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Vera v. Gouker

United States District Court, N.D. California

December 6, 2019

MICHAEL J. VERA, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC GOUKER, et al, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCKET NO. 21)

          EDWARD J. DAVILA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff, a pretrial detainee, filed a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against employees at the Santa Cruz County Sheriffs Department. The Court found the complaint, (Docket No. 1), liberally construed, stated a cognizable Fourteenth Amendment claim of deliberate indifference for placement in conditions that amounted to punishment, and ordered service of the complaint on Defendants. (Docket No. 12.)

         Defendants Eric Gouker and Jenna Baldwin filed a motion for summary judgment (Docket No. 21, hereinafter "Mot."), and declarations and exhibits in support thereof.[1] Plaintiff did not file an opposition although given an opportunity to do so. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion is GRANTED.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Plaintiffs Claims

         At the time of the filing of the complaint, Plaintiff was in custody at the Santa Cruz County Jail ("Jail"), presumably as a pretrial detainee. Plaintiff claims that on June 22, 2018, he was taken from the Jail's general population to solitary confinement, where he was placed in a cell without lights or plumbing for ten days and deprived of all his property. (Compl. at 3.) Plaintiff claims he was never given any incident report or any type of explanation. (Id.) Plaintiff claims "this was done" by Defendants Eric Gouker and Jenna Baldwin, both classification officers, "for personal reasons I believe, and to get me to take a deal in court faster." (Id.) Liberally construed, the Court found the allegations of Plaintiffs unjustified and unexplained placement in conditions that amount to punishment were sufficient to state a deliberate indifference claim under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Docket No. 12 at 2.) The Court dismissed the claim involving the random and unauthorized deprivation of property for failure to state a claim. (Id. at 2-3.)

         II. Statement of Facts[2]

         Defendant Gouker is a Supervising Correctional Officer at the Jail and was so at the time of the underlying events. (Gouker Decl. ¶ 2.) His duties include assigning, supervising, training and evaluating the work of subordinate staff. (Id.) Furthermore, as the Classification Supervisor, Defendant Gouker reviews, investigates and responds to grievances related to housing, custody level, and all other classification specific grievances. (Id.) He was also responsible for a daily review of all inmates that are administratively separated throughout the facility. (Id.)

         Defendant Jenna Baldwin is also a Supervising Correctional Officer at the Jail and was so at the time of the underlying events. (Baldwin Decl. ¶ 1.) Her duties include supervising and participating in the work of booking, guarding, supervising, transporting and releasing inmates in the Santa Cruz County Detention Facilities, insuring inmates' safety and security, training correctional officers, and doing other work as required. (Id. at ¶2.)

         On June 21, 2018, while Defendant Baldwin was on shift as a Classification Officer at the Jail, she observed a fight involving approximately 29 male inmates on the top tier of the "F-unit" in the Jail. (Baldwin Decl. ¶ 5; Gouker Decl. ¶ 5.) She called for assistance, entered F-unit, and assisted in breaking up the fight and defusing the situation. (Baldwin Decl. ¶ 5.)

         Defendant Gouker investigated the circumstances regarding the fight, and three independent sources confirmed to him that Plaintiff, a high-ranking, documented gang member, had directed the fight to take place. (Gouker Decl. ¶ 6.) During the investigation, Defendant Gouker also learned that Plaintiff, through fear and intimidation, was controlling the actions of inmates at a different jail facility in Santa Cruz County. (Id. at ¶ 7, Ex. I.) Based on Plaintiffs high-level of influence within the Jail system, his involvement in directing the fight to take place, and the unique, dangerous circumstances regarding the fight, Defendant Gouker decided that it was necessary, for the safety and security of Jail staff and inmates, to transfer Plaintiff to the Santa Clara County Jail. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Defendant Gouker determined that transferring Plaintiff to Santa Clara County Jail would provide his own Jail staff necessary time to address the circumstances of the fight and to make sure it did not happen again. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Plaintiff was transported to the Santa Cruz County Jail on June 22, 2018. (Id. at ¶ 10.) On July 2, 2018, Plaintiff was transferred back to the Santa Cruz County Jail, accompanied by Defendant Baldwin, and placed in administrative segregation based on the continued safety risks he posed to Jail staff and inmates. (Gouker Decl. ¶¶ 11-12, Ex. F; Baldwin Decl. ¶ 7.)

         On July 3, 2018, Plaintiff submitted an inmate grievance, No. AO49433, asking to be placed in general population. (Gouker Decl. ¶ 13.) Defendant Gouker investigated the grievance and made written findings, which were also provided to Plaintiff. (Id.) The findings stated, "Inmate Vera is pending transfer to a general population unit." (Id., Ex. B.)

         On July 6, 2018, while Plaintiff was pending transfer to the general population unit, Plaintiff addressed an "Inmate Request Form" to Defendant Gouker, calling him a "snake liar" and threatening Defendant Gouker's life and Jail staff. (Gouker Decl. ¶ 14.) Plaintiff wrote that "an insane attack by me could prove lethal, why put your staff at risk? Im [sic] not gonna do that, but you cant [sic] know that for sure...." (Id., Ex. C.) Based on Plaintiffs threats, Defendant Gouker and Jail staff determined that it was in the best interest of the safety and security of Jail staff and inmates to keep Plaintiff in administrative segregation. (Id. at ¶ 15.)

         On July 10, 2018, Plaintiff submitted another inmate grievance, No. A020254, complaining that he was put "in stripes" for the content of his July 6, 2018 "Inmate Request Form" to Defendant Gouker. (Gouker Decl. ¶ 16.) Jail staff investigated the grievance and made written findings, which were also provided to Plaintiff. (Id. at ΒΆ 17.) The findings state, in part, that "the Sheriffs Office takes such threats seriously" and that Jail ...


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