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Carter v. Castelo

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 23, 2019

IMMIE CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
GASTELO et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

          MARIA A. AUDERO, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On October 18, 2019, Plaintiff Jimmie Carter (“Plaintiff”), an inmate at California Men's Colony (“CMC”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a Complaint alleging violations of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”). (Compl., ECF No. 1.) The Court has screened the Complaint as prescribed by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and § 1915(e)(2)(B). For the reasons stated below, the Complaint is DISMISSED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND. Plaintiff is ORDERED to, within thirty days after the date of this Order, either: (1) file a First Amended Complaint, or (2) advise the Court that Plaintiff does not intend to file a First Amended Complaint.

         II. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS AND CLAIMS

         The Complaint is filed against: (1) J. Gastelo, Warden at CMC; (2) Ralph M. Diaz, Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”); (3) Wallace, Correctional Sergeant at CMC; (4) Amendaz, Nurse at CMC; (5) Marie Reyes, Registered Nurse (“RN”) at CMC; (6) Gary Masignman, Licensed Vocational Nurse (“LVN”) at CMC; (7) Steven Tanner, LVN at CMC; (8) Maria Escareal, LVN at CMC; and (9) Ronalyn Amor-Walker, RN at CMC (each a “Defendant” and collectively, “Defendants”; the Nurse, RN, and LVN Defendants collectively are referred to as the “Nurse Defendants”). (Compl. 8-9.)[1]Defendants Gastelo and Diaz are sued in their individual and official capacities. (Id. at 3.) The Complaint does not specify the capacities-individual and/or official-in which the other Defendants are sued. (Id. at 8-9.)

         The Complaint and attached exhibits[2] contain the following allegations and claims. Plaintiff arrived at CMC on June 7, 2019. (Id. at 7.) The dining hall of CMC has a four-foot by six-foot aisle that inmates must traverse to dump their leftover food, return their food tray for washing, and exit the dining hall. (Id. at 9.) Plaintiff contends that the aisle is hazardous because there is always “oatmeal, cream of wheat, or some other food substance on the floor, ” and it is “slippery, because degreaser is never used.” (Id.)

         On June 19, 2019, Plaintiff was exiting the dining hall through the dangerous aisle and slipped on oatmeal. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff's head hit the ground very hard. (Id.) Plaintiff experienced an immediate headache, “the likes he has never experienced in his entire life, ” and his whole stomach became disturbed. (Id.) Plaintiff's neck and back took most of the impact, and he still receives regular shots for the excruciating pain in those areas. (Id.) Plaintiff does not know whether he was knocked unconscious, but believes that he was. (Id.) In addition, Plaintiff's blood pressure was extremely high. (Id. at 11.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Tanner, along with Gloria Mendez and Pati Medinger (who are not named Defendants), refused to administer the proper medical care to Plaintiff. (Id.) Rather, they listened to correctional officers and a correctional sergeant who said, “Ah he's alright. We don't have time for this . . . [W]e have other inmate's [sic] to run to the chow hall.” (Id.) This prompted Defendant Tanner to “begin talking crazy” to Plaintiff. (Id.) Defendant Wallace and Nurse Defendants “talk[ed] crazy to Plaintiff, telling him he's faking and just trying to get drugs while Plaintiff lay there in plain/obvious pain.” (Id. at 14.) Plaintiff requested to be taken to an outside hospital, but his request was denied. (Id. at 18.)

         On June 27, 2019, while Plaintiff was on his way to breakfast between 7:30- 8:30 a.m., one of Plaintiff's crutches got caught in “the hole of [a] steel plate that covered a construction hole approximately (5) wide by (9) feet long and (6) feet deep.” (Id. at 12.) Plaintiff fell hard to the ground and injured his back and neck again. (Id.) Plaintiff lay on the ground in excruciating pain while at least seven officers (including Defendant Wallace) stood over Plaintiff saying “He's alright, just give him some drugs, and . . . send him back to his dorm.” (Id.) The Nurse Defendants listened to the officers instead of sending Plaintiff to the hospital. (Id. at 14.)

         Plaintiff filed an administrative grievance regarding the incident, and also letters and a “citizen's complaint” to Defendant Gastelo. (Id. at 11.)

