Fred Erin Dennison v. Sheriff John McMahon

Filing 6

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER by Magistrate Judge John D. Early Dismissing First Amended Complaint with Leave to Amend. The FAC fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and is subject to dismissal. Because it is not absolutely clear that the d eficiencies cannot be cured by amendment, dismissal will be with leave to amend. Accordingly, if Plaintiff still desires to pursue his claim, he must file a Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") within thirty (30) days of the date ofthis Order, remedying the deficiencies discussed above. (Please refer to Order) Plaintiff is admonished that if he fails to timely file a timely SAC thisaction may be dismissed for failure to diligently prosecute and for thereasons discussed in this Order. (Attachments: # 1 blank Second Amended Complaint form, # 2 blank Dismissal form) (ig)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 EASTERN DIVISION 11 FRED ERIN DENNISON, Plaintiff, 12 13 14 15 16 Case No. EDCV 17-02032-PSG (JDE) MEMORANDUM AND ORDER DIMISSING FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND v. WEST VALLEY DETENTION CENTER, et al., Defendants. 17 18 I. 19 BACKGROUND 20 On October 3, 2017, Plaintiff Fred Erin Dennison (“Plaintiff”), who is 21 apparently in pre-trial detention at the West Valley Detention Center located in 22 Rancho Cucamonga, California, filed a pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 23 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983” or 1983”). Dkt. 1 (“Complaint”). The 24 Complaint alleged that Plaintiff’s cell lacked a functioning light fixture for 25 more than 50 days, and as a result, Plaintiff, who is representing himself on 26 state court charges and has documented vision problems, has been forced to 27 delay his criminal case. See Complaint at p. 5 (CM/ECF pagination). Plaintiff 28 1 initially brought claims against Defendant Sheriff John McMahon (“Sheriff 2 McMahon”) relating to the conditions of his confinement. Id. 3 On October 18, 2017, in accordance with its screening function pursuant 4 to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A, the Court determined the action failed 5 to state a claim as to Sheriff McMahon and ordered the Complaint dismissed 6 with leave to amend. Dkt. 3. On November 7, 2017, Plaintiff submitted his 7 First Amended Complaint, re-alleging violations of his civil rights. Dkt. 5 8 (“FAC”). In the FAC, Plaintiff does not name Sheriff McMahon but instead 9 brings claims against “West Valley Detention Center” and the “Maintenance 10 11 Department.” Id. at 3. After careful review and consideration of the allegations of the FAC 12 under the relevant standards, the Court finds for reasons discussed hereafter 13 that the FAC fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. 14 II. 15 STANDARD OF REVIEW 16 A complaint may be dismissed as a matter of law for failure to state a 17 claim for two reasons: (1) lack of a cognizable legal theory; or (2) insufficient 18 facts under a cognizable legal theory. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 19 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). In determining whether the complaint states 20 a claim on which relief may be granted, its allegations of material fact must be 21 taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff. See Love v. 22 United States, 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). Further, since Plaintiff is 23 appearing pro se, the Court must construe the allegations of the complaint 24 liberally and afford him the benefit of any doubt. See Karim-Panahi v. Los 25 Angeles Police Dep’t, 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988). However, “the liberal 26 pleading standard . . . applies only to a plaintiff’s factual allegations.” Neitzke 27 v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989). “[A] liberal interpretation of a civil 28 rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not 2 1 initially pled.” Bruns v. Nat’l Credit Union Admin., 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th 2 Cir. 1997) (quoting Ivey v. Bd. of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982)). 3 Moreover, with respect to Plaintiff’s pleading burden, the Supreme Court has 4 held that “a plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to 5 relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of 6 the elements of a cause of action will not do. . . . Factual allegations must be 7 enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . on the 8 assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in 9 fact).” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations 10 omitted, alteration in original); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 11 (2009) (to avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, “a complaint must 12 contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that 13 is plausible on its face.’ A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads 14 factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the 15 defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” (internal citation omitted)). 16 If the Court finds that a complaint should be dismissed for failure to state 17 a claim, the Court has discretion to dismiss with or without leave to amend. 