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Higdon v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 7, 2014

David A. Higdon, Plaintiff,
Charles L. Ryan, Defendant.


DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

David Higdon, who is currently confined in the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis Buckley Unit in Buckeye, Arizona, filed a complaint in Maricopa County Superior Court, matter No. CV2012-018711, suing six Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) officials (Doc. 1-2, Ex. C, Attach. 1 at 10). Defendant Ryan timely removed the case to federal court based on federal question subject matter jurisdiction on March 7, 2013. Before the Court is Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (Doc. 7), filed in compliance with the Court's December 30, 2013 Order. The Court will direct Stapleton and Dorsey to answer Counts I (in part) and III (in part), and will dismiss the remaining claims and Defendants without prejudice.

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 )).

II. First Amended Complaint

Plaintiff presents three counts for relief alleging violations of his First Amendment rights, his due process rights, and his Eighth Amendment rights (Doc. 7 at 3-5). Plaintiff sues the following ADC officials: Charles Ryan, Director; Karen Klausner, General Counsel; Regina Dorsey, Buckley Unit Deputy Warden; Bobby Williams, Criminal Investigations Unit Supervisor; Richardson, [1] Lewis Complex Captain; Trujillo, Lewis Complex Lieutenant; and Tracy Stapleton, Lewis Complex Correctional Officer II (Doc. 7 at 1-1(a)). Plaintiff seeks declaratory, injunctive, and compensatory relief ( id. at 6-6(b)).

In Count I, Plaintiff alleges that in late November, 2011, he learned of a planned attack on a black inmate by a member of a white supremacist prison gang. Plaintiff spoke with his wife on the telephone and they decided to try to prevent the attack from occurring. Plaintiff's wife called Buckley Unit visitation staff and informed them of the planned attack. Buckley staff failed to take action and the black inmate was stabbed in his heart/chest area. After the incident, Plaintiff informed the Buckley staff members that he was going to have his wife report their deliberate indifference to the ACLU and that his wife would testify for the victim if a civil suit was filed. Plaintiff alleges that he was subjected to the following retaliatory acts after this incident: (1) Stapleton and Dorsey issued a false disciplinary report against Plaintiff on December 4, 2011, alleging acts of public sexual indecency, which resulted in the termination of Plaintiff's visitation and discredited Plaintiff and his wife; (2) Ryan, Williams, Dorsey, and Stapleton had a criminal complaint filed against Plaintiff's wife in January 2013 after Plaintiff filed this lawsuit; (3) in April/May 2013, Plaintiff was moved back to Buckley Unit and Stapleton, under Dorsey's authority, offered two inmates a favorable job recommendation if they would assault Plaintiff, which the inmates carried out on May 18, 2013; (4) between April and July 2013, Buckley visitation staff refused to allow Plaintiff's father to visit while carrying his nitroglycerin medication; (5) between July and October 2013, Dorsey suspended Plaintiff's visitation privileges again without due process; (6) after Plaintiff had his visitation restored, Buckley unit staff refused to allow Plaintiff's children to remove their jackets when it became warm outside during visitation; and (7) on December 6, 2013, Dorsey suspended Plaintiff's visitation privileges indefinitely ( id. at 3-3(b)).

In Count II, Plaintiff alleged that he was denied due process during the December 2011 disciplinary proceedings because he was not given 48 hours to prepare for the hearing and he was not given the opportunity to present witnesses in his defense. Further, Trujillo failed to conduct a minimal investigation where he failed to contact known civilian and inmate witnesses and failed to review the video surveillance evidence. Similarly, Richardson found Plaintiff guilty despite the absence of "some evidence" required where there was no inculpatory evidence, she did not review the videotape surveillance of the alleged incident, she allowed Stapleton to fill out Stapleton's witness statement after the conclusion of the formal hearing, and she refused to allow Plaintiff to offer any evidence or witnesses in his defense. Plaintiff appealed the disciplinary charge through two levels of appeal, but Dorsey, Klausner, and Ryan upheld the findings ( id. at 4-4(b)).

In Count III, Plaintiff contends that the false disciplinary charge leveled against him placed him at serious risk of physical harm. Plaintiff asserts that Ryan and Dorsey's failure to move Plaintiff from the Buckley yard; Trujillo and Summers' actions in finding Plaintiff guilty; and Dorsey, Klausner, and Ryan's decision to uphold the disciplinary findings exacerbated that risk. In early 2012, Plaintiff began treatment for fear, anxiety, and depression, and, in June 2012, he was transferred to the Rast Unit, where he lived for 10 months without incident. In April 2013, Dorsey and Ryan allowed Plaintiff to be moved back to the Buckley Unit, again placing him at great risk of serious physical harm.

Thereafter, on May 1, 2013, Stapleton provided two inmates with a copy of Plaintiff's disciplinary report and instructed them to assault the Plaintiff, which was carried out on May 18. Since the assault, Dorsey has administratively attacked Plaintiff with the deprivation of his visitation privileges ( id. at 5-5(a)).

IV. Failure to State a Claim Under § 1983

A plaintiff may seek relief for violations of his federal constitutional or statutory rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 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). In addition, a plaintiff must allege that he suffered a specific injury as a result of the conduct of a particular defendant ...

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