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Patton v. Flores

United States District Court, S.D. California

September 9, 2019

MICHAEL PATTON, CDCR #AV-5870, Plaintiff,
OFFICER FLORES, et al. Defendants.


          Hon. William Q. Hayes United States District Court

         I. Procedural History

         On April 8, 2019, Plaintiff Michael Patton, who is currently incarcerated at California State Prison- Los Angeles County (“LAC”) and proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Patton's original 126-page Complaint named 15 Defendants-all correctional officials at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (“RJD”) in San Diego.[1] In the body of his pleading, Patton invoked his constitutional rights to be free from acts of retaliation, excessive force, conspiracy, and harassment at the hands of the RJD officials, but he included very few factual allegations as to each individual Defendant, and instead merely attempted to “incorporate[] [them] by reference” to the hundreds of pages of exhibits and administrative appeals he attached “for a more comprehensive account” of his claims. (See Compl., ECF No. 1 at 1-11; 16-123.)

         On June 5, 2019, the Court granted Patton leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”), but dismissed his Complaint sua sponte both for failing to include a “short and plain statement” of his claims as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), and for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b). (See ECF No. 5.) Patton was granted leave to file an amended pleading that complied with Rule 8 and corrected the other specific pleading deficiencies the Court was able to identify. (Id. at 6-11.) Patton was specifically cautioned, however, that any “[d]efendants not named and any claim not re-alleged in his Amended Complaint w[ould] be considered waived.” (Id. at 11 (citing S.D. Cal. CivLR 15.1); Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1546 (9th Cir. 1989) (“[A]n amended pleading supersedes the original.”); Lacey v. Maricopa Cnty., 693 F.3d 896, 928 (9th Cir. 2012) (noting that claims dismissed with leave to amend which are not re-alleged in an amended pleading may be “considered waived if not repled”)).

         On July 1, 2019, Patton filed his First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) (ECF No. 4). While the caption of his FAC identifies only 6 of the originally-named Defendants, (see FAC at 1-2), Patton makes at least some reference to almost all of the original Defendants in the body of his pleading.[2] (See Id. at 3, 9-11, 13.)

         II. Screening of FAC pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b)

         A. Standard of Review

         As Patton now knows, because he is a prisoner and is proceeding IFP, his FAC also requires a pre-answer screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A(b). Under these statutes, the Court must sua sponte dismiss a prisoner's IFP complaint, or any portion of it, which is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks damages from defendants who are immune. See Williams v. King, 875 F.3d 500, 502 (9th Cir. 2017) (citing Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc)) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)); Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2010) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)). “The purpose of [screening] is ‘to ensure that the targets of frivolous or malicious suits need not bear the expense of responding.'” Nordstrom v. Ryan, 762 F.3d 903, 920 n.1 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Wheeler v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 689 F.3d 680, 681 (7th Cir. 2012)). A complaint is “frivolous” if it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989).

         “The standard for determining whether a plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) standard for failure to state a claim.” Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012); see also Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012) (noting that screening pursuant to § 1915A “incorporates the familiar standard applied in the context of failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)”). Rule 12(b)(6) requires a complaint to “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) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Detailed factual allegations are not required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. The “mere possibility of misconduct” or “unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation[s]” fall short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id.; see also Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).

         B. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Patton divides his FAC into five separate “Counts, ” but he includes multiple and seemingly unrelated causes of action in each. For example, in Count 1, Patton claims Defendants Billingsley, Resler, and Terronez conducted a retaliatory cell search and sometimes “skipp[ed] [his] cell for a shower” after he filed a complaint against Defendant Miller on May 15, 2017, for “ma[king][him] miss [a] religious service.” (See FAC at 3.) Patton, who is a double leg amputee and uses a wheelchair, further contends that from June 9, 2017, until August 14, 2017, Tower Officers Ariko and Diaz inflicted cruel and unusual punishment upon him by “us[ing] the [cell] door to hold and squeeze [his] wheelchair” when he attempted to enter or exit. (Id.)

         In Count 2, Patton claims Officer Casas confronted him with “extreme hostility” and in a belligerent, intimidating, and aggressive manner on August 10, 2017, for leaving the law library in order to use the restroom. (Id. at 9.) Patton has “notice[d] [Casas] treats black [inmates] with hostility, ” but not inmates of her own race. (Id.)

