good measure, a prison supervisor kicked Moody in the face, prompting dozens of other guards to join in, beating the defenseless inmate into unconsciousness. (Id. at 6 ¶¶43-47.)

         Meanwhile, Moody's fellow prisoners protested his beating, yelling, “Stop!, ” “You're going to kill him!, ” and “He's in cuffs!” Plaintiff Williams screamed at the guards, “I'm going to report you all!” (ECF No. 1, at 6-7 ¶¶50-51, 59.) The officers stepped outside the unit for a brief, private meeting. During this “huddle-up, ” they planned “how they would threaten and attack the prisoners” to deter them from reporting the incident. (Id. at 7 ¶¶60-62.) The guards soon returned to the unit to assault the other three plaintiffs. Plaintiff Deans, “who walks with the aid of a cane, ” and plaintiff Williams were both punched in the face, without cause. And plaintiff Jones was tackled from behind and manhandled until his right arm broke. (Id. at 7-9 ¶¶65-85.)

         In the lawsuit that followed, plaintiffs allege that the guards involved in the July 17, 2017 incident are members of the “Green Wall, ” a “Mafia-like prison gang of correctional officers” engaged in violence and other crimes against inmates. (ECF No. 1, at 4 ¶¶19-22.)

         DISCUSSION

         To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient facts to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). But “naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement” will not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation and internal punctuation omitted).

         A. Claims Against Defendant Paramo

         Defendants move to dismiss all claims against Warden Daniel Paramo in his official capacity, arguing that Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity bars any money damages and that plaintiffs fail to state a claim for any equitable relief. “The Eleventh Amendment bars suits for money damages in federal court against . . . state officials acting in their official capacities.” Aholelei v. Dep't of Pub. Safety, 488 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2007). But “it does not bar claims seeking prospective injunctive relief against state officials to remedy a state's ongoing violation of federal law.” Ariz. Students' Ass'n v. Ariz. Bd. of Regents, 824 F.3d 858, 865 (9th Cir. 2016).

         1. Money Damages

         Plaintiffs do not seek money damages from Warden Paramo (see ECF No. 1, at 22 ¶3), so the motion to dismiss damages claims against Paramo should be denied as moot.

         2. Injunctive Relief

         “Under Section 1983, supervisory officials are not liable for actions of subordinates on any theory of vicarious liability.” Crowley v. Bannister, 734 F.3d 967, 977 (9th Cir. 2013). Supervisors are liable only if: (1) they are “personally involved in the constitutional deprivation, ” or (2) they “implement a policy so deficient that the policy itself is a repudiation of constitutional rights and is the moving force of a constitutional violation.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). Such a “policy or custom may be found either in an affirmative proclamation of policy or in the failure of an official to take any remedial steps after the violations.” Gomez v. Vernon, 255 F.3d 1118, 1127 (9th Cir. 2001) (quotation marks omitted).

         Here plaintiffs allege that Warden Paramo knowingly oversaw a prison with unconstitutional policies or customs, in that he: (1) “accepts or acquiesces in a pervasive culture of violence against prisoners” at Donovan Correctional Facility, including the existence of the “Green Wall”; (2) “is and has been aware of the illegal activities of the members of the Green Wall but has failed and refused to take action against them”; and (3) “reviewed or was aware of numerous inmate grievances, learned of ongoing violations of inmates' rights by his subordinates, and failed to take corrective action, thereby allowing those violations to continue.” (ECF No. 1, at 3-4.)

         The Ninth Circuit has repeatedly authorized equitable relief for supervisors who turn a blind eye to constitutional violations, as Paramo allegedly did here. See, e.g., Gomez, 255 F.3d at 1127 (finding a policy or custom that warranted supervisory liability based on “failure to investigate the retaliation complaints, the lack of reprimand or discipline for the officers involved even when their supervisors were aware of the complaints, and the delegation of investigation to officers involved in the grievances”); Larez v. City of L.A., 946 F.2d 630, 647 (9th Cir. 1991) (finding evidence of a policy or custom of excessive force based on police chief's failure “to take any remedial steps after the violations”).

         Thus, plaintiffs have sufficiently pleaded an unconstitutional policy or custom. For reasons discussed below, however, the injunctive-relief claims of three plaintiffs―Moody, Deans, and Williams―are moot. See section F. So, the motion to dismiss the equitable claims against Paramo should be granted as to those three plaintiffs, but denied as to plaintiff Jones, who may still bring an equitable claim.

         B. Claims Against Defendant Duran

         Defendants move to dismiss the complaint against defendant Duran “because it does not contain any facts regarding what Defendant Duran is alleged to have done during the incident.” (ECF No. 23, at 3.) Officers “cannot be held liable for a constitutional violation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unless they were integral participants in the unlawful conduct.” Keates v. Koile, 883 F.3d 1228, 1241 (9th Cir. 2018). “[D]efendants can be held liable for ‘integral participation' even if the actions of each defendant do not ‘rise to the level of a constitutional violation, '” id., but it is insufficient to merely allege “membership in a group without a showing of individual participation in the unlawful conduct.” Jones v. Williams, 297 F.3d 930, 935 (9th Cir. 2002).

         The Ninth Circuit has typically found “integral participation” when the complaint plausibly alleges that the defendant's participation in the constitutional violation was knowing and meaningful. For example, in Boyd v. Benton County, 374 F.3d 773 (9th Cir. 2004), a police officer threw a flash-bang device during an apartment search, which injured the plaintiff. Every member of the search team was deemed an “integral participant, ” because “every officer was aware of the decision to use the flash-bang” and yet still chose to “participate[ in the search] in some meaningful way.” Id. at 780. Similarly, in Keates, the Court considered which state employees were “integral participants” in removing a child from her mother's care. 883 F.3d at 1242. The Court held that the complaint―“just barely”―alleged integral participation by two Child Protective Services workers who spoke to an employee at the hospital where the child was being evaluated and “collaborated in the issuance of the [temporary custody notice]” that justified removing the child from her mother's care. Id. Yet the Keates Court held that the allegations against five other defendants were insufficient, as the complaint lacked specific facts to show that these “employees participated in the decision to interfere with [plaintiffs'] constitutional rights.” Id.; see also Sjurset v. Button, 810 F.3d 609, 619 (9th Cir. 2015) (police officers who removed children from home were not integral participants, because they were not “privy to any discussions, briefings or collective decisions” in the protective-custody determination).

         Plaintiffs allege that Duran was a member of a group that violated constitutional rights, but they fail to specify what he did during the July 17, 2017 incident. The complaint alleges that Duran was among 10-11 named defendants and 50 unnamed defendants who: (1) were each “a member of the Green Wall” (ECF No. 1, at 4 ¶21); (2) “personally utilized, failed to intercede and prevent, and/or were integral participants to excessive and unreasonable force against Plaintiffs” (id. at 12 ¶102, 18 ¶133); (3) “intentionally and personally touched or gave substantial assistance or encouragement in touching or threatened to touch Plaintiffs . . . without consent, . . . [which] constituted unreasonable and excessive force” (id. at 20 ¶143); and (4) “falsely reported the incidents and injuries resulting from their conduct” (id. at 10 ¶90).

         These conclusory allegations do not establish that Duran was an integral participant in the July 17, 2017 incident, nor that he was present for it―or even aware of it at the time. The claim of after-the-fact false reporting does nothing to change the analysis. “[P]reparing a false report about an incident after it occurred cannot subject that individual to liability for the force used during the incident.” Sim v. Duran, No. 1:16-CV-01051-SAB (PC), 2017 WL 5972739, at *5 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 1, 2017) (“A complaint alleging that an officer filed a false report, by itself, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” (quotation marks omitted)).

         Because the complaint fails to show that Duran integrally participated in any unlawful conduct, the motion to dismiss the claims against him should be granted, with leave to amend.

         C. ...


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