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff asserts four claims for violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Id. at 13-14.) Plaintiff also asserts “pendent state law claims, ” but does not name any specific state law claims. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff seeks: (1) $250, 000 in damages from each Defendant; (2) $200, 000 in punitive damages from Defendants Reyes, Wallace, Tanner, Amendaz, and Masigman; (3) costs and reasonable attorneys' fees; and (4) such further relief as the Court deems just and proper. (Id. at 14-15.)

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal courts must conduct a preliminary screening of any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity (28 U.S.C. § 1915A), or in which a plaintiff proceeds in forma pauperis (28 U.S.C. § Section 1915(e)(2)(B)). The court must identify cognizable claims and dismiss any complaint, or any portion thereof, that is: (1) frivolous or malicious, (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B), 1915A(b).

         When screening a complaint to determine whether it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, courts apply the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (“Rule 12(b)(6)”) standard. See Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012) (applying the Rule 12(b)(6) standard to 28 U.S.C. § Section 1915A); Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012) (applying the Rule 12(b)(6) standard to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)). “Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is appropriate only where the complaint lacks a cognizable legal theory or sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory.” Hartmann v. Cal. Dep't of Corr. & Rehab., 707 F.3d 1114, 1122 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Mendiondo v. Centinela Hosp. Med. Ctr., 521 F.3d 1097, 1104 (9th Cir. 2008)).

         Rule 12(b)(6) is read in conjunction with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) (“Rule 8”), “which requires not only ‘fair notice of the nature of the claim, but also grounds on which the claim rests.'” See Li v. Kerry, 710 F.3d 995, 998 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 n.3 (2007)). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court will accept the plaintiff's factual allegations as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Park v. Thompson, 851 F.3d 910, 918 (9th Cir. 2017). Although “detailed factual allegations” are not required, “[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). “Conclusory allegations of law . . . are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss.” Park, 851 F.3d at 918 (alteration in original) (quoting Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 679 (9th Cir. 2001)). Rather, a complaint must “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663. “If there are two alternative explanations, one advanced by defendant and the other advanced by plaintiff, both of which are plausible, plaintiff's complaint survives a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). “Plaintiff's complaint may be dismissed only when defendant's plausible alternative explanation is so convincing that plaintiff's explanation is implausible.” Id.

         Where a plaintiff is pro se, particularly in civil rights cases, courts should construe pleadings liberally and afford the plaintiff any benefit of the doubt. Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012). “[B]efore dismissing a pro se complaint the district court must provide the litigant with notice of the deficiencies in his complaint in order to ensure that the litigant uses the opportunity to amend effectively.” Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992)). A court should grant a pro se plaintiff leave to amend a defective complaint “unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by amendment.” Akhtar, 698 F.3d at 1212 (quoting Shucker v. Rockwood, 846 F.2d 1202, 1203-04 (9th Cir. 1988) (per curiam)).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. The Complaint Does Not State Claims Against Defendants in Their Official Capacities.

         The Complaint states that Defendants Gastelo and Diaz are sued in their individual and official capacities (Compl. 3), but does not specify the capacities in which the other Defendants are sued (id. at 8-9). For completeness, the Court analyzes whether the Complaint states claims against Defendants in their official capacities, and concludes that it does not.

         A suit against a defendant in his or her individual capacity “seek[s] to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law . . . . Official-capacity suits, in contrast, ‘generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.'” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985) (quoting Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 n.55 (1978)). The Complaint alleges that Defendant Diaz is the Secretary of the CDCR, and the other Defendants are employed at CMC, a California state prison. (Compl. 8-9.) As such, any official capacity claims against Defendants would be treated as claims against the State of California. See Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 631-32 (9th Cir. 1998) (explaining that a lawsuit against state prison officials in their official capacities was a lawsuit against the state).

         California is not a “person” subject to Section 1983, and the Eleventh Amendment bars damages actions against state officials in their official capacity. Flint v. Dennison, 488 F.3d 816, 824-25 (9th Cir. 2007); Nat. Res. Def. Council v. Cal. DOT, 96 F.3d 420, 421 (9th Cir. 1996) (“State immunity extends to state agencies and to state officers, who act on behalf of the state and can therefore assert the state's sovereign immunity.”). However, state officials sued in their official capacity are considered “persons” when they are sued for prospective declaratory or injunctive relief under Section 1983; the Eleventh Amendment does not bar such claims. Flint, 488 F.3d at 825; Rounds v. Or. State Bd. of Higher Educ., 166 F.3d 1032, 1036 (9th Cir. 1999) (“Ex Parte Young provided a narrow exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity for certain suits seeking declaratory and ...


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