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Wittboldt v. Arpaio

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

May 28, 2013

Douglas Wittboldt, Plaintiff,
v.
Joseph Arpaio, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

ROBERT C. BROOMFIELD, Senior District Judge.

Plaintiff Douglas Wittboldt, who is confined in the Fourth Avenue Jail in Phoenix, Arizona, has filed a pro se civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1) and an Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. 2). The Court will dismiss the Complaint with leave to amend.

I. Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and Filing Fee

Plaintiff's Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis will be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Plaintiff must pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). The Court will not assess an initial partial filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). The statutory fee will be collected monthly in payments of 20% of the previous month's income each time the amount in the account exceeds $10.00. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). The Court will enter a separate Order requiring the appropriate government agency to collect and forward the fees according to the statutory formula.

II. Statutory Screening of Prisoner Complaints

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or an employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if a plaintiff has raised claims that are legally frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2).

A pleading must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (emphasis added). While Rule 8 does not demand detailed factual allegations, "it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id.

"[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. "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. at 679. Thus, although a plaintiff's specific factual allegations may be consistent with a constitutional claim, a court must assess whether there are other "more likely explanations" for a defendant's conduct. Id. at 681.

But as the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has instructed, courts must "continue to construe pro se filings liberally." Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). A "complaint [filed by a pro se prisoner] must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Id. (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) ( per curiam )).

If the Court determines that a pleading could be cured by the allegation of other facts, a pro se litigant is entitled to an opportunity to amend a complaint before dismissal of the action. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127-29 (9th Cir. 2000) ( en banc ). The Court should not, however, advise the litigant how to cure the defects. This type of advice "would undermine district judges' role as impartial decisionmakers." Pliler v. Ford, 542 U.S. 225, 231 (2004); see also Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1131 n.13 (declining to decide whether the court was required to inform a litigant of deficiencies). The Court will dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim, but because the Complaint may possibly be saved by amendment, will dismiss the Complaint with leave to amend.

III. Complaint

Plaintiff alleges one count for threat to safety. Plaintiff sues Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio and a third-shift detention officer working at the Fourth Avenue Jail on December 24, 2012. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Plaintiff alleges the following facts in his Complaint: in November 2012, Plaintiff informed the jail's classification unit that he had a leg injury and a urinary tract issue that caused him to urinate ten to twelve times a night. Because of his health conditions, Plaintiff was assigned to a bottom bunk in the housing unit for pre-trial detainees. On December 25, 2012, [1] a detention officer brought in a new cell mate and told Plaintiff to move to the top bunk. Plaintiff responded that he was assigned to the bottom bunk, but the officer told him the new inmate had a stomach injury and needed a bottom bunk. Plaintiff explained that he, too, needed the bottom bunk, but the officer became irate and ordered Plaintiff to move to the top bunk. Plaintiff had no choice but to comply. The top bunk lacked a ladder or steps for climbing up and down, so Plaintiff had to use a table and a stool with a stainless steel surface to get up and down from his bunk. On February 20, 2013, Plaintiff got up in the night to urinate. He was wearing socks to keep his feet warm, and his foot slipped when he stepped onto the stool, causing Plaintiff to fall and bounce off the table and onto the floor. Plaintiff was able to urinate and get back into bed, but he woke up two hours later, unable to move. Medical staff took his vitals and a urine sample, and the following day Plaintiff saw a doctor, who ordered x-rays. The x-rays revealed two broken ribs. Plaintiff contends that the jail was aware of his health conditions and that he needed to be placed in a bottom bunk. Further, he asserts that the detention officer who ordered him to take the top bunk on December 24, 2012 was negligent in "not tak[ing] the time to check into [Plaintiff's] situation[.]" (Doc. 1 at 4.) Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

IV. Failure to State a Claim

To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege facts supporting that (1) the conduct about which he complains was committed by a person acting under the color of state law and (2) the conduct deprived him of a federal constitutional or statutory right. Wood v. Ostrander, 879 F.2d 583, 587 (9th Cir. 1989). Negligence is not sufficient to state a claim under § 1983. Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-31 (1986). In addition, a plaintiff must allege that he suffered a specific injury as a result of the conduct of a particular defendant and he must allege an affirmative link between the injury and the conduct of that defendant. Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 371-72, 377 (1976).

A. Sheriff Arpaio

Plaintiff sues Sheriff Joseph Arpaio. While Arpaio may be sued under § 1983, Plaintiff fails to state a claim against him.

