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Walker v. Doe

United States District Court, E.D. California

December 11, 2019

POLICE CHIEF JOHN DOE, et al., Defendants.




         Plaintiff, Harold Walker, is a prisoner in the custody of Fresno County Jail. On October 31, 2019, Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed a civil complaint against eight officers of the Fresno Police Department and three employees of Grocery Outlet. (Doc. 1 (“Compl.”).) Plaintiff purports to allege causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”) for “making false statement[s] to police, ” false arrest, “false prosecution, ” excessive force, and municipal liability in violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights and rights under the California Constitution. (Id. at 5-7.) Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $98, 000, 000. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff also filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis, which was granted on November 5, 2019. (Docs. 2 & 3.)

         Plaintiffs complaint is now before the Court for screening. The Court finds Plaintiff may be able to state some cognizable claims. However, as discussed more fully below, the Court cannot determine whether his claims are barred by Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Thus, Plaintiff is provided the pleading and legal standards for his claims and is granted leave to file a first amended complaint.

         A. Screening Requirement and Standard

         The Court is required to screen complaints in cases where the plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Plaintiffs complaint, or any portion thereof, is subject to dismissal if it is frivolous or malicious, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or if it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). If the Court determines that the complaint fails to state a claim, leave to amend may be granted to the extent that the deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by amendment. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

         The Court's screening of the complaint is governed by the following standards. A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law for failure to state a claim for two reasons: (1) lack of a cognizable legal theory; or (2) insufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't , 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). Plaintiff must allege a minimum factual and legal basis for each claim that is sufficient to give each defendant fair notice of what Plaintiffs claims are and the grounds upon which they rest. See, e.g., Brazil v. U.S. Dep't of the Navy, 66 F.3d 193, 199 (9th Cir. 1995); McKeever v. Block, 932 F.2d 795, 798 (9th Cir. 1991).

         B. Pleading Requirements

         1. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief ....” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         Detailed factual allegations are not required, but “[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) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In determining whether a complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted, allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Love v. United States, 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). Moreover, since Plaintiff is appearing pro se, the Court must construe the allegations of his complaint liberally and must afford Plaintiff the benefit of any doubt. See Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't , 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988). However, “the liberal pleading standard . . . applies only to a plaintiffs factual allegations.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989). “[A] liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled.” Bruns v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin., 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Ivey v. Bd. of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982)).

         Further, “a plaintiffs 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 . . . . Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” See Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal citations omitted); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' 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.”) (internal citations omitted).

         2. Linkage Requirement

         Section 1983 requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by Plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). The Ninth Circuit has held that “[a] person ‘subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of [S]ection 1983, if she does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which she is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made.” Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). To state a claim for relief under Section 1983, Plaintiff must link each named defendant with some affirmative act or omission that demonstrates a violation of Plaintiffs federal rights. Plaintiff must clearly identify which Defendant(s) he believes are responsible for each violation of his constitutional rights and the supporting factual basis because his complaint must put each Defendant on notice of Plaintiffs claims against him or her. See Austin v. Terhune, 367 F.3d 1167, 1171 (9th Cir. 2004).


         A. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges that on the evening of September 22, 2019, after purchasing items at Grocery Outlet, he was approached in the parking lot by Defendant Andrew Mena, the manager of Grocery Outlet, and was accused of shoplifting items from the store. (Doc. 1 (“Compl.”) at 5.) Plaintiff then returned inside the store and spoke with Defendant Jasmine Arreola, a Grocery Outlet cashier. Plaintiff asked Defendant Arreola “the name of the man who came outside and accused me of stealing from the store because he was defaming my name.” (Id.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Mena then called the police and reported Plaintiff was “harassing the staff.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that later in the evening Defendants Fresno Police Officers Jason Laird and Yanet Santiago made contact with him while he was in his vehicle. (Compl. at 3, 6.) According to Plaintiff, when Plaintiff exited the car, Defendant Laird ordered Plaintiff to “get on your [expletive] knees.” (Id.) When Plaintiff leaned against his car, Defendant Laird fired his taser gun at him, causing him to fall to the ground. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Laird and Santiago, as well as other unknown Fresno Police Officers, “began kicking and kneeing” him. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Laird kept yelling at him to “stop resisting, ” picked him up “about 3 feet off the ground, ” and “drop[ped] [him] face first on the ground causing head, neck, and back injuries.” (Id.)

