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Hodges v. Matevousian

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 28, 2019

ANDRE MATEVOUSIAN, et al., Defendants.



         Melvin Hodges (“Plaintiff”) is a federal prisoner proceeding pro se with this civil rights action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss the Complaint. For the reasons described below, the undersigned recommends that the motion to dismiss be granted in part, Plaintiff's claim for damages under Bivens for unconstitutional conditions of confinement be dismissed with prejudice, and this case proceed on Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed the Complaint commencing this action on June 8, 2018. (ECF No. 1). On November 28, 2018, the Court screened the Complaint and found it appropriate for service of process on Plaintiff's claims for unconstitutional conditions of confinement against Defendants Matevousian, Cassity, and Hurte (collectively “Defendants”). (ECF No. 6).

         On April 12, 2019, Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss the Complaint on the grounds that the Complaint fails to state a claim under the Supreme Court's ruling in Ziglar v. Abbasi, 137 S.Ct. 1843 (2017), and that special factors weigh against implying a Bivens remedy in this new context. (ECF No. 17). Plaintiff filed an opposition and supplemental opposition, and Defendants filed a reply. (ECF Nos. 19, 20, 23).


         Plaintiff is an inmate at the Federal Prison Camp in Atwater, California (“FPC”). Plaintiff has been at FPC since May 26, 2015. The Complaint alleges that until approximately September 2017, the lights in Plaintiff's unit would be turned off upon the completion of the 9:30 p.m. stand-up count. They would be turned back on at 5:45 a.m. the following day. However, there was an abrupt change that occurred with no prior notice given to the inmates. Instead of the lights going off completely after the 9:30 p.m. count, they were now being left on.

         Plaintiff alleges that to say this change occurred because they were deemed “emergency lights” would be disingenuous at best as the exit signs in each of the four corners of the unit are clearly illuminated. The lights are very bright and make a distinct humming sound. As a result of this change, Plaintiff is suffering from sleep deprivation.

         Plaintiff immediately started the administrative remedy procedure and was promptly told by the camp administrator that this change was for the “safety of staff and inmates.” Plaintiff contends that Defendants did not perform their due diligence and adequately investigate his claim. For example, they never came to FPC except during daylight hours to check on the impact of the lighting at night, and there are twenty-eight windows surrounding the dormitory that let a considerable amount of light in during the day. Additionally, their responses to Plaintiff's administrative remedies never mentioned Plaintiff's sleep deprivation.

         Plaintiff alleges that there was no penal interest in suddenly leaving the lights on after the 9:30 p.m. count, nor was there an incident that upset the balance of the prison with staff or inmates that would justify such a change. The change was made without regard for the health effects that Plaintiff has experienced.

         Plaintiff alleges that “[a]fter careful examination of the facts” the staff members who are directly responsible for the change are: Warden Andre Matevousian, who allowed the violation of Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights to occur; Captain Hurte, who failed to perform his due diligence and allowed the change to occur; and Camp Administrator Cassity, who responded to Plaintiff's administrative grievance by providing an unsubstantiated claim about the “safety of staff and inmates, ” when for years there had been no issues threatening either staff or inmates.

         In his prayer for relief, Petitioner requests: (1) the camp nighttime lighting to be brought to “acceptable standards”; (2) transfer to the Federal Prison Camp in Mendota, California; and (3) $1, 000, 000 in damages.


         A. Motion to Dismiss

         In considering a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept all allegations of material fact in the complaint as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007); Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hosp. Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976). The Court must also construe the alleged facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), abrogated on other grounds by Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800 (1982); Barnett v. Centoni, 31 F.3d 813, 816 (9th Cir.1994) (per curiam). All ambiguities or doubts must also be resolved in the plaintiff's favor. See Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). In addition, pro se pleadings “must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010).

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) operates to test the sufficiency of the complaint. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Rule 8(a)(2) requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” in order to “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). “The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.” Scheuer, 416 U.S. at 236.

         The first step in testing the sufficiency of the complaint is to identify any conclusory allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation ...

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