To state a claim against a defendant, "[a] plaintiff must allege facts, not simply conclusions, that show that an individual was personally involved in the deprivation of his civil rights." Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998). For an individual to be liable in his official capacity, a plaintiff must allege that the official acted as a result of a policy, practice, or custom. See Cortez v. County of Los Angeles, 294 F.3d 1186, 1188 (9th Cir. 2001). Further, there is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983, so a defendant's position as the supervisor of someone who allegedly violated a plaintiff's constitutional rights does not make him liable. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978); Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). A supervisor in his individual capacity, "is only liable for constitutional violations of his subordinates if the supervisor participated in or directed the violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them." Taylor, 880 F.2d at 1045. In addition, where a defendant's only involvement in allegedly unconstitutional conduct is the denial of administrative grievances, the failure to intervene on a prisoner's behalf to remedy the alleged unconstitutional behavior does not amount to active unconstitutional behavior for purposes of § 1983. See Shehee v. Luttrell, 199 F.3d 295, 300 (6th Cir. 1999); accord Proctor v. Applegate, 661 F.Supp.2d 743, 765 (W.D. Mich. 2009); Stocker v. Warden, No. 1:07-CV-00589, 2009 WL 981323, at *10 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 13, 2009); Mintun v. Blades, No. CV-06-139, 2008 WL 711636, at *7 (D. Idaho Mar. 14, 2008); see also Gregory v. City of Louisville, 444 F.3d 725, 751 (6th Cir. 2006) (a plaintiff must allege that a supervisor defendant did more than play a passive role in an alleged violation or mere tacit approval thereof; a plaintiff must allege that the supervisor defendant somehow encouraged or condoned the actions of their subordinates).

Plaintiff fails to allege any facts to support that Arpaio violated his constitutional rights. Plaintiff has not alleged that Arpaio directly violated his constitutional rights, nor has he alleged that his rights have been violated under a policy or practice promulgated, endorsed, or condoned by Arpaio. For these reasons, Plaintiff fails to state a claim against Arpaio and he will be dismissed.

B. Threat to Safety

To state a claim under § 1983 for failure to protect or threat to safety, an inmate must allege facts to support that he was incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of harm and that prison officials were "deliberately indifferent" to those risks. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832-33 (1994). To adequately allege deliberate indifference, a plaintiff must allege facts to support that a defendant knew of, but disregarded, an excessive risk to inmate safety. Id. at 837. That is, "the official must both [have been] aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exist[ed], and he must also [have] draw[n] the inference." Id.

Plaintiff alleges only that he told the detention officer on December 24 or 25, 2012, that he was assigned to the bottom bunk and that he needed the bottom bunk. Plaintiff does not allege that he told the detention officer why he was assigned to the bottom bunk, i.e., that he had a medical condition that necessitated getting in and out of bed many times during the night and that he had a leg injury. That is, Plaintiff does not allege that the unidentified detention officer knew of, but disregarded, an excessive risk to his safety. Nor does Plaintiff allege that the detention officer was aware of facts from which he could draw the inference that a substantial risk of harm existed and that the detention officer actually drew that inference. Finally, Plaintiff does not assert that he complained or filed a grievance at any time between being moved to the top bunk in late December 2012 and February 20, 2013, when he was injured, that would put Defendants on notice that a substantial threat to Plaintiff's safety existed. Accordingly, the Court will dismiss this claim with leave to amend.

V. Leave to Amend

For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's Complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Within 30 days, Plaintiff may submit a first amended complaint to cure the deficiencies outlined above. The Clerk of Court will mail Plaintiff a court-approved form to use for filing a first amended complaint. If Plaintiff fails to use the court-approved form, the Court may strike the amended complaint and dismiss this action without further notice to Plaintiff.

Plaintiff must clearly designate on the face of the document that it is the "First Amended Complaint." The first amended complaint must be retyped or rewritten in its entirety on the court-approved form and may not incorporate any part of the original Complaint by reference. Plaintiff may include only one claim per count.

A first amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1262 (9th Cir. 1992); Hal Roach Studios v. Richard Feiner & Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1546 (9th Cir. 1990). After amendment, the Court will treat an original complaint as nonexistent. Ferdik, 963 F.2d at 1262. Any cause of action that was raised in the original complaint is waived if it is not raised in a first amended complaint. King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987).

VI. Warnings

A. Release

Plaintiff must pay the unpaid balance of the filing fee within 120 days of his release. Also, within 30 days of his release, he must either (1) notify the Court that he intends to pay the balance or (2) show good cause, in writing, why he cannot. Failure to comply may result in dismissal of this action.

B. Address Changes

Plaintiff must file and serve a notice of a change of address in accordance with Rule 83.3(d) of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff must not include a motion for other relief with a notice of change of address. Failure to comply may result in dismissal of this action.

C. Copies

Plaintiff must submit an additional copy of every filing for use by the Court. See LRCiv 5.4. Failure to comply may result in the filing being stricken without further notice to Plaintiff.

D. Possible "Strike"

Because the Complaint has been dismissed for failure to state a claim, if Plaintiff fails to file an amended complaint correcting the deficiencies identified in this Order, the dismissal may count as a "strike" under the "3-strikes" provision of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). Under the 3-strikes provision


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