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Fields v. Paramo

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 24, 2019

DANIEL PARAMO, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, has filed this civil rights action seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter was referred to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302.

         Before this court are motions to dismiss filed by defendants Alexander Liu, M.D. and James Jackson, M.D. (ECF Nos. 19, 26, respectively), a motion to strike filed by defendant Liu (ECF No. 19), and a motion for summary judgment filed by plaintiff (ECF No. 38). For the reasons stated below, the court recommends that defendants’ motions to dismiss be granted and that defendant Liu’s motion to strike and plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment both be denied as moot.


         In plaintiff’s second amended complaint (“SAC”), he raises two claims. First, he claims that while he was housed at Mule Creek State Prison (“MCSP”) defendant Jackson, a physician for MCSP, and defendant Liu, a physician at San Joaquin General Hospital to whom MCSP had referred plaintiff for a urology consult, violated his First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion when they denied his religiously-motivated request for a circumcision. See ECF No. 12 at 2-4, 8-9. Second, plaintiff claims that the denial of circumcision for religious purposes violated his rights under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 (“RLUIPA”). See id. at 5. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief requiring San Joaquin Urology to perform his religious circumcision. He also seeks punitive damages in the amount of $25, 000 or whatever amount the court deems just. See id. at 7.[1]

         On August 11, 2017, defendant Liu filed both a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s SAC and, in the alternative, a motion to strike plaintiff’s request for monetary damages. ECF No. 19. Thereafter, on September 8, 2017, defendant Jackson filed a motion to dismiss. ECF No. 26. On September 26, 2017, plaintiff filed an opposition to defendants’ motions to dismiss.[2] ECF No. 29.

         On October 2, 2017, defendant Liu filed a reply to plaintiff’s opposition to his motion to dismiss. ECF No. 30. Defendant Jackson filed his reply to plaintiff’s opposition on October 4, 2017. ECF No. 31. On October 12, 2017, plaintiff filed a “reply memorandum” which responded to defendants’ replies.[3] ECF No. 32.

         On June 11, 2018, plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 38. Defendant Liu filed objections to plaintiff’s motion on June 13, 2018. ECF No. 39. Defendant Jackson filed his objections to the motion on July 3, 2018. ECF No. 40.


         A. Defendant Liu’s Motion

         Defendant Liu contends that the claims against him should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) because: (1) he cannot be liable in his individual capacity under RLUIPA; (2) plaintiff’s First Amendment religious expression claim fails to allege that Liu is a state actor under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) plaintiff’s First Amendment religious expression claim fails to allege that Liu burdened plaintiff’s ability to practice Judaism, and (4) even if Liu is considered to have engaged in state action, he is entitled to qualified immunity. See ECF No. 19-1 at 2.

         Liu also argues that plaintiff is not entitled to damages because the only harm alleged is psychological and spiritual in nature, and the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) prohibits recovery for mental and emotional injury alone. See id. at 10-11. Liu contends that plaintiff’s request for punitive damages must be stricken because such damages are only available in a Section 1983 action when the conduct in question is motivated by evil motive or intent, or when it involves reckless indifference to the federally protected rights of others, which is not the case here. See id. at 11.

         B. Defendant Jackson’s Motion

         Defendant Jackson contends that the claims against him should be dismissed because: (1) RLUIPA does not impose affirmative duties on states to subsidize the exercise of religion, and therefore a prison is not obligated to fund a prisoner’s request for a non-medically-indicated circumcision; (2) Jackson cannot be liable for monetary damages on the RLUIPA claim because the statute does not create individual liability, and the Eleventh Amendment bars official-capacity damages; (3) it is clear on the face of the complaint that the denial of plaintiff’s circumcision was reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, and (4) even if plaintiff has raised a cognizable Free Exercise Clause claim, defendant Jackson is entitled to qualified immunity because no reasonable doctor would have known beyond debate that denying plaintiff a referral for a non-medically-indicated circumcision would violate plaintiff’s religious rights. See ECF No. 26-1 at 4-9.

         Defendant Jackson also argues that plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief should be denied because since the filing of his complaint, plaintiff has been transferred from Mule Creek State Prison (“MCSP”) – where the alleged violations took place – to a different institution, and plaintiff has not alleged that he is likely to be transferred back to MCSP. See id. at 10. Jackson accordingly contends that the request for injunctive relief is moot. Finally, he argues that plaintiff has failed to assert that Jackson, a urologist, could unilaterally perform a circumcision on plaintiff if injunctive relief were ordered. See ECF No. 26-1 at 10-11.

         C. Plaintiff’s Opposition

         Plaintiff’s opposition reiterates many of the arguments in his SAC. See generally ECF No. 29. He points out that even though he has requested a circumcision for religious purposes, he also has “ongoing medical problems with [his] foreskin.” See id. at 2. In response to defendant Liu’s claim that he is not a state actor, plaintiff argues that prison officials, state employees and doctors who contract with the states alike, are all individuals acting under color of law. See id. at 4-5. Plaintiff generally disputes defendants’ suggestion of potential health and cost concerns, pointing out that a circumcision procedure “is a one[-]time visit which heals in no more than 10 days” and that “no further medication [is] needed to recover.” Id. at 6.

         D. Standards of Review: Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 12(f)

         1. Rule 12(b)(6): Motion to Dismiss

         Federal of Rule Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits an action to be dismissed if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).

         In considering a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hospital Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion, and resolve all doubts in the pleader’s favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421, reh’g denied, 396 U.S. 869 (1969). Moreover, pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 (2007). Thereafter, a plaintiff “receives the benefit of imagination, so long as the hypotheses are consistent with the complaint.” Sanjuan v. American Bd. of Psychiatry and Neurology, Inc., 40 F.3d 247, 251 (7th Cir. 1994)

         Conversely, to survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a pro se complaint must contain more than “naked assertions, ” “labels and conclusions, ” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-57. In other words, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim upon which the court can grant relief must have facial plausibility. 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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         2. Rule 12(f): Motion to Strike

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(f) permits the court to strike parts of a pleading. It reads in its entirety as follows:

         (f) Motion to Strike. The court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous mater. The court may act:

         (1) on its own; or

         (2) on motion made by a party either before responding to the pleading or, if a response is not allowed, within 21 ...

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