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Johnson v. Hernandez

United States District Court, N.D. California, Eureka Division

October 10, 2019

LEWIS W. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
PATRICIA HERNANDEZ, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER OF DISMISSAL WITH LEAVE TO AMEND RE: DKT. NO. 1

          ROBERT M. ILLMAN United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff, a state prisoner, filed a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

         DISCUSSION

         Standard of Review

         Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In the course of this 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 those which seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See id. at 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

         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.” While specific facts are not necessary, the statement should impart fair notice of the nature of the claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). While it is true that a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations . . . a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do . . . [the] [f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint must therefore proffer “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. The “plausible on its face” standard of Twombly has been explained as such: “[w]hile legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 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 deprivation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         Legal Claims

         Plaintiff alleges that he tripped and fell at his prison job severely injuring himself.

         The Constitution does not mandate comfortable prisons, but neither does it permit inhumane ones. See Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). The treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which he is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment. See Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993). In its prohibition of “cruel and unusual punishment, ” the Eighth Amendment places restraints on prison officials, who may not, for example, use excessive force against prisoners. See Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 6-7 (1992). The Amendment also imposes duties on these officials, who must provide all prisoners with the basic necessities of life such as food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care and personal safety. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 832. A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment when two requirements are met: (1) the deprivation alleged must be, objectively, sufficiently serious, Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834 (citing Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991)), and (2) the prison official possesses a sufficiently culpable state of mind, id. (citing Wilson, 501 U.S. at 297).

         Neither negligence nor gross negligence will constitute deliberate indifference. See Farmer at 835-37 & n.4. A prison official cannot be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying a prisoner humane conditions of confinement unless the standard for criminal recklessness is met, that is, the official knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety. See id. at 837.

         “In a § 1983 or a Bivens action - where masters do not answer for the torts of their servants - the term ‘supervisory liability' is a misnomer. Absent vicarious liability, each Government official, his or her title notwithstanding, is only liable for his or her own misconduct.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677 (finding under Twombly, 550 U.S. at 544, and Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, that complainant-detainee in a Bivens action failed to plead sufficient facts “plausibly showing” that top federal officials “purposely adopted a policy of classifying post-September-11 detainees as ‘of high interest' because of their race, religion, or national origin” over more likely and non-discriminatory explanations).

         A supervisor may be liable under section 1983 upon a showing of (1) personal involvement in the constitutional deprivation or (2) a sufficient causal connection between the supervisor's wrongful conduct and the constitutional violation. Henry A. v. Willden, 678 F.3d 991, 1003-04 (9th Cir. 2012). Even if a supervisory official is not directly involved in the allegedly unconstitutional conduct, “[a] supervisor can be liable in this individual capacity for his own culpable action or inaction in the training, supervision, or control of his subordinates; for his acquiescence in the constitutional deprivation; or for conduct that showed a reckless or callous indifference to the rights of others.” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1208 (9th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). The claim that a supervisory official “knew of unconstitutional conditions and ‘culpable actions of his subordinates' but failed to act amounts to ‘acquiescence in the unconstitutional conduct of his subordinates' and is ‘sufficient to state a claim of supervisory liability.'” Keates v. Koile, 883 F.3d 1228, 1243 (9th Cir. 2018) (quoting Starr, 652 F.3d at 1208) (finding that conclusory allegations that supervisor promulgated unconstitutional policies and procedures which authorized unconstitutional conduct of subordinates do not suffice to state a claim of supervisory liability).

         Plaintiff states that while working at his job at a warehouse in the prison, he tripped over a hazard and suffered a severe injury. Compl. (dkt. 1) at 3. Plaintiff adds that Defendants failed to provide a safe work environment, and neglected to identify and repair an unspecified tripping hazard. Id. While Plaintiff identities three Defendants on the coversheet of the Complaint, Plaintiff fails to describe their individual actions or omissions in the body of the Complaint. To proceed with a civil rights action, Plaintiff must identify the specific actions of each individual defendant and describe how they violated his constitutional rights. If a defendant is a supervisor, Plaintiff must describe that person's involvement. Plaintiff must also provide more information regarding the hazard that caused him to fall. Plaintiff is also ...


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