Morris v. Evans et al

Filing 10


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1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 6 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 7 8 LEON EUGENE MORRIS, 9 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 10 11 12 No. C 10-4010 SI (pr) Plaintiff, ORDER OF DISMISSAL WITH LEAVE TO AMEND v. Warden M.S. EVANS; et al., Defendants. / 13 14 INTRODUCTION 15 Leon Eugene Morris, an inmate at the California State Prison - Sacramento, filed a pro 16 se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His complaint is now before the court for review 17 under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. 18 19 BACKGROUND 20 The complaint covers a wide variety of prison conditions that Morris experienced, 21 apparently at Salinas Valley State Prison. The complaint endeavors to touch upon everything 22 Morris found disagreeable in the time period 2004 - 2006. In the complaint, Morris includes 23 allegations about excessive force in 2004, 2005 and 2006; denial of access to the courts in 2006; 24 deliberate indifference to medical needs in 2005; due process violations in 2005; Eighth 25 Amendment violations in 2004 and 2005; denial of First Amendment rights in 2004 and 2005; 26 cruel and unusual punishment in 2005 and early 2006; and retaliation in 2004, 2005, and 2006. 27 Approximately sixty persons are listed as defendants. See Complaint, pp. 1-2. 28 DISCUSSION 1 2 A federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any case in which a prisoner 3 seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 4 28 U.S.C. §1915A(a). The court must identify any cognizable claims, and dismiss any claims 5 which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek 6 monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 7 §1915A(b)(1),(2). See 28 U.S.C. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) that 9 a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and (2) that the 10 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 8 violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 11 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). 12 The complaint has two significant deficiencies that require an amended complaint to be 13 filed. First, the complaint has several claims that are not properly joined under Federal Rule of 14 Civil Procedure 20(a) concerning joinder of claims and defendants. Rule 20(a)(2) provides that 15 all persons "may be joined in one action as defendants if: (A) any right to relief is asserted 16 against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same 17 transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and (B) any question of law or 18 fact common to all defendants will arise in the action." Morris’ claims concern a wide variety 19 of problems that happened at different times, and are alleged to have been caused by different 20 defendants. In his amended complaint, Morris may only allege claims that (a) arise out of the 21 same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences and (b) present questions 22 of law or fact common to all defendants named therein. The bottom line is that Morris cannot 23 complain in his amended complaint about everything during his imprisonment. Morris needs 24 to choose what claims he wants to pursue that meet the joinder requirements. This is an 25 important consideration for Morris because if he asserts improperly joined claims in his amended 26 complaint, the court will dismiss the improperly joined claims. 27 Second, the claims in the complaint appear to be barred by the statute of limitations. 28 Section 1983 does not contain its own limitations period; instead, the court looks to the 2 limitations period of the forum state's statute of limitations for personal injury torts. See Elliott 2 v. City of Union City, 25 F.3d 800, 802 (9th Cir. 1994). California's statute of limitations period 3 for personal injury torts is two years, so the statute of limitations period for § 1983 claims is two 4 years. See Maldonado v. Harris, 370 F.3d 945, 954 (9th Cir. 2004); Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 5 335.1; Elliott, 25 F.3d at 802. A claim accrues when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know 6 of the injury which is the basis of the action. See TwoRivers v. Lewis, 174 F.3d 987, 991-92 (9th 7 Cir. 1999); Elliott, 25 F.3d at 802. It is federal law, however, that determines when a cause of 8 action accrues and the statute of limitations begins to run in a § 1983 action. Wallace v. Kato, 9 549 U.S. 384, 388 (2007); Elliott, 25 F.3d at 801-02. Under federal law, a claim generally 10 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 1 accrues when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury which is the basis of the 11 action. See TwoRivers, 174 F.3d at 991-92; Elliott, 25 F.3d at 802. The statute of limitations 12 period generally begins when a plaintiff has knowledge of the "critical facts" of his injury, which 13 are "that he has been hurt and who has inflicted the injury." United States v. Kubrick, 444 U.S. 14 111, 122 (1979). Although the statute of limitations is an affirmative defense that normally may 15 not be raised by the court sua sponte, it may be grounds for sua sponte dismissal of an in forma 16 pauperis complaint where the defense is complete and obvious from the face of the pleadings 17 or the court's own records. See Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1228-30 (9th Cir. 1984). 18 That is the situation here: the defense appears complete and obvious from the face of the 19 complaint because this action was filed more than four years after the occurrence of the acts and 20 omissions alleged in the complaint. 21 Incarceration of the plaintiff is a disability that may toll the statute for a maximum of two 22 years, but only for a plaintiff who is in prison "for a term less than for life." See Cal. Civ. Proc. 23 Code § 352.1. The court cannot now determine whether Morris receives tolling for the disability 24 of imprisonment because he has not alleged the length of his sentence. In his amended 25 complaint, he needs to state the length of his sentence so that the court will be able to determine 26 whether he is entitled to any tolling for his imprisonment. In his amended complaint (or in a 27 separately filed document), Morris must explain why the action should not be dismissed as time- 28 barred. Of course, Morris is not limited to arguing only equitable tolling – he may proffer any 3 1 argument he has to show that the statute of limitations does not bar this action. 2 The order to show cause regarding Morris' pauper application is discharged. (Docket # 3 5.) In his response to that order to show cause, Morris explained to the satisfaction of the court 4 that he did not have three prior dismissals that counted for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) as 5 of the time he filed this action. 6 7 CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons, the complaint is dismissed with leave to amend. The amended 9 complaint must be filed no later than November 18, 2011, and must include the caption and civil 10 United States District Court For the Northern District of California 8 case number used in this order and the words AMENDED COMPLAINT on the first page. 11 Plaintiff is cautioned that his amended complaint must be a complete statement of his claims and 12 will supersede existing pleadings. See London v. Coopers & Lybrand, 644 F.2d 811, 814 (9th 13 Cir. 1981) ("a plaintiff waives all causes of action alleged in the original complaint which are 14 not alleged in the amended complaint.") Failure to file the amended complaint by the deadline 15 will result in the dismissal of the action. 16 17 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: October 12, 2011 _______________________ SUSAN ILLSTON United States District Judge 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 4

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