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Bell v. Williams

United States District Court, N.D. California

October 11, 2019

VINCENT KEITH BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAMS, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER OF SERVICE RE: DKT. NOS. 14, 15

          SUSAN ILLSTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Vincent Keith Bell, an inmate currently housed at the San Francisco County Jail, filed this pro se prisoner's civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court dismissed an earlier pleading with leave to amend. Bell's second amended complaint is now before the court for review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. His motion for a default judgment also is before the court.

         BACKGROUND

         In his second amended complaint, Bell alleges the following about events that occurred while he was in custody at the San Francisco County Jail # 2:

         On January 18, 2018, sergeant Williams told Bell that Bell was moving to a different cell. Bell asked why and to where he was being moved, which sergeant Williams “took . . . as an act of refusal to move.” Docket No. 14 at 7. Sergeant Williams left to speak to watch commander captain Fisher. Lieutenant Deguzman came and spoke to Bell about the move, after which Bell agreed, packed his personal belongings, and put them on top of the bed. When sergeant Williams returned, Bell was packed and seated on his wheelchair with his hands up. Id. at 7-8. Sergeant Williams called for deputies to assist in a cell extraction. Bell told Williams that Bell did not want to get hurt and was ready to move cells. Id. at 8. At sergeant Williams' direction, several deputies ordered Bell out of his wheelchair and made Bell (who has only one leg) hop to a safety cell, “a distance that was physically impossible.” Id. Bell “tried to reason with sgt. Williams that he only had one leg and his body weight was too much to hop the distance, ” but was ordered not to talk to Williams. Id. Bell fell on his way to the safety cell due to the difficulty of hopping that distance, experiencing “sharp pains and extreme physical exertion.” Id. At sergeant Williams' direction, the deputies dragged Bell to the safety cell, stripped him of his clothes, and left him in the safety cell for 24 hours. Id. As the watch commander at the jail, captain Fisher must approve all safety cell placements. Id. at 9. There was no “justified merit to admit Bell” to the safety cell, as he was not posing a threat to himself or others. Id.

         Bell urges that the City and County of San Francisco and the San Francisco Sheriff's Department should be held liable for failure to train employees on proper procedures to transport physically disabled inmates. Id. at 9.

         The City and County of San Francisco and the San Francisco Sheriff's Department failed to provide an “assistance device for transportation, ” which Bell needed due to an above-the-knee leg amputation. Id. at 2.

         Bell apparently is a longtime pretrial detainee. See Docket No. 138 in Bell v. Lee, No. 13-cv-5820 SI

         DISCUSSION

         A federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). 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 seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See id. at § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se complaints must be liberally construed. See Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010).

         A. Due Process Claims

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         When a pretrial detainee challenges conditions of his confinement, the proper inquiry is whether the conditions amount to punishment in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 n.16 (1979). The state may detain a pretrial detainee “to ensure his presence at trial and may subject him to the restrictions and conditions of the detention facility so long as those conditions and restrictions do not amount to punishment or otherwise violate the Constitution.” Id. at 536-37. If a particular condition or restriction of pretrial detention is reasonably related to a legitimate governmental objective it does not, without more, amount to “punishment.” See Id. at 539.

         Liberally construed, the second amended complaint states a cognizable § 1983 claim against sergeant Williams for a due process violation by making Bell hop on one leg a substantial distance and then having him dragged to the safety cell when he could hop no further (even though there was a wheelchair immediately available to use to transport him to the safety cell). Liberally construed, the second amended complaint states a cognizable § 1983 claim against sergeant Williams and captain Fisher for a ...


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