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King v. Cappel

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 4, 2019

ALFRED KING, Plaintiff,
v.
R.W. CAPPEL, et al., Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          ALLISON CLAIRE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and has paid the filing fee.

         I. Statutory Screening of Prisoner Complaints

         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 “frivolous, malicious, or 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).

         A claim “is [legally] frivolous where 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). “[A] judge may dismiss . . . claims which are ‘based on indisputably meritless legal theories' or whose ‘factual contentions are clearly baseless.'” Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989) (quoting Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327), superseded by statute on other grounds as stated in Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000). The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227-28 (citations omitted).

         “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) 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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (alteration in original) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). “Failure to state a claim under § 1915A incorporates the familiar standard applied in the context of failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).” Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). 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.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). “‘[T]he pleading must contain something more . . . than . . . a statement of facts that merely creates a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable right of action.'” Id. (alteration in original) (quoting 5 Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216 (3d ed. 2004)).

         “[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting 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.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trs. of the Rex Hosp., 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976) (citation omitted), as well as construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor, Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969) (citations omitted).

         II. Allegations of the Complaint

         The complaint alleges that plaintiff was transferred from Solano State Prison to Avenal State Prison in the spring of 2012, although he was a chronic care patient suffering from an unspecified lung disease and Avenal's location presented a known and substantial risk of exposure to Valley Fever. Plaintiff objected to the named defendants[1] both before and after his transfer to Avenal that this placement was medically contraindicated because of his susceptibility to Valley Fever. Defendants deliberately disregarded plaintiff's pleas, and as a result he contracted Valley Fever and almost died. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

         III. Discussion

         The Ninth Circuit held on February 1, 2019, that California prison officials are entitled to qualified immunity in cases alleging exposure to Valley Fever, because an Eighth Amendment right to be free from heightened risk to exposure is not clearly established. Hines v. Youseff, 914 F.3d 1218 (9th Cir. 2019).[2] The court reasoned as follows:

The inmates allege that the defendant state officials violated the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on “cruel and unusual punishments” by being deliberately indifferent to the inmates' heightened risk of getting Valley Fever. The district courts in Smith, Gregge, and Hines held that the officials are entitled qualified immunity against those claims. Reviewing de novo, we affirm. Any Eighth Amendment right to be free from heightened risk of Valley Fever was not clearly established when the officials acted.
[. . .]
To determine whether an official is entitled to qualified immunity, we ask two questions: (1) whether the official's conduct violated a constitutional right; and (2) whether that right was “clearly established” at the time of the violation. Helling v. McKinney[, 509 U.S. 25 (1993)] sets out the constitutional framework for Eighth Amendment claims about involuntary exposure to environmental hazards. It held that an Eighth Amendment claim against an ...

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