United States District Court, E.D. California
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND
DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF NO.
LAWRENCE J. O’NEILL, UNITED STATES CHIEF DISTRICT
Celina Muniz brings this lawsuit raising federal and state
law claims for the death of her son, Daniel Muniz, while he
was incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison
(“KVSP”). First Amended Complaint, ECF No. 10
¶¶ 2, 5. Ms. Muniz initiated this action
individually and as the successor-in-interest of Mr.
Muniz’s estate (collectively “Plaintiffs”).
ECF No. 10 ¶ 2. On around March 24, 2018, Mr. Muniz was
attacked by his cellmate and later died from his injuries.
Id. ¶¶ 20-22. Plaintiffs raise claims
against the Warden of KVSP, Christian Pfeiffer, individually
and in his official capacity, and against Secretary of the
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation
(“CDCR”) Ralph Diaz in his official capacity
(collectively “Defendants”). ECF No. 10,
First Amended Complaint (“FAC”), Plaintiffs
assert five causes of action. ECF No. 10. They bring claims
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of constitutional
rights and supervisory liability under the same. ECF No. 10,
¶¶ 57-69, 70-77. They also allege violations of the
Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42
U.S.C. § 12131, and the Rehabilitation Act
(“RA”), 29 U.S.C. § 794. Id.
¶¶ 78-88. Next, Plaintiffs allege violations of
California Government Code § 845.6 for failure to summon
medical treatment for Mr. Muniz and for failure to provide
him access to special housing. ECF No. 10 ¶¶ 89-92.
Lastly, Plaintiffs bring a negligence and wrongful death
claim. Id. ¶¶ 93-99.
review is Defendants’ motion to dismiss the FAC. ECF
No. 13. The Court has determined that a decision on the
motion is appropriate on the papers under Local Rule 230(g).
For the reasons set forth below, the Court GRANTS IN
PART and DENIES IN PART
Defendants’ motion to dismiss.
approximately 6:30 a.m. on March 24, 2018, while prison
officers performed security checks of Facility C in KVSP,
they found Mr. Muniz unresponsive in his cell. ECF No. 10
¶ 20. The officers sounded the alarm and removed Mr.
Muniz’s cellmate, Toribio Mendoza, from the cell.
Id. ¶ 21. Mr. Muniz was transported to an
outside hospital for treatment of serious head injuries
resulting from blunt trauma to the head. Id.
¶¶ 21-22. Mr. Muniz underwent brain surgery at Kern
Medical Center, and on April 21 he was transferred to Vibra
Medical Center. Id. ¶ 22. On June 1, 2018 he
died from respiratory complications due to the brain injury.
Muniz’s cooperation with a criminal investigation
to his incarceration at KVSP, Mr. Muniz had cooperated in a
criminal investigation. Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiffs
allege that Warden Pfeiffer, correctional officers and staff
knew or should have known that Mr. Muniz was at risk due to
his cooperation. Id.
Muniz was diagnosed with a mental illness and disability
characterized by being a “slow learner” and
having “difficulty reading, writing and comprehending
simple orders.” Id. ¶ 24. These mental
impairments limited his mental or physical health condition.
Id. Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Muniz was eligible
for certain medical and mental health care services offered
to inmates in a state prison because of his condition.
Muniz complained of threats made by his cellmate
and weeks before the attack, Mr. Muniz had complained to KVSP
staff and correctional officers of threats of violence made
by his cellmate, Mr. Mendoza. Id. ¶ 28.
Plaintiffs allege that KVSP’s correctional officers and
supervisors ignored Mr. Muniz’s complaints and failed
to remove him from the cell. Id. ¶ 34.
time” and prior attacks by cellmates
claim that Warden Pfeiffer, CDCR staff, and the Doe
Defendants failed to adopt the practice of alternating the
“Out Time” of inmates knowing that Mr. Muniz
faced a risk of violence. Id. ¶ 25. The FAC
does not elaborate on the meaning of “Out Time.”
providing particular details of the attacks, Plaintiffs
reference prior attacks on Mr. Muniz by former cellmates.
Id. ¶ 48.
corrections officers, the Doe Defendants, were assigned to
monitor the video feeds captured inside housing units.
Id. ¶ 29. Warden Pfeiffer and KVSP staff knew
that materials from equipment and machinery located at KVSP
had been removed and hidden by inmates to use as weapons.
Id. ¶ 27. Plaintiffs allege that the video
recording of Facility C shows that the suspect inmates
engaged in suspicious activity that should have triggered
intervention by prison officers. Id. ¶ 33.
Plaintiffs also allege that the video recordings from
Facility C on March 23 to March 24, 2018 show that Mr.
Mendoza had begun planning the attack on Mr. Muniz.
Id. ¶ 32. During the entire time that the
criminal acts occurred “no correction officer enter[ed]
the Unit [Facility C] or cell.” Id. ¶ 33.
Muniz “has suffered loss of love and society”
from the death of her son. Id. ¶ 44. Plaintiffs
allege that they suffered serious and permanent injuries and
are entitled to damages, penalties, costs, and
attorney’s fees as set forth under the ADA.