         In Count 3, Patton alleges T. Williams, a dental hygienist, “stab[bed] [him] in the gums, ” caused blood to “gush” out of his mouth, and spoke to him in a hostile, threatening, and belligerent manner during a September 29, 2017, dental exam. (Id. at 10.) Patton faults Williams for failing to use an anesthetic to numb his gums by claiming it was not necessary. (Id.) Patton contends Williams “thought it was amusing, ” but it instead caused him pain, suffering, and emotional distress. (Id.)

         In Count 4, Patton claims E. Garcia opened a “legal letter” when she delivered the mail to his cell on May 15, 2018. (Id. at 11.) Afterward, Patton filed a complaint regarding the incident, but Sgt. Lewis “convince[d] him it didn't even happen.” (Id.)

         Finally, in Count 5, Patton claims Counselor Flores “sen[t] [him] a ducat” for an Institutional Classification Committee (“ICC”) hearing on September 13, 2018, just one day after he filed a citizen's complaint against Officer Corcoran for “speaking to [him] in a mean-spirited manner.” (Id. at 13.) Patton claims that while “many inmates wait[] 6 months” before they appear before an ICC, the ICC approved his transfer to LAC on October 4, 2018, in “retaliation” for the complaint he filed against Corcoran and Flores, whom he claims are “good friends.” (Id.)

         Based on these facts, Patton alleges Defendants engaged in a conspiracy to violate his First, Fifth, [3] Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as “ADA law.” (Id. at 3, 9, 10, 13.) He seeks injunctive relief prohibiting the RJD Defendants from “harassing, threatening, punishing, or retaliating in any way against him, ”[4] as well as compensatory and punitive damages from each of them. (Id. at 16.)

         C. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a cause of action for the “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws” of the United States. Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Long v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006).

         D. Conspiracy

         As an initial matter, the Court notes Patton re-alleges the existence of a “conspiracy” “starting from 5/15/17” with respect to all the allegations raised in Count 1 of his FAC. (See FAC at 9.) He also claims “conspiratorial” actions taken by Counselors Corcoran and Flores “by way of proxy [and] collusion, ” with respect to his transfer to LAC in Count 5. (Id. at 13.)

         The Court advised Patton in its June 5, 2019 Order, however, that in order to state a conspiracy claim under section 1983, [5] his FAC must contain sufficient “factual matter, ” F.2d 517, 519 (9th Cir. 1991)) (“When an inmate challenges prison conditions at a particular correctional facility, but has been transferred from the facility and has no reasonable expectation of returning, his claim [for injunctive relief] is moot.”); see also Dilley v. Gunn, 64 F.3d 1365, 1368-69 (9th Cir. 1995); Darring v. Kincheloe, 783 F.2d 874, 876-77 (9th Cir. 1986).

         and not simply offer “naked” and conclusory assertions, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, to plausibly show: “(1) the existence of an express or implied agreement among the defendant officers to deprive [the plaintiff] of his constitutional rights, and (2) an actual deprivation of those rights resulting from that agreement.” Avalos v. Baca, 596 F.3d 583, 592 (9th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation marks omitted); Klein v. Williams, 714 F.edAppx. 631, 636 (9th Cir. 2017), cert. denied, 139 S.Ct. 76 (2018); Franklin v. Fox, 312 F.3d 423, 441 (9th Cir. 2001).

         But the allegations of conspiracy in Patton's FAC remain “unadorned, ” and thus still fail to provide any factual enhancement to show that any of the named Defendants entered into an express or implied agreement to violate his constitutional rights. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Avalos, 596 F.3d at 592; Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (Although accepted as true, the “[f]actual allegations must be [sufficient] to raise a right to relief above the speculative level....”) (citations omitted). A plaintiff must set forth “the grounds of his entitlement to relief, ” which “requires more than labels and conclusions, ” and “naked assertions” devoid of “further factual enhancement.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 555, 557).

         “[V]ague and conclusory allegations of official participation in civil rights violations, ” without more, simply fail to state a claim upon which § 1983 or § 1985 relief can be granted. Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir.1982); Aldabe v. Aldabe, 616 F.2d 1089, 1092 (9th Cir. 1980) (conclusory allegations of conspiracy insufficient to support a claim under § 1983 or § 1985).

         For these reasons, Patton's conspiracy claims as to all Defendants must again be dismissed sua sponte pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง ...

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