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Thomas v. Wilmot

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

July 2, 2013

Christian Ronnell Thomas, Plaintiff,
v.
Sheriff Wilmot, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

ROBERT C. BROOMFIELD, Senior District Judge.

On April 15, 2013, Plaintiff Christian Ronnell Thomas, who is confined in the Arizona State Prison-Florence West, in Florence, Arizona, filed a pro se civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1) and an incomplete Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. In an Order dated May 29, 2013, the Court noted the deficiencies in Plaintiff's Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and granted Plaintiff 30 days to either pay the filing fee or file a complete Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis.

On June 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed a new Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. 5). The Court will grant the Application and 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, the Court will dismiss the Complaint with leave to amend.

III. Complaint

Plaintiff asserts two counts for violating his rights to basic necessities and for constitutionally adequate medical care. Plaintiff names as Defendants Yuma County Sheriff Wilmot, Extradition Transport of America, and employees of Extradition Transport of America Jane Doe Driver One and John Doe Driver Two. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages.

Plaintiff alleges the following in his Complaint: In 2005, Plaintiff injured his left Achilles tendon, which "disabled" him. (Doc. 1 at 3.) Around June 28, 2012, Plaintiff was extradited from Hampton City Jail and "driven around the country for more than 96 hours" in metal shackles and belly chains. ( Id. at 4.) Plaintiff asserts that he is to be transported in hard plastic or leather-padded shackles and that his repeated complaints were ignored. Because Plaintiff was kept in the metal shackles for 96 hours without them being removed at any time, he suffered injuries to his wrist, "major pain a[nd] inflammation to [his] ankles and feet to the point [he] could hardly walk" and had blood in his stool. ( Id. at 3.) Also, during the 96-hour transport, Plaintiff was only allowed to use the restroom twice a day, and once had to urinate in a bottle to relieve himself. He further asserts that he was not "given any opportunity to do any hygienic processes" during those 96 hours and was "forced to eat, sleep and stay in a cramped, hot, muggy, smelly wanton state." ( Id. at 4.) He felt "like a kidnapped victim" and was "helpless, distressed, depressed, [and in] extreme anguish." ( Id. )

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. Outlander, 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). Moreover, 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. Defendants Wilmot, Jane Doe One and John Doe Two

Plaintiff sues Sheriff Wilmot and Extradition Transport of America drivers Jane Doe One and John Doe Two. While all three individuals may be sued under § 1983, Plaintiff fails to state a claim against any of them.

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 Wilmot violated his constitutional rights. Plaintiff has not alleged that Wilmot 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 Wilmot. For these reasons, Plaintiff fails to state a claim against Wilmot and he will be dismissed.

Nor has Plaintiff alleged any specific facts against Jane Doe Driver One or John Doe Driver Two. Presumably, they were the drivers when Plaintiff was shackled and transported, but Plaintiff does not state that. Nor does he link any constitutional violation to either of them. He states that he complained repeatedly during his transport, but he does not allege to whom those complaints were directed, what he said, and what response, if any, he received. For these reasons, Plaintiff fails to state a claim against either Jane Doe Driver One or John Doe Driver Two and they will be dismissed.

B. Extradition Transport of America

Plaintiff sues Extradition Transport of America. While Plaintiff does not state any facts against this Defendant, presumably Extradition Transport of America is the entity responsible for transporting Plaintiff during the relevant time period since Plaintiff alleges the two drivers were employed by Extradition Transport of America. Claims under § 1983 may be directed at "bodies politic and corporate." Monell, 436 U.S. at 688-89 (1978). Under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, Congress intended municipal corporations and other local government units to be included among those persons to whom § 1983 applies. Id. at 689-90. That proposition has been extended to corporations that act under color of state law. See Sable Commc's of Cal. Inc. v. P. Tel. & Tel Co., 890 F.2d 184, 189 (9th Cir. 1989) (willful joint participation of private corporation in joint activity with state or its agent taken under color of state law).

