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Williams v. Thompson

United States District Court, E.D. California

January 9, 2020

THOMPSON, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff is a state prisoner who brings this action against governmental employees who are accused of violating plaintiff's constitutional rights. Because it appeared plain on the face of the complaint that plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit, plaintiff was ordered to show cause why this action should not be dismissed for failure to exhaust. (Doc. 9.) Plaintiff has since filed a response to the Order to Show Cause. (Doc. 10.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court will vacate the Order to Show Cause, grant plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, and direct plaintiff to file a notice following the screening of his complaint.

         I. Plaintiff's Allegations

         At all times relevant to this action, plaintiff was a state inmate housed at California State Prison in Corcoran, California. He names as defendants Supervising Senior Psychologist Thompson, Facility Captain Burns, Correctional Sergeant Hawthorne, Psychologist Houston, Psychologist Shoemaker, Correctional Officer (“CO”) Scalley, CO Madrigal, CO Castalas, CO Perez, CO Diaz, and Psychiatric Technician Robinson. Each defendant is sued in his or her individual and official capacity. Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief and damages.

         Plaintiff's allegations can be summarized as follows:

         Plaintiff is a participant in the Enhanced Outpatient Program (“EOP”), which provides care to inmates with grave mental disabilities. Plaintiff himself is an exhibitionist with major depression and a cutting disorder.

         A. Placement in Mental Health Crisis Bed

         On February 9, 2019, plaintiff engaged in self-injurious cutting after finding a razor in his cell. Between February 10, 2019, and February 18, 2019, plaintiff was held in a mental health crisis bed under the care of defendants Thompson, Houston, and Shoemaker. On February 15, 2019, plaintiff was discovered masturbating by non-party Dr. Romeo. This incident distressed plaintiff, causing him to cut himself more.

         On February 19, 2019, plaintiff was taken before an Interdisciplinary Treatment Team (“IDTT”). At this hearing, the February 15 exhibitionist incident involving Dr. Romeo was discussed at length by defendant Thompson. When plaintiff complained that the team members were not addressing plaintiff's clear need for a higher level of mental health care and stated that he intended to file an inmate grievance, defendant Thompson ordered defendants Houston and Shoemaker “to act in concert to exclude plaintiff from mental health treatment.”[1] Plaintiff was ordered discharged from the mental health crisis bed and the Department State Hospital-level of care.

         B. Transfer to Administrative Segregation

         Defendants Thompson, Houston, and Shoemaker arranged for CO Scalley and CO Madrigal to escort plaintiff to administrative segregation (“Ad-Seg”), a location that defendant Houston knew from a prior incident to be dangerous for plaintiff considering the abuse plaintiff experienced there and the lack of treatment for his mental health. In fact, Houston intervened on plaintiff's behalf during that prior incident. When plaintiff reminded Houston and the others of this prior incident, they ignored plaintiff and ordered him to be housed there.

         Once plaintiff was taken to a holding cage in Ad-Seg, CO Scalley forcefully pushed plaintiff into the cage causing plaintiff's torso and head to slam into the back wall. Sgt. Hawthorne told plaintiff, “the doctors told me how to handle you. Your [sic] in the right place to play your suicidal games.” Sgt. Hawthorne then directed CO Scalley and CO Madrigal to “spray his ass” if plaintiff cut himself. CO Scalley removed all of plaintiff's legal papers and said, “back here, all litigations against department staff is considered contraband.” When plaintiff said, “that's not a rule, ” CO Scalley responded, “I will beat on your face and won't stop until its nice and bloody if you don't shut up, ask any inmate back here if you don't believe me.”

         CO Castalas arrived and, after speaking with CO Scalley, housed plaintiff in a cell where plaintiff claims there was a piece of broken glass that he used to cut his wrist to relieve anger and distress. Panicked by the blood, plaintiff sought help from CO Castalas who instead sprayed plaintiff with pepper spray while yelling “black j-cat motherfucker.”[2] CO Perez arrived and also sprayed plaintiff with a can of pepper spray.

         Plaintiff was removed from the contaminated cell and placed in a holding cage for 1-2 hours with no medical care or means to decontaminate from the pepper spray. When plaintiff asked Psychiatric Technician Robinson for medical help, this defendant refused to enter the cage because “hundreds of other inmates' fluids [are] all over them so I'm not comming [sic] near them to treat your open wound, just don't let your wound touch the cage.” Plaintiff then asked to rinse off the pepper spray, but Robinson said, “they say your [sic] fine so I'm not gonna order that.” Robinson then falsified medical records to say plaintiff was allowed decontamination and given instructions on how to do so.