18 Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-30 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Leave to 19 amend should be granted if it appears possible that the defects in the complaint 20 could be corrected, especially if a plaintiff is pro se. Id. at 1130-31; see also 21 Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995) (noting that “[a] pro 22 se litigant must be given leave to amend his or her complaint, and some notice 23 of its deficiencies, unless it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the 24 complaint could not be cured by amendment”). However, if, after careful 25 consideration, it is clear that a complaint cannot be cured by amendment, the 26 Court may dismiss without leave to amend. Cato, 70 F.3d at 1105-06; see, e.g., 27 Chaset v. Fleer/Skybox Int’l, 300 F.3d 1083, 1088 (9th Cir. 2002) (holding that 28 “there is no need to prolong the litigation by permitting further amendment” 3 1 where the “basic flaw” in the pleading cannot be cured by amendment); Lipton 2 v. Pathogenesis Corp., 284 F.3d 1027, 1039 (9th Cir. 2002) (holding that 3 “[b]ecause any amendment would be futile, there was no need to prolong the 4 litigation by permitting further amendment.”). 5 III. 6 DISCUSSION 7 Plaintiff names the “West Valley Detention Center” as a Defendant, in 8 its individual capacity. FAC at 3. Plaintiff also names the “Maintenance 9 Department” in its individual capacity, presumably alleging it is a department 10 of the West Valley Detention Center as Plaintiff uses the same address for both 11 named Defendants. See id. at 3. 12 Section 1983 provides a method by which individuals can sue for 13 violations of their federal rights. Cortez v. County of Los Angeles, 294 F.3d 14 1186, 1188 (9th Cir. 2002). To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must 15 allege that the violation was committed by a “person” acting under the color of 16 state law. Will v. Michigan Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). The 17 other requisite element is that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the 18 United States was violated. Long v. County of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 19 1185 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)). 20 An “official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated 21 as a suit against the entity.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985); 22 see also Brandon v. Holt, 469 U.S. 464, 471-72 (1985); Larez v. City of Los 23 Angeles, 946 F.2d 630, 646 (9th Cir. 1991). Such a suit “is not a suit against 24 the official personally, for the real party in interest is the entity.” Graham, 25 473 U.S. at 166 (emphasis in original). 26 The West Valley Detention Center, and its Maintenance Department, 27 are facilities run by San Bernardino County (“the County”); accordingly, the 28 entity that would be the real party in interest would the County. See Agnew v. 4 1 Victorville Police Sgt., No. ED CV 12-59-VAP (SP), 2012 WL 3627503, at *3 2 (C.D. Cal. June 27, 2012) (concluding that a prisoner’s claims against West 3 Valley Detention Center were more properly brought against the County of 4 San Bernardino). 5 An entity may be sued under § 1983 for an injury inflicted by its 6 employees or agents if the violations result from the execution of the 7 government’s policy or custom. Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 8 694 (1978). In order to hold the County liable under § 1983, Plaintiff must 9 show (1) that he possessed a constitutional right of which he was deprived; (2) 10 that the County had a policy; (3) that the policy amounts to deliberate 11 indifference to Plaintiff’s constitutional right; and (4) that the policy is the 12 moving force behind the constitutional violation. Anderson v. Warner, 451 13 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006) (citations and internal quotation marks 14 omitted). “There must also be a direct causal link between the policy or custom 15 and the injury, and [Plaintiff] must be able to demonstrate that the injury 16 resulted from a . . . well-settled practice.” Id. (quotations/citations omitted). 17 Based upon the foregoing authorities, Plaintiff’s claims against the West 18 Valley Detention Center and Maintenance Department are treated as a claim 19 against the government entity of which they are sub-units, the County. Plaintiff 20 has failed to identify any policy statements, regulations, officially adopted or 21 promulgated decisions, customs, or practices implemented by the County that 22 resulted in the constitutional violations about which Plaintiff complains. 23 Therefore, Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to state a claim for 24 municipal liability under Monell; as a result, the FAC fails to state a claim and 25 is subject to dismissal. 