There are four ways to find state action by a private entity for purposes of § 1983: (1) the private actor performs a public function, (2) the private actor engages in joint activity with a state actor, (3) a private actor is subject to governmental compulsion or coercion, or (4) there is a governmental nexus with the private actor. Kirtley v. Rainey, 326 F.3d 1088, 1093 (9th Cir. 2003). Under the public function test, "the function [performed by the private actor] must traditionally be the exclusive prerogative of the state." Parks Sch. of Bus., Inc. v. Symington, 51 F.3d 1480, 1486 (9th Cir. 1995); see Kirtley, 326 F.3d at 1093; Lee v. Katz, 276 F.3d 550, 554-555 (9th Cir. 2002). A privately owned corporation that provides medical care to state inmates under contract with a state performs a public function that is traditionally the exclusive prerogative of the state.

To state a claim under § 1983 against a private entity performing a traditional public function, a plaintiff must allege facts to support that his constitutional rights were violated as a result of a policy, decision, or custom promulgated or endorsed by the private entity. See Buckner v. Toro, 116 F.3d 450, 452 (11th Cir. 1997); Street v. Corrs. Corp. of Am., 102 F.3d 810, 814 (6th Cir. 1996); Wall v. Dion, 257 F.Supp.2d 316, 319 (D. Me. 2003); see also Austin v. Paramount Parks, Inc., 195 F.3d 715, 727 (4th Cir. 1999); Rojas v. Alexander's Dep't Store, Inc., 924 F.2d 406, 408 (2d Cir. 1990); Lux by Lux v. Hansen, 886 F.2d 1064, 1067 (8th Cir. 1989).

Extradition Transport of America does provide a traditional public function by transporting prisoners under contracts with various law enforcement agencies and may be sued. However, Plaintiff fails to allege facts to support that Extradition Transport of America promulgated or endorsed a policy or custom that resulted in the alleged violation of Plaintiff's federal rights. Moreover, because there is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983, a defendant's position as the employer of someone who allegedly violated a plaintiff's constitutional rights does not make it liable. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691; Taylor, 880 F.2d at 1045. Because Plaintiff fails to allege facts to support that Extradition Transport of America promulgated or endorsed a policy or practice resulting in a violation of his rights, he fails to state a claim against it and Extradition Transport of America will be dismissed.

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.

If Plaintiff files an amended complaint, Plaintiff must write short, plain statements telling the Court: (1) the constitutional right Plaintiff believes was violated; (2) the name of the Defendant who violated the right; (3) exactly what that Defendant did or failed to do; (4) how the action or inaction of that Defendant is connected to the violation of Plaintiff's constitutional right; and (5) what specific injury Plaintiff suffered because of that Defendant's conduct. See Rizzo, 423 U.S. at 371-72, 377.

Plaintiff must repeat this process for each person he names as a Defendant. If Plaintiff fails to affirmatively link the conduct of each named Defendant with the specific injury suffered by Plaintiff, the allegations against that Defendant will be dismissed for failure to state a claim. Conclusory allegations that a Defendant or group of Defendants has violated a constitutional right are not sufficient and will be dismissed.

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, a prisoner may not bring a civil action or appeal a civil judgment in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 "if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

E. Possible Dismissal

If Plaintiff fails to timely comply with every provision of this Order, including these warnings, the Court may dismiss this action without further notice. See Ferdik, 963 F.2d at 1260-61 (a district court may dismiss an action for failure to comply with any order of the Court).

IT IS ORDERED:

(1) Plaintiff's Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. 5) is granted.

(2) As required by the accompanying Order to the appropriate government agency, Plaintiff must pay the $350.00 filing fee and is not assessed an initial partial filing fee.

(3) The Complaint (Doc. 1) is dismissed for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff has 30 days from the date this Order is filed to file a first amended complaint in compliance with this Order.

(4) If Plaintiff fails to file an amended complaint within 30 days, the Clerk of Court must, without further notice, enter a judgment of dismissal of this action with prejudice that states that the dismissal may count as a "strike" under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

(5) The Clerk of Court must mail Plaintiff a court-approved form for filing a civil rights complaint by a prisoner.


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