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Trammell v. Spruyt

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

September 3, 2013

Ramone Trammell, Plaintiff,
v.
Tim Spruyt, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

G. MURRAY SNOW, District Judge.

Plaintiff Ramone Trammell, who is confined in the Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix, Arizona, has filed a pro se civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1) and has paid the administrative and filing fees. The Court will dismiss the Complaint with leave to amend.

I. 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

II. Complaint

In his two-count Complaint, Plaintiff sues Tempe police officer Tim Spruyt, Maricopa County Jail correctional officers John and Jane Doe 1-10, and Maricopa County Jail medical staff John and Jane Doe 1-10.

In Count I, Plaintiff asserts a Fourth Amendment claim for excessive force. Plaintiff does not say when, but alleges that Spruyt pulled over a vehicle in which Plaintiff was a passenger because Spruyt smelled marijuana and because the vehicle had failed to stop. As Spruyt approached the vehicle, Plaintiff ran away because he had almost $6, 000 in his pocket and had been robbed by a police officer in the past. Spruyt shot Trammell in the back. Plaintiff says he was unarmed but that Spruyt said he thought Plaintiff had a gun. Spruyt continued firing shots at Plaintiff, who ran down an alley and flagged down a marked police cruiser. Plaintiff was handcuffed and the police called an EMS. Plaintiff was taken to a hospital where he had surgery to extract the bullet and spent two days in a coma. Due to complications, Plaintiff underwent colostomy surgery.

In Count II, Plaintiff asserts violations of his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to constitutionally adequate medical care. In support of this claim, Plaintiff alleges that the jail failed to provide hygiene items he needed to keep the area of the colostomy clean and the jail failed to take Plaintiff to his appointments (presumably, Plaintiff is referring to follow-up care for the colostomy, but that is not clear in his Complaint). Plaintiff says the site became infected and caused him pain, discomfort, psychological issues, embarrassment, fear of disability, and left him unable to protect himself. Plaintiff alleges that he was eligible for a colostomy reversal nine months ago, but has not received the procedure and his life continues to be at risk by the jail's "failure to reverse the surgery and/or provide other adequate care." (Doc. 1 at 4.)

Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages and any equitable relief the Court deems fitting and proper....

Additional Background

According to records available online, Plaintiff is being held on criminal charges of aggravated assault and misconduct involving weapons in Maricopa County Superior Court case, #CR2012-132289, with an offense date of June 7, 2012.[1] Plaintiff's trial is currently scheduled for October 14, 2013.[2]

III. Failure to State a Claim

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 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). 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. Excessive Force

Plaintiff designates Count I as a claim for the excessive use of force. A claim that police officers used excessive force in the course of an arrest arises under the Fourth Amendment. See Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 395 (1989); Hooper v. County of San Diego, 629 F.3d 1127, 1133 (9th Cir. 2011); Bryan v. MacPherson, 630 F.3d 805, 823-24 (9th Cir. 2010). To state an excessive force claim, a plaintiff must allege facts to support that the force used by police officers was objectively unreasonable under the circumstances. Graham, 490 U.S. at 395. The pertinent question is whether the use of force was "objectively reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances confronting [the officers], without regard to their underlying intent or motivation." Id. at 397. Further, an arrestee's resistance may support the use of force regardless of whether of probable cause for an arrest exists. Brooks v. City of Seattle, 599 F.3d 1018, 1022 (9th Cir. 2010). But the existence of probable cause may be considered as a part of the totality of the circumstances. Id. Other relevant circumstances include the severity of the suspected crime at issue, whether the suspect posed an immediate threat to the safety of officers or others, and whether the suspect was actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest. Miller v. Clark County, 340 F.3d 959, 964 (9th Cir. 2003); see Bryan, 630 F.3d at 823-24.