26 With respect to the substance of the claim set forth in the FAC, Plaintiff 27 alleges his claims arise under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments based 28 upon alleged inadequate shelter. FAC at 5. Prisoners who sue prison officials 5 1 for injuries suffered while in custody do so under the Eighth Amendment’s 2 Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause, whereas pretrial detainees sue for such 3 injuries under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause. Castro v. 4 County of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1067-68 (9th Cir. 2016) (en banc).1 Civil rights claims under the Eighth Amendment for conditions of 5 6 confinement required the satisfaction of two requirements: (1) an objective 7 requirement that “the deprivation alleged . . . be sufficiently serious;” and (2) a 8 subjective requirement that the “prison official [] have a sufficiently culpable 9 state of mind.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). A prison official 10 could not be found liable for denying an inmate humane conditions of 11 confinement unless the official knew of and disregarded an excessive risk to 12 inmate health or safety. Id. at 837. In 2015, in Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S. Ct. 2466 (2015), the 13 14 Supreme Court, relying upon the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process 15 Clause, held that for pretrial detainees, only an objective reasonableness test 16 governed a Section 1983 excessive force case – stating “a pretrial detainee must 17 show only that the force purposely or knowingly used against him was 18 objectively unreasonable.” 135 S. Ct. at 2473. Recently, the Ninth Circuit, noting the broad language used by the 19 20 Supreme Court in Kingsley, held that the same objective-only standard for 21 excessive force claims by pretrial detainees also applied to failure to protect 22 claims by pretrial detainees. See Castro, 833 F.3d at 1071. Based upon the 23 analysis of Castro, although previously pretrial detainee civil rights claims 24 based upon a lack of humane conditions were analyzed under the Farmer 25 26 27 28 Plaintiff’s status during the alleged constitutional violation is unclear in the FAC. The Court will continue to treat Plaintiff’s claims as those of a pretrial detainee based upon the nature of the institution and Plaintiff’s reference to on-going state court criminal proceedings. 1 6 1 standard, it would appear that the Ninth Circuit would now analyze such 2 claims under an objective-only standard. The Court will give Plaintiff the 3 benefit of the objective-only standard in this case. 4 “Prison officials have a duty to ensure that prisoners are provided 5 adequate shelter, food, clothing, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety.” 6 Johnson v. Lewis, 217 F.3d 726, 731 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). 7 Further, “[a]dequate lighting is one of the fundamental attributes of adequate 8 shelter required by the Eighth Amendment.” Hoptowit v. Spellman, 753 F.2d 9 779, 783 (9th Cir. 1985). In Hoptowit, the Ninth Circuit affirmed the decision 10 of a lower court in finding lighting that was inadequate for reading and caused 11 eye strain, fatigue, and hindered attempts to ensure sanitation, violated the 12 Eighth Amendment. 753 F.2d at 783; see also Baptisto v. Ryan, No. CV-03- 13 1393-PHX-SRB, 2006 WL 798879, at * 29 (D. Ariz. Mar. 28, 2006) (citing 14 Hoptowit and requiring inmate-plaintiff to show some “adverse mental or 15 physical effects as a result of the lighting” in support of a civil rights claim 16 based upon cell lighting); cf. Osolinski v. Kane, 92 F.3d 934, 938 (9th Cir. 17 1996) (requiring more than a single defective device to create an “objectively 18 insufficiently inhumane condition”). 19 Because the Court finds the allegations against the defendants in the 20 FAC fails to state a claim under Monell, the Court has does not reach the 21 sufficiency of the underlying substantive allegations. However, the Court 22 directs Plaintiff to the foregoing cases regarding what some courts within this 23 Circuit have required to state a civil rights claim based upon cell lighting. 24 IV. 25 CONCLUSION 26 The FAC fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and is 27 subject to dismissal. Because it is not absolutely clear that the deficiencies 28 cannot be cured by amendment, dismissal will be with leave to amend. 7 1 Accordingly, if Plaintiff still desires to pursue his claim, he must file a 2 Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) within thirty (30) days of the date of 3 this Order, remedying the deficiencies discussed above. The SAC should bear 4 the docket number assigned in this case; be labeled “Second Amended 5 Complaint”; and be complete in and of itself without reference to the prior 6 complaints or any other pleading, attachment or document. 7 The Clerk is directed to send Plaintiff a blank Central District civil rights 8 complaint form, which Plaintiff is encouraged to use. In the event Plaintiff no 9 longer wishes to pursue this action, the Clerk is also directed to send Plaintiff a 10 blank Central District Request for Dismissal form, which Plaintiff may use to 11 dismiss the action if he wishes. 12 Plaintiff is admonished that if he fails to timely file a timely SAC this 13 action may be dismissed for failure to diligently prosecute and for the 14 reasons discussed in this Order. 15 16 Dated: November 20, 2017 17 18 ______________________________ JOHN D. EARLY United States Magistrate Judge 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 8

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