STANDARD OF DECISION
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is a challenge to
the sufficiency of the allegations set forth in the
complaint. Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is proper where
there is either a “lack of a cognizable legal
theory” or “the absence of sufficient facts
alleged under a cognizable legal theory.” Balisteri
v. Pacifica Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir.
1990). In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to
state a claim, the court generally accepts as true the
allegations in the complaint, construes the pleading in the
light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and
resolves all doubts in the pleader’s favor. Lazy Y.
Ranch LTD v. Behrens, 546 F.3d 580, 588 (9th Cir. 2008).
survive a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the plaintiff must
allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “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.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).
“The plausibility standard is not akin to a
‘probability requirement, ’ but it asks for more
than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 556). “While a complaint attacked by a Rule
12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual
allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the
‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to
relief’ requires more than labels and
conclusions.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555
(internal citations omitted). Thus, “bare assertions .
. . amount[ing] to nothing more than a ‘formulaic
recitation of the elements’ . . . are not entitled to
be assumed true.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681.
“[T]o be entitled to the presumption of truth,
allegations in a complaint . . . must contain sufficient
allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to
enable the opposing party to defend itself
effectively.” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202,
1216 (9th Cir. 2011). In practice, “a complaint . . .
must contain either direct or inferential allegations
respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain
recovery under some viable legal theory.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 562. To the extent that the
pleadings can be cured by the allegation of additional facts,
a plaintiff should be afforded leave to amend. Cook,
Perkiss and Liehe, Inc. v. Northern Cal. Collection Serv.,
Inc., 911 F.2d 242, 247 (9th Cir. 1990) (citations
Defendants’ motion to dismiss, they argue that Causes
of Action One, Two, and Three should be dismissed on the
(1) Plaintiffs fail to state an Eighth Amendment claim
against Warden Pfeiffer for deliberate indifference to
decedent Muniz’s welfare or medical care; (2) Warden
Pfeiffer is entitled to qualified immunity as to the Eighth
Amendment deliberate indifference claim based on a failure to
use surveillance video; (3) Plaintiffs have improperly
asserted multiple federal claims under one cause of action;
(4) Plaintiff Celine [sic] Muniz has failed to allege a
familial relationship protected by the Fourteenth Amendment;
and (5) Plaintiffs fail to allege sufficient facts to support
an ADA / RA claim for monetary relief.
the Court analyzes the Section 1983 claims-separately
discussing the claims of individual liability and supervisory
liability. The remaining claims are discussed in the order
they are brought.
Section 1983 Claims
Liability of Individual Defendants
No challenge to claims against Doe Defendants
1983 liability against Doe Defendants (First Cause of
the First Cause of Action, Plaintiffs assert the Section 1983
claim against the Doe Defendants-the unknown prison
officers-in their individual capacities. The
Defendants’ motion to dismiss, on behalf of Defendants
Warden Pfeiffer and Secretary Diaz, does not seek dismissal
of the this claim against the Doe Defendants. Accordingly,
the Court does not address whether the claims against the Doe
Defendants should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6).
Multiple constitutional claims under one cause of
is not defective for asserting multiple claims of
constitutional violations under one cause of action.
argue that Plaintiffs improperly asserted all three
constitutional violations (First, Eighth, and Fourteenth
Amendments) under the first cause of action. Defendants rely
on an unpublished case from this Court, Fernandez v. N.
Kern State Prison, No. 1:16-CV-1612 AWI JLT, 2016 WL
7324708, at *4 (E.D. Cal. Dec. 16, 2016), for the proposition
that it is generally improper to allege different violations
of different constitutional rights under a single claim for
relief. Although commingling various constitutional claims in
one cause of action may not constitute a best practice, it
does not by itself entitle the defending party to a
dismissal. Rule 8(b) is still the Court’s guidepost: a
pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” The Court therefore rejects Defendants’
argument that the Section 1983 claims should be dismissed
merely because they allege multiple constitutional violations
under a single cause of action.
allege Eighth Amendment violations under two theories:
failure to protect from harm and deliberate indifference to
Mr. Muniz’s medical needs. Plaintiffs’ Oppo. to
Mtn. to Dismiss, ECF No. 19-1, at 7. Although these theories
have separate analytical frameworks, Plaintiffs assert them
under the same cause of action. See ECF No. 10
All . . . defendants . . . deprived DANIEL MUNIZ of the right
to be free from cruel and unusual punishment . . . by
subjecting him, or through their deliberate indifference,
allowing others to subject him, to delay and denial of access
to medical or mental health care for a serious, but
treatable, medical or mental health condition, and by
subjecting him, or through their reckless disregard, allowing
others to subject him to serious bodily injury and death.
ECF No. 10 ¶ 58. The Court analyzes the failure to
protect claim and the deliberate indifference to medical
needs separately. Before addressing these claims, the Court
dismisses the claims against Warden Pfeiffer as an individual
because Plaintiffs fail to allege that he personally
participated in the violations.
Failure to Protect from Harm
prison official’s ‘deliberate indifference’
to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates
the Eighth Amendment.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511
U.S. 825, 828 (1994). A prison official acts with deliberate
indifference only if she knows of and disregards an excessive