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Medina v. Arpaio

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

August 13, 2013

Manuel Luis Medina, Plaintiff,
Joseph M. Arpaio, et al., Defendants.


DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff Manuel Luis Medina, who is now confined in the Arizona State Prison Complex, Alhambra Unit, in Phoenix, Arizona, has filed a pro se civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and an Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. [1] (Doc. 1, 2.) Plaintiff has also filed two motions for appointment of counsel. (Doc. 5, 6.) The Court will dismiss the Complaint with leave to amend and deny the motions.

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 alleges two counts for threat to safety and denial of due process in connection with disciplinary proceedings. Plaintiff sues Maricopa County Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio and the following current or former employees of the Sheriff's Office: Captain/Jail Commander Harmon; Head of Classification Personnel Rick Bailey; and Detention Officer Burke. Plaintiff seeks injunctive, compensatory, and punitive relief.

Plaintiff alleges the following facts: on March 2, 2012, Plaintiff was booked into the Fourth Avenue Jail and was initially housed on the Fourth Floor. Plaintiff worked his way down to an "(8) Hour Pod, " i.e., a pod in which pretrial detainees are allowed out of their cells for eight hours a day.

On or about January 17, 2013, after Plaintiff had been in an 8-hour pod for more than ten months, Jail Intelligence Unit staff informed Plaintiff that they had a recording of known Mexican Mafia gang members ordering a "hit" on Plaintiff's life. Plaintiff requested Protective Segregation (PS) status for his safety. Although the Lower Buckeye Jail (LBJ), had a PS unit where pretrial detainees were held and had the same privileges as General Population (GP) inmates, Plaintiff was told that he did not qualify for placement at LBJ due to his past history. Instead, Plaintiff was classified as a close custody (CC) inmate and housed on the Fourth Floor, Fox Run, Pod 1, cell 28 (4F1-28) of the Fourth Avenue Jail.

As a CC inmate at the Fourth Avenue Jail, Plaintiff was housed alone and allowed to leave his cell, alone, for an hour each day to clean, use the phone, shower, etc. Further, as a CC inmate at the Fourth Avenue Jail, Plaintiff lacked access to the privileges available to GP inmates at the Jail, including television and the ability to attend religious services. According to Plaintiff, the "mixture of people [in Pod 1 of Fox Run] consisted of GP pretrial detainees, GP gang-affiliated pretrial detainees, gang-affiliated ADC inmates, and mentally ill inmates. At least two inmates from the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC), whom ADC had labeled as Security Threat Group members affiliated with the Mexican Mafia, were housed in Pod 1 of Fox Run. These ADC inmates, named Cruz and Lechuga, were thus members of the very gang that had ordered a hit on Plaintiff. These inmates barraged Plaintiff with constant verbal threats and abuse. In addition to the ADC inmates in Pod 1 of Fox Run, inmates being punished for disciplinary infractions and mentally ill inmates were also held in the Pod. The mentally ill inmates defecated or urinated in the hallways, which Jail staff left for days without having the hallways cleaned. Plaintiff and other inmates in the Pod had to endure the odor and walk through the uncleaned hallways on the way to shower.

On January 31, 2013, the doors in a pod were inadvertently opened, although it is unclear whether it was Plaintiff's pod. As a consequence, Mexican Mafia associates were able to attack Inmate Anthony German and injure him.

The week of February 3, 2013, ADC inmate Cruz was housed in 4F1-22, i.e., in Plaintiff's pod. In addition to being an STG member at ADC, Cruz had been housed in ADC's Security Management Unit, i.e., a maximum security unit. On February 11, 2013, an unidentified Jail detention officer told Plaintiff that Cruz was supposed to be housed behind "double doors" and not with CC inmates, but that Jail classification staff had failed to ensure that Cruz was properly classified. In cell 4Fl-30, ADC inmate Lechuga, another Mexican Mafia affiliate, was housed Plaintiff's pod.

On February 11, 2013, after officers had passed out meal trays to those in Plaintiff's pod, the doors for every cell in the pod simultaneously opened. Plaintiff, not realizing that all of the doors had opened, stepped out of his cell believing that the control room had mistakenly opened his door for time out of his cell. When Plaintiff realized that all of the doors in the pod had been opened, he looked towards the control room and saw that Defendant Detention Officer (DO) Burke, in the control room, was seated with his back to Plaintiff's pod. When Plaintiff looked to his right, he saw Cruz approaching an inmate and pushing other inmates out of his way. As Cruz attacked the inmate he had been approaching, Lechuga, two cells down from Plaintiff, came out of his cell and joined in an attack on a different inmate. After spotting Plaintiff, Lechuga rushed towards Plaintiff and hit him in the mouth. Plaintiff hurt his back and shoulder in attempting to defend himself. Other inmates then joined in the melee, which continued for five minutes before Defendant Burke noticed what was happening and summoned assistance. After assistance arrived, all of the inmates were ordered to return to their cells. All did so except for Lechuga and Cruz.[2]

Sometime later, nurses arrived to document injuries. Plaintiff told them about the injuries to his mouth, back, and shoulder and was given Ibuprofen. After medical staff left, a few officers waited while Cruz packed his belongings and was taken to a more secure location. Plaintiff's back and shoulder continued to be painful. Plaintiff contends that he was injured after being forced to defend himself from the very types of inmates from whom he was supposed to be segregated. He contends that Jail detention and classification staff acted negligently. Because a similar incident had occurred on January 31, 2013, Plaintiff contends that Fourth Avenue Jail officers were complicit in facilitating access by gang-members to PS inmates. Plaintiff contends that the Jail failed to segregate PS inmates from GP and STG inmates and that Fourth Avenue Jail administrative staff refused to send PS inmates to the Lower Buckeye Jail, which has a separate PS pretrial detainee pod that affords PS inmates the same privileges afforded to GP inmates. Plaintiff indicates ...

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