Case No.: 3:18-cv-01168-GPC-KSC
ORDER DISMISSING FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT FOR FAILING TO STATE A CLAIM PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)
I. Procedural History
On June 4, 2018, Brandon M. Trammell ("Plaintiff"), currently housed at the George Bailey Detention Facility ("GBDF") located in San Diego, California, and proceeding pro se, filed a civil complaint ("Compl.") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Doc. No. 1 at 1.
Plaintiff did not prepay the civil filing fees required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a) at the time of filing; instead he filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) (Doc. No. 2).
On June 12, 2018, the Court GRANTED Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP but sua sponte DISMISSED his Complaint for failing to state a claim upon which § 1983 relief could be granted. See Doc. No. 3 at 7-8. Plaintiff was granted leave to file an amended pleading in order to correct the deficiencies of pleading identified in the Court's Order. See id. at 8. On July 16, 2018, Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint ("FAC") (Doc. No. 4).
II. Initial Screening per 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b)
A. Standard of Review
As the Court previously informed Plaintiff, because Plaintiff is a prisoner and is proceeding IFP, his pleadings requires a pre-answer screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A(b). Under these statutes, the Court must sua sponte dismiss a prisoner's IFP complaint, or any portion of it, which is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks damages from defendants who are immune. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)); Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2010) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)). "The purpose of [screening] is 'to ensure that the targets of frivolous or malicious suits need not bear the expense of responding.'" Nordstrom v. Ryan, 762 F.3d 903, 920 n.1 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Wheeler v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 689 F.3d 680, 681 (7th Cir. 2012)).
"The standard for determining whether a plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) standard for failure to state a claim." Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012); see also Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012) (noting that screening pursuant to § 1915A "incorporates the familiar standard applied in the context of failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)"). Rule 12(b)(6) requires a complaint to "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted); Wilhelm, 680 F.3d at 1121.
Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. The "mere possibility of misconduct" or "unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation[s]" fall short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id.; see also Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).
B. Plaintiff's Allegations
In January of 2018, while Plaintiff was housed at GBDF, he was "trying to get" into his bed when he slipped and fell against the desk in his cell causing a "cut" to his leg. (FAC at 3-4.) Plaintiff informed an unnamed Sheriff Deputy who "allowed [Plaintiff] to shower." (Id. at 3.) Plaintiff took a shower but claims that the cleanliness of the shower "does not live up to health and safety codes." (Id.) As a result, Plaintiff claims he developed a "flesh eating infection" from "either the shower or from the desk." (Id.)
At some point, Plaintiff was examined by a GBDF nurse who "took [his] vitals" and found he had a high fever. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff alleges that unnamed officials took him to an "observation room" where he "passed out due to the infection spreading." (Id.) At some point, Plaintiff was taken to the hospital where he was given "emergency surgery." (Id.) Plaintiff seeks three (3) million in compensatory and punitive damages, along with two (2) million for "mental anguish." (Id. at 8.)
C. 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Section 1983 is a "vehicle by which plaintiffs can bring federal constitutional and statutory challenges to actions by state and local officials." Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2006). To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Naffe v. Frye, 789 F.3d 1030, 1035-36 (9th Cir. 2015).
D. Improper Defendant
As an initial matter, the Court finds that to the extent Plaintiff includes the San Diego Sheriff's Department as a Defendant, his claims must be dismissed sua sponte pursuant to both 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1) for failing to state a claim upon which § 1983 relief can be granted. Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1126-27; Rhodes, 621 F.3d at 1004. A local law enforcement department (like the San Diego County Sheriff's Department or its Jail) is not a proper defendant under § 1983. See Vance v. County of Santa Clara, 928 F. Supp. 993, 996 (N.D. Cal. 1996) ("Naming a municipal department as a defendant is not an appropriate means of pleading a § 1983 action against a municipality.") (citation omitted); Powell v. Cook County Jail, 814 F. Supp. 757, 758 (N.D. Ill. 1993) ("Section 1983 imposes liability on any 'person' who violates someone's constitutional rights 'under color of law.' Cook County Jail is not a 'person.'").
E. Municipal Liability
To the extent Plaintiff intends to assert a claim against the County of San Diego itself, his allegations are insufficient. A municipal entity is liable under section 1983 only if plaintiff shows that his constitutional injury was caused by employees acting pursuant to the municipality's policy or custom. Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 280 (1977); Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Villegas v. Gilroy Garlic Festival Ass'n, 541 F.3d 950, 964 (9th Cir. 2008). Local government entities may not be held vicariously liable under section 1983 for the unconstitutional acts of its employees under a theory of respondeat superior. See Board of Cty. Comm'rs. v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 403 (1997).
Plaintiff claims it is the County's "fault for lack of cleanliness" and insufficient "health inspections." (FAC at 5.) These claims raise issues of negligence but fail to identify any specific policy generated by the County of San Diego that resulted in Plaintiff's alleged injuries.
F. Respondeat Superior
In addition, Plaintiff names Sheriff William Gore as a Defendant in his individual capacity but provides no factual allegations as to this Defendant. As a result, Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which § 1983 relief can be granted because he sets forth no individualized allegations of wrongdoing by Sheriff Gore, and instead seeks to hold him vicariously liable for the actions of his deputies and medical staff. See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676 ("Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to . . . § 1983 suits," Plaintiff "must plead that each Government-official defendant, though the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.")
Plaintiff's FAC contains no factual allegations describing what Defendant Sheriff Gore knew, did, or failed to do, with regard to Plaintiff's needs. Estate of Brooks v. United States, 197 F.3d 1245, 1248 (9th Cir. 1999) ("Causation is, of course, a required element of a § 1983 claim.") "The inquiry into causation must be individualized and focus on the duties and responsibilities of each individual defendant whose acts or omissions are alleged to have caused a constitutional deprivation." Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 633 (9th Cir. 1988), citing Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 370-71 (1976); Berg v. Kincheloe, 794 F.2d 457, 460 (9th Cir. 1986).
Thus, without some specific "factual content" that might allow the Court to "draw the reasonable inference" that Sheriff Gore may be held personally liable for any unconstitutional conduct directed at Plaintiff, the Court finds his FAC, as currently pleaded, contains allegations which Iqbal makes clear fail to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 568.
G. Inadequate Medical Care
Prison officials are liable only if they are deliberately indifferent to the prisoner's serious medical needs. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976 ); see also Clouthier v. Cnty. of Contra Costa, 591 F.3d 1232, 1241-44 (9th Cir. 2010) (applying Estelle's Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference standard to inadequate medical care claims alleged to violate a pretrial detainees' due process rights), overruled on other grounds by Castro v. County of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060 (9th Cir. 2016).
Here, Plaintiff does claim to have suffered injuries that demonstrates that his medical needs may be objectively serious. See McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1991) (defining a "serious medical need" as one which the "failure to treat ... could result in further significant injury or the 'unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain.'"), overruled on other grounds by WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 1997) (en banc) (citing Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 ("[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'") (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The "existence of an injury that a reasonable doctor or patient would find important and worthy of comment or treatment; the presence of a medical condition that significantly affects an individual's daily activities; or the existence of chronic and substantial pain are examples of indications that a prisoner has a 'serious' need for medical treatment." McGuckin, 974 F.3d at 1059-60.
Even if the Court assumes Plaintiff's medical needs were "objectively serious" medical conditions, nothing in his FAC supports a "reasonable inference that [any individual] defendant" acted with deliberate indifference to his plight. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "In order to show deliberate indifference, an inmate must allege sufficient facts to indicate that prison officials acted with a culpable state of mind." Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 302 (1991). The indifference to medical needs also must be substantial; inadequate treatment due to malpractice, or even gross negligence, does not amount to a constitutional violation. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106; Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1060 (9th Cir. 2004) ("Deliberate indifference is a high legal standard.") (citing Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 1204 (9th Cir. 2002); Wood v. Housewright, 900 F.2d 1332, 1334 (9th Cir. 1990)). A difference of opinion between a pretrial detainee and the doctors or other trained medical personnel at the Jail as to the appropriate course or type of medical attention he requires does not amount to deliberate indifference, see Snow v. McDaniel, 681 F.3d 978, 987 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Sanchez v. Vild, 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989)), and any delay in providing an appropriate course of treatment does not by itself show deliberate indifference, unless the delay is alleged have caused harm. See McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060; Shapley v. Nevada Bd. of State Prison Comm'rs, 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985).
Here, Plaintiff alleges he was examined by GBDF staff and found to have a fever. See FAC at 4. He was placed in an "observation room" and a "culture" was taken from his wound. (Id.) Ultimately, he was transferred to an outside hospital. (Id.) However, Plaintiff alleges no facts that any medical personnel at GBDF acted in "deliberate indifference" to his serious medical needs. Instead, he alleges that he disagrees with how they treated him for his medical condition which is insufficient to state a claim. See Snow, 681 F.3d at 987. Without more, Plaintiff's inadequate medical care claims currently amount only to "unadorned, the defendant[s]-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation[s]," which "stop short of the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitlement to relief'" as to any constitutionally inadequate medical care claim. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557).
H. Leave to Amend
A pro se litigant must be given leave to amend his pleading to state a claim unless it is absolutely clear the deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. See Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1130 (noting leave to amend should be granted when a complaint is dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) "if it appears at all possible that the plaintiff can correct the defect"). Therefore, while the Court finds Plaintiff's FAC fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, it will provide him a chance to fix the pleading deficiencies discussed in this Order, if he can. See Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992)). / / /
III. Conclusion and Order
For all the reasons discussed, the Court:
1. DISMISSES Plaintiff's FAC for failing to state a claim upon which § 1983 relief can granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) & 1915A;
2. GRANTS Plaintiff forty-five (45) days leave to file an Amended Complaint which cures all the deficiencies of pleading described in this Order. Plaintiff is cautioned, however, that should he choose to file an Amended Complaint, it must be complete by itself, comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), and that any claim not re-alleged will be considered waived. See S.D. CAL. CIVLR 15.1; Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1546 (9th Cir. 1989) ("[A]n amended pleading supersedes the original."); Lacey v. Maricopa Cnty., 693 F.3d 896, 928 (9th Cir. 2012) (noting that claims dismissed with leave to amend which are not re-alleged in an amended pleading may be "considered waived if not repled.").
3. The Clerk of Court is directed to mail Plaintiff a court approved form civil rights complaint for his use in amending.
IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: October 25, 2018
Hon. Gonzalo P. Curiel
United States District Judge