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Valdespino v. Brewer

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 9, 2014

Paul Thomas Valdespino, Plaintiff,
Janice K. Brewer, et al., Defendants.


DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

On July 26, 2013, Plaintiff Paul Thomas Valdespino, who is confined in the Arizona State Prison Complex-Yuma, filed a pro se civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, an Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis , and a Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and a Preliminary Injunction. In a November 18, 2013 Order, the Court granted the Application to Proceed, dismissed the Complaint because Plaintiff had failed to state a claim, and denied the Motion. The Court gave Plaintiff 30 days to file an amended complaint that cured the deficiencies identified in the Order. On December 27, 2013, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint (Doc. 11) and a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and a Preliminary Injunction." On January 6, 2014, Plaintiff filed a "Notice of Errata" and an Amended Motion for Temporary Restraining Order (Doc. 14).

The Court will dismiss the First Amended Complaint, with leave to amend, and deny the Amended Motion for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction....

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). Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim, but because it may possibly be amended to state a claim, the Court will dismiss it with leave to amend.

II. First Amended Complaint

Plaintiff names the following Defendants in the First Amended Complaint: Arizona Governor Janice K. Brewer; Arizona Department of Corrections (ADOC) Director Charles L. Ryan; Warden Richard Allen Bock; Deputy Warden E. Jensen; and Assistant Deputy Warden Wallace.

Plaintiff raises three claims for relief. In Count One, Plaintiff claims his Eighth Amendment rights are violated because "dangerous inmates impose mandatory prison gang rules upon plaintiff at the threat of violence or death." These rules include: "censorship of plaintiff's verbal and written communications with prison officials, medical staff, and to the outside world, the production of charging documents listing Plaintiff's committing offense; the monitoring of plaintiff's assigned living area, assigned job and all inmate activities, outside recreation is mandatory with the requirement that Plaintiff work out so that he is fit to assault another inmate or staff or do battle in a[n] ordered riot, and include[s]... extortion of Plaintiff's personal property or monies for monthly payment to gang members." Plaintiff contends that Defendants Brewer, Ryan, Bock, Jensen and Wallace have knowledge of these rules, but that if Plaintiff were to complain, "prison officials" would "place Plaintiff into a maximum custody punitive segregation unit for months or years and then place Plaintiff back into medium custody into the hands of dangerous inmates."

Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants Brewer, Ryan, Bock, Jensen, and Wallace confine Plaintiff in overcrowded dormitories that have double bunks that "obstruct prison officials[] view and observation of inmates and inmate behavior[.]" Plaintiff claims that Defendants are aware of inmate-on-inmate assaults and that at least three inmate riots occurred between January 2012 and October 2013. Plaintiff further claims that inmates are threatened with assault and extortion on a daily basis. Plaintiff alleges that the dangerous inmates are seldom disciplined, charged under the criminal code, or segregated from the general population. Plaintiff claims that he faces the threat of assault and extortion every day and suffers "psychological debilitation" and monetary loss.

In Count Two, Plaintiff claims his Eighth Amendment rights are violated by confinement in overcrowded conditions. Plaintiff claims he is housed with 125 other inmates with "only about 24 square feet of useable floor space when housed in a cubicle, and only 12 square feet of useable floor space when housed in a cubicle with another inmate double bunked." Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants Bock, Jensen, and Wallace fail to train and provide adequate cleaning supplies to inmate porters who clean the toilets, urinals, sinks and showers and fail to provide protective gloves, boots, and equipment to inmate porters. Finally, Plaintiff claims moving around the overcrowded dormitories is difficult and that noise levels are "generally unbearable and inmate tensions and hostilities are dangerously high."

In Count Three, Plaintiff alleges that his Eighth Amendment rights are violated by overcrowded and understaffed dormitories. Plaintiff claims there are approximately 1, 200 inmates confined in the prison unit with only 20 corrections officers on duty. Plaintiff further claims he is denied adequate outside exercise and that it takes weeks to see a medical provider. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunction relief and money damages.