Plaintiff fails to allege when the alleged use of excessive force by Spruyt occurred. Presumably, Plaintiff is referring to a use of force by Spruyt in the course of his arrest in relation to case #CR2012-132289, but that is not clear from the Complaint. Moreover, Plaintiff acknowledges that he was running away from the officer after the vehicle in which he was a passenger had been stopped and the officer said he thought Plaintiff had a gun. Plaintiff does not allege that use of force against him was objectively unreasonable in light of the facts and surrounding circumstances. Nor does he allege that force was used against him despite his compliance with instructions from the officer(s). Absent additional factual allegations, Plaintiff fails to state a claim for excessive force.

B. Medical Care

In Count II of his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was denied constitutionally adequate medical care. Not every claim by a prisoner relating to inadequate medical treatment states a violation of the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment. To state a § 1983 medical claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendants acted with "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976)). A plaintiff must show (1) a "serious medical need" by demonstrating that failure to treat the condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain and (2) the defendant's response was deliberately indifferent. Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096 (quotations omitted).

"Deliberate indifference is a high legal standard." Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1060 (9th Cir. 2004). To act with deliberate indifference, a prison official must both know of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health; "the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). Deliberate indifference in the medical context may be shown by a purposeful act or failure to respond to a prisoner's pain or possible medical need and harm caused by the indifference. Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096. Deliberate indifference may also be shown when a prison official intentionally denies, delays, or interferes with medical treatment or by the way prison doctors respond to the prisoner's medical needs. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05; Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096.

Deliberate indifference is a higher standard than negligence or lack of ordinary due care for the prisoner's safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835. "Neither negligence nor gross negligence will constitute deliberate indifference." Clement v. California Dep't of Corrs., 220 F.Supp.2d 1098, 1105 (N.D. Cal. 2002); see also Broughton v. Cutter Labs., 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir. 1980) (mere claims of "indifference, " "negligence, " or "medical malpractice" do not support a claim under § 1983). "A difference of opinion does not amount to deliberate indifference to [a plaintiff's] serious medical needs." Sanchez v. Vild, 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989). A mere delay in medical care, without more, is insufficient to state a claim against prison officials for deliberate indifference. See Shapley v. Nevada Bd. of State Prison Comm'rs, 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985). The indifference must be substantial. The action must rise to a level of "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105.

A plaintiff must allege facts that connect a defendant to the claim that he was denied constitutionally adequate medical care. Here, Plaintiff has failed to allege facts against any named Defendant relating to his medical care. For that reason, Plaintiff fails to state a claim and Count II will be dismissed without prejudice.

C. Doe Defendants

Plaintiff names as Defendants Maricopa County Jail correctional officers John and Jane Doe 1-10 and Maricopa County Jail medical staff John and Jane Doe 1-10, but he fails to allege any facts against any of those John and Jane Doe Defendants.

Rule 10(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires the plaintiff to include the names of the parties in the action. As a practical matter, it is impossible in most instances for the United States Marshal or his designee to serve a summons and complaint or amended complaint upon an anonymous defendant. The Ninth Circuit has held that where identity is unknown prior to the filing of a complaint, the plaintiff should be given an opportunity through discovery to identify the unknown defendants, unless it is clear that discovery would not uncover the identities, or that the complaint would be dismissed on other grounds. Wakefield v. Thompson, 177 F.3d 1160, 1163 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing Gillespie v. Civiletti, 629 F.2d 637, 642 (9th Cir. 1980)). Where the names of individual defendants are unknown at the time a complaint is filed, a plaintiff may refer to the individual unknown defendants as Defendant John (or Jane) Doe 1, John Doe 2, and so on, and allege facts to support how each particular Doe defendant violated the plaintiff's constitutional rights.

In this case, Plaintiff fails to allege that any of the Doe Defendants violated a constitutional right. Accordingly, they will be dismissed without prejudice.

IV. 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 acceptable 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).

V. Warnings

A. 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.

B. 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....

C. 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).

D. 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) 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.

(2) 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)....

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


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