(PC) Merriman v. Harris et al

Filing 10

ORDER signed by Magistrate Judge Dennis M. Cota on 10/04/19 ORDERING plaintiff may file a first amended complaint within 30 days of the date of service of this order. (Plummer, M)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 DOMINIQUE MERRIMAN, 12 No. 2:19-CV-1444-KJM-DMC-P Plaintiff, 13 v. 14 HARRIS, et al., 15 ORDER Defendants. 16 17 18 19 Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is plaintiff’s complaint (ECF No. 1). The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief 20 against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. 21 § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it: (1) is frivolous or 22 malicious; (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief 23 from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Moreover, 24 the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that complaints contain a “. . . short and plain 25 statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This 26 means that claims must be stated simply, concisely, and directly. See McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 27 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996) (referring to Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e)(1)). These rules are satisfied if the 28 complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff’s claim and the grounds upon which it 1 1 rests. See Kimes v. Stone, 84 F.3d 1121, 1129 (9th Cir. 1996). Because plaintiff must allege 2 with at least some degree of particularity overt acts by specific defendants which support the 3 claims, vague and conclusory allegations fail to satisfy this standard. Additionally, it is 4 impossible for the court to conduct the screening required by law when the allegations are vague 5 and conclusory. 6 I. PLAINTIFF’S ALLEGATIONS 7 8 9 Plaintiff Dominique Merriman names the following as Defendants: Harris, J. Ponder, James Telander, and S. Gates 10 Plaintiff is a prisoner at Mule Creek State Prison located in Ione, California. On 11 January 23rd, 2019, Plaintiff expressed feelings of anxiety and thoughts of self-harm and suicide 12 to the prison psychologist, Harris. Harris was allegedly aware that Plaintiff had a history of prior 13 suicidal behavior. Regardless, Harris did not place Plaintiff under suicide observation and cleared 14 Plaintiff to be housed in his regularly assigned unit. Plaintiff subsequently cut at his own body 15 with a sharp object, causing bleeding, pain, and permanent scarring. Plaintiff also claims to have 16 suffered emotional distress as a result of the above-mentioned incidents. Harris’s supervisors J. Ponder, James Telander, and S. Gates were allegedly aware 17 18 of Plaintiff’s history of prior suicidal behavior and of Harris’s decision to forgo placing Plaintiff 19 under suicide observation. According to Plaintiff, they made no supervisory changes to Harris’s 20 decision. 21 22 23 II. DISCUSSION The Court finds service as to Defendant Harris appropriate. The Complaint 24 adequately states facts to allege an 8th Amendment claim against Defendant Harris, based on 25 allegations of a direct failure to act in his capacity as the prison’s psychiatrist. 26 The Court, however, finds allegations against Defendants J. Ponder, James 27 Telander, and S. Gates (Supervisors) insufficient for lack of facts linking their conduct to a 28 violation of Plaintiff’s rights. 2 1 Supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their 2 employees. See Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989) (holding that there is no 3 respondeat superior liability under § 1983). A supervisor is only liable for the constitutional 4 violations of subordinates if the supervisor participated in or directed the violations. See id. The 5 Supreme Court has rejected the notion that a supervisory defendant can be liable based on 6 knowledge and acquiescence in a subordinate’s unconstitutional conduct because government 7 officials, regardless of their title, can only be held liable under § 1983 for his or her own conduct 8 and not the conduct of others. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 676 (2009). Supervisory 9 personnel who implement a policy so deficient that the policy itself is a repudiation of 10 constitutional rights and the moving force behind a constitutional violation may, however, be 11 liable even where such personnel do not overtly participate in the offensive act. See Redman v. 12 Cnty of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1446 (9th Cir. 1991) (en banc). 13 When a defendant holds a supervisory position, the causal link between such 14 defendant and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. 15 Stapley, 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 16 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of supervisory personnel in 17 civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th 18 Cir. 1982). “[A] plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the 19 official’s own individual actions, has violated the constitution.” Iqbal, 662 U.S. at 676. 20 Plaintiff appears to allege liability on the part of the Supervisors based purely on 21 their knowledge and acquiescence to Harris’s conduct. This alone is insufficient. Plaintiff must 22 allege a specific causal connection between the Supervisors’ conduct and a constitutional 23 violation. A generalized statement of the Supervisors’ prior knowledge of the Plaintiff’s suicidal 24 tendencies, alone, does not plausibly establish this causal connection. 25 /// 26 /// 27 /// 28 /// 3 1 2 III. CONCLUSION Because it is possible that the deficiencies identified in this order may be cured by 3 amending the complaint, plaintiff is entitled to leave to amend. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 4 1122, 1126, 1131 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Plaintiff is informed that, as a general rule, an 5 amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. See Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 6 1262 (9th Cir. 1992). Therefore, if plaintiff amends the complaint, the court cannot refer to the 7 prior pleading in order to make plaintiff's amended complaint complete. See Local Rule 220. An 8 amended complaint must be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. See id. 9 If plaintiff chooses to amend the complaint, plaintiff must demonstrate how the 10 conditions complained of have resulted in a deprivation of plaintiff’s constitutional rights. See 11 Ellis v. Cassidy, 625 F.2d 227 (9th Cir. 1980). The complaint must allege in specific terms how 12 each named defendant is involved, and must set forth some affirmative link or connection 13 between each defendant’s actions and the claimed deprivation. See May v. Enomoto, 633 F.2d 14 164, 167 (9th Cir. 1980); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). 15 Because the complaint appears to otherwise state cognizable claims, if no amended 16 complaint is filed within the time allowed therefor, the court will issue findings and 17 recommendations that the claims identified herein as defective be dismissed, as well as such 18 further orders as are necessary for service of process as to the cognizable claims. 19 20 Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that plaintiff may file a first amended complaint within 30 days of the date of service of this order. 21 22 23 Dated: October 4, 2019 ____________________________________ DENNIS M. COTA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 24 25 26 27 28 4

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