III. Failure to State a Claim

An Eighth Amendment claim requires a sufficiently culpable state of mind by the Defendants, known as "deliberate indifference." Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994). Deliberate indifference is a higher standard than negligence or lack of ordinary due care for the prisoner's safety. Id. at 835. To state a claim of deliberate indifference, plaintiffs must satisfy a two-part test. First, the alleged constitutional deprivation must be, objectively, "sufficiently serious"; and the official's act or omission must result in the denial of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities." Id. at 834. Second, the prison official must have a "sufficiently culpable state of mind, " i.e. , he must act with deliberate indifference to inmate health or safety. Id. In defining "deliberate indifference" in this context, the Supreme Court has imposed a subjective test: "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." Id. at 837 (emphasis added).

"[A] prison official may be held liable under the Eighth Amendment for denying humane conditions of confinement only if he knows that inmates face a substantial risk of serious harm and disregards that risk by failing to take reasonable measures to abate it." Id. at 847. A plaintiff "may demonstrate deliberate indifference by showing that the risk of harm was longstanding, pervasive, well-documented, or expressly noted by prison officials in the past' such that the defendants must have known' about the risk." Betts v. New Castle Youth Dev. Ctr. , 621 F.3d 249, 259 (3rd Cir. 2010) (quoting Farmer , 511 U.S. at 842). A prisoner facing unsafe prison conditions and seeking injunctive relief to "prevent a substantial risk of serious injury from ripening into actual harm" need not wait for an event such as an assault before obtaining relief. Farmer , 511 U.S. at 845.

A. Defendant Brewer

To state a valid claim under § 1983, plaintiffs must allege that they suffered a specific injury as a result of specific conduct of a defendant and show an affirmative link between the injury and the conduct of that defendant. See Rizzo v. Goode , 423 U.S. 362, 371-72, 377 (1976). There is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983, and therefore, a defendant's position as the supervisor of persons who allegedly violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights does not impose liability. Monell v. New York City Dep't of Soc. Servs. , 436 U.S. 658, 691-92 (1978); Hamilton v. Endell , 981 F.2d 1062, 1067 (9th Cir. 1992); Taylor v. List , 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). "Because vicarious liability is inapplicable to Bivens and § 1983 suits, a plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 676.

Plaintiff has made only conclusory allegations against Defendant Brewer. Plaintiff has not alleged that Defendant Brewer is personally liable because she was aware of risk of harm to Plaintiff's safety and failed to act, nor has he demonstrated she is liable in her official capacity for implementing policies that resulted in Plaintiff's injuries. Plaintiff's conclusory allegations against Defendant Brewer are insufficient and fail to state a claim.

B. Gang Control

Plaintiff's allegations in Count One regarding prison gangs and their rules are vague and conclusory and not sufficient to state an Eighth Amendment claim. Although Plaintiff alleges that under the prison gang rules his verbal and written communications with or to prison staff, medical staff and to the outside world have been censored, he describes no specific instances of when or how this occurred. He further alleges that under the prison gang rules in his assigned housing area, prison jobs and activities are monitored, but again he provides no specific examples of when or how this took place. He alleges that if he complained about the prison gang rules to unnamed "prison officials, " he would be placed in "a maximum custody punitive segregation unit for months or years, " but offers no facts to support this speculative claim. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants have observed or been told about assaults, threats and extortion, but Plaintiff provides no information about these alleged observations or reports such as who was involved and when these events occurred. Similarly, Plaintiff does not allege whether he personally complained to prison officials, and if so, when or what he said in his complaint(s) and any response(s) he personally received from prison officials. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that he has suffered "psychological debilitation" and monetary loss, but he provides no details about these injuries.

Because Plaintiff's allegations regarding prison gangs and their rules are vague and conclusory, they fail to state a claim and will be dismissed.

C. Conditions of Confinement

Plaintiff's claims of overcrowding in Counts One, Two, and Three are likewise vague and conclusory. A bare allegation of overcