United States District Court, N.D. California
ALBERT E. RICH, Plaintiff,
GREGORY J. AHERN, Defendant.
ORDER OF DISMISSAL DOCKET NO. 14
M. CHEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
E. Rich, an inmate at San Quentin State Prison, filed a
pro se civil rights complaint seeking relief under
42 U.S.C. §§ 1983. The Court dismissed the
complaint with leave to amend. Mr. Rich's amended
complaint is now before the Court for review under 28 U.S.C.
Rich alleges in his amended complaint that, on May 7, 2018,
he was in a vehicle accident while in the custody of the
Alameda County Sheriff on his way to a court appearance. On
that day, Mr. Rich allegedly was riding in a jail van that
“did not have seatbelts” and was being driven by
John Doe, an Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy. Docket No.
14 at 3. Mr. Rich alleges that the jail van was travelling at
about 35-45 miles per hour, when it “was hit in the
back” by another car. Id. As a result of the
collision, Mr. Rich allegedly hit his head and was thrown
against the inside of the holding cage in which he was
located, causing him headaches and pain in his legs and back.
Mr. Rich states that he was a pretrial detainee at the time
of the accident.
federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any
case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental
entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review the
court must identify any cognizable claims, and dismiss any
claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief
from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See
Id. at § 1915A(b). Pro se pleadings must
be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police
Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. As relevant here,
the court only has jurisdiction to entertain this action if
it raises a federal question, such as a civil rights claim
asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (There are other
federal statutes that grant other bases of federal court
jurisdiction, but none are applicable to this action.) In
simple terms, this action can go forward in federal court if
a claim is stated under § 1983; if the amended complaint
does not state a claim under § 1983, but seeks recovery
under, e.g., state tort law, the plaintiff should
pursue his claims in state court.
state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and
(2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under
the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S.
42, 48 (1988).
pretrial detainee challenges conditions of his confinement,
the proper inquiry is whether the conditions amount to
punishment in violation of the Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S.
520, 535 & n.16 (1979). Jail officials may be liable
under the Fourteenth Amendment for failure to protect a
pretrial detainee from a substantial risk to his health or
safety. To state a claim that an official failed to protect a
pretrial detainee, a plaintiff must allege facts showing
(1) The defendant made an intentional decision with respect
to the conditions under which the plaintiff was confined; (2)
Those conditions put the plaintiff at substantial risk of
suffering serious harm; (3) The defendant did not take
reasonable available measures to abate that risk, even though
a reasonable officer in the circumstances would have
appreciated the high degree of risk involved-making the
consequences of the defendant's conduct obvious; and (4)
By not taking such measures, the defendant caused the
Castro v. County of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1071
(9th Cir. 2016) (en banc), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct.
binding case from the Ninth Circuit has addressed whether a
deliberate indifference claim exists against a guard who has
failed to secure an inmate in a seatbelt during transport
particularly in the absence of any fact that would establish
a high degree of risk. Cf. Ford v. Fletes, 2000 WL
249124, *1 (9th Cir. 2000) (unpublished) (leave to amend
should have been granted so that plaintiff, who was
handcuffed without a seatbelt and landed on his head
when he fell out of a vehicle without doors, could attempt to
allege facts showing deliberate indifference to his safety).
Numerous other courts have, held that merely being
transported in a motor vehicle without seatbelts absent other
facts establishing an elevated risk, does not rise to the
level of a constitutional violation. See, e.g., Jabbar v.
Fischer, 683 F.3d 54, 56 (2d Cir. 2012) (district court
properly dismissed action by inmate in shackles in bus
without seatbelts who was thrown from his seat when bus made
a forceful turn; “the failure of prison officials to
provide seatbelts to prison inmates does not, standing alone,
violate the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments.”); see
also Id. at 57 (collecting cases); Spencer v.
Knapheide Truck Equip. Co., 183 F.3d 902, 906 (8th Cir.
1999) (summary judgment properly granted to municipal
defendants on Fourteenth Amendment claim by pretrial detainee
who was forced to ride on a steel bench in a van without
seatbelt and eventually was thrown forward and suffered
paralysis; “we do not think that the Board's
purchase of patrol wagons without safety restraints nor its
manner of transporting individuals in these wagons . . .
obviously presented a ‘substantial risk of serious
harm'”); Carrasquillo v. City of New York,
324 F.Supp.2d 428, 437 (S.D. N.Y. 2004) (failure to put
seatbelt on inmate “does not, of itself, expose an
inmate to risks of constitutional dimension' because the
‘eventuality of an accident is not hastened or avoided
by whether an inmate is seatbelted'”); Simon v.
Clements, 2016 WL 8729781, *1 (C.D. Cal.
2016)(“The law is clear that inmates who are
transported by correctional officers do not have a
constitutional right to the use of seat
however, there also are allegations which show a high degree
of risk, such as reckless driving by the operator of the
correctional vehicle, a claim might be stated. See,
e.g.,Brown v. Fortner, 518 F.3d 552, 559-60
(8th Cir. 2008) (triable issues precluded summary judgment
for defendants where plaintiff was shackled and unable to
fasten seatbelt, and driver drove recklessly and ignored
requests by inmate-passengers to slow down before one jail
van slammed into another jail vehicle); Rogers v.
Boatright, 709 F.3d 403, 406-09 (5th Cir. 2013) (claim
stated where inmate not allowed a seatbelt and guard
allegedly was “driving the van recklessly, darting in