         CO Castalas arrived at the holding cage to say, “the sergeant said if you keep threatening to file a 602 appeal to leave you in here so if you want to get out stop asking to write an appeal.” Plaintiff was then rehoused in the same contaminated cell and in constant pain all night. Plaintiff claims that [t]his is a practice ratified by defendant Burns in his supervision and command over ad-seg, a practice directed towards inmates with mental illnesses.”

         On February 20, 2019, plaintiff was again admitted to the mental health crisis bed to decontaminate. However, the February 19 discharge order following the IDTT hearing remained in effect.

         II. Exhaustion Requirement

         A. Legal Standard

         Plaintiff is a prisoner suing over the conditions of his confinement. Therefore, his claims are subject to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Under the PLRA, “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a); Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 520 (2002) (“§ 1997e(a)'s exhaustion requirement applies to all prisoners seeking redress for prison circumstances or occurrences”). “[T]hat language is ‘mandatory': An inmate ‘shall' bring ‘no action' (or said more conversationally, may not bring any action) absent exhaustion of available administrative remedies.” Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1857 (2016) (quoting Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 85 (2006); Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007)). Dismissal for failure to state a claim is appropriate where “a failure to exhaust is clear on the face of the complaint.” Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1166 (9th Cir. 2014) (defendant may move for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) where exhaustion is clear on the face of the complaint); Davis v. Cal. Dep't of Corr. and Rehab., 474 Fed.Appx. 606, 607 (9th Cir. 2012) (district court properly dismissed case where it was clear on face of complaint that administrative remedies were not exhausted prior to filing).

         When the district court concludes that the prisoner has not exhausted administrative remedies on a claim, “the proper remedy is dismissal of the claim without prejudice.” Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1120 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted), overruled on other grounds by Albino, 747 F.3d at 1168.

         B. Analysis

         Review of plaintiff's complaint suggests that he did not exhaust his administrative remedies prior to initiating this case. This determination was based on the fact that the conduct complained of occurred on or before February 20, 2019, and plaintiff initiated this case less than three weeks later. Thus, the Court directed plaintiff to show cause why this action should not be dismissed for failure to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit. In his response, plaintiff highlights that he was threatened with continued retaliation for filing an inmate grievance. Good cause appearing, the Order to Show Cause will be vacated. Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 2858-58 (2016).

         III. Three Strikes Analysis

         Before screening the complaint, the Court notes that plaintiff is a three-strikes litigant and his motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) is pending. The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) permits any court of the United States to authorize the commencement and prosecution of any suit without prepayment of fees by a person who submits an affidavit indicating that the person is unable to pay such fees. However,

[i]n no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgement in a civil action or proceeding under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.

28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). The plain language of the statute makes clear that a prisoner is precluded from bringing a civil action or an appeal in forma pauperis if the prisoner has brought three frivolous actions and/or appeals (or any combination thereof totaling three). Rodriguez v. Cook, 169 F.3d 1176, 1178 (9th Cir. 1999). “[Section] 1915(g) should be used to deny a prisoner's [in forma pauperis] status only when, after careful evaluation of the order dismissing an action, and other relevant information, the district court determines that the action was dismissed because it was frivolous, malicious or failed to state a claim.” Andrews v. King, 398 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2005). “[W]hen a district court disposes of an in forma pauperis complaint ‘on the grounds that [the claim] is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted,' such a complaint is ‘dismissed' for purposes of § 1915(g) even if the district court styles such dismissal as denial of the prisoner's application to file the action without prepayment of the full filing fee.” O'Neal v. Price, 531 F.3d 1146, 1153 (9th Cir. 2008) (second alteration in original). Dismissal also counts as a strike under § 1915(g) “when (1) a district court dismisses a complaint on the ground that it fails to state a claim, (2) the court grants leave to amend, and (3) the plaintiff then fails to file an amended complaint” regardless of whether the case was dismissed with or without prejudice. Harris v. Mangum, 863 F.3d 1133, 1142-43 (9th Cir. 2017).

         A. Three Prior Strikes

         Inspection of other cases filed by plaintiff in this Court has led to the identification of at least three cases brought by plaintiff that qualify as strikes. The Court takes judicial ...

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