         Finally, Plaintiff alleges that at the time of the above-described incident, “Defendant” had customs, practices, and policies of “allowing police officers to cover up excessive use of force, ” “allowing an ongoing pattern of deliberate indifference” to the rights to be free from excessive force and unreasonable seizures, and “failing to provide criteria for the use of excessive and unnecessary force.” (Id. at 7.)

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants Arreola's and Mena's “false statements” caused his civil and constitutional rights to be violated “by the Fresno Police and the City of Fresno, ” including his right to be free from illegal arrest, excessive force, and unlawful prosecution. (Id. at 5-7.)

         B. Section 1983 Claim Against the Grocery Outlet Defendants

         Plaintiffs complaint fails plausibly to allege that Defendants Arreola and Mena acted under color of state law-an essential element to the maintenance of a Section 1983 claim.

         1. Pertinent Law

         To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege a deprivation of a constitutional right under color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988) (citations omitted). An individual defendant is not liable for a civil rights violation unless the facts establish that the defendant's personal involvement in some constitutional deprivation or a causal connection between the defendant's wrongful conduct and the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 646 (9th Cir.1989); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743-44 (9th Cir. 1978); see also Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 633 (9th Cir. 1988) (person deprives another of constitutional right if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes deprivation of which plaintiff complains) (citation omitted). Supervisory personnel generally are not liable for civil rights violations on any theory of respondeat superior or vicarious liability in the absence of law imposing such liability. Redman v. Cty. of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1446 (9th Cir. 1991); Hansen, 885 F.2d at 645-46. A supervisor is liable for constitutional violations of a subordinate only “if the supervisor participated in or directed the violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them.” Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989).

         Private individuals and entities not affiliated with a state or municipal government generally do not act “under color of state law.” See Florer v. Congregation Pidyon Shevuyim, N.A., 639 F.3d 916, 922 (9th Cir. 2011) (“We start with the presumption that conduct by private actors is not state action.”); Price v. State of Hawaii, 939 F.2d 702, 707-08 (9th Cir. 1991) (“[P]rivate parties are not generally acting under color of state law.”). While such private parties may a cause a deprivation of a constitutional right, they are not subject to Section 1983 liability unless (1) they acted under color of law, and (2) their conduct was properly attributable to the government. Flagg Brothers, Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 156 (1978); Associates & Aldrich Co. v. Times Mirror Co., 440 F.2d 133, 134-36 (9th Cir. 1971) (violations of certain constitutional rights actionable under federal law only when accomplished by one who is clothed with authority of state and purporting to act thereunder) (citations and internal quotations omitted); see also Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., 457 U.S. 922, 936-37 (1982) (private corporation does not act under color of law unless its actions are fairly attributable to the government).

         The actions of a private individual or entity may properly be attributed to the government for purposes of Section 1983 if at the time of an alleged constitutional violation (1) the private actor was performing a public function; (2) the private actor was engaged in joint activity with the government; (3) the private party acted under governmental compulsion or coercion; or (4) there was a sufficient nexus between the government and the private actor. Kirtley v. Rainey, 326 F.3d 1088, 1092 (9th Cir. 2003) (recognizing “at least four . . . tests” for determining whether private conduct amounts to state action) (citations and quotation marks omitted). Plaintiff has the burden to establish state action under one of the foregoing tests. Florer, 639 F.3d at 922; see also Kirtley, 326 F.3d at 1092 (“Satisfaction of any one test is sufficient to find state action, so long as no countervailing factor exists.”).

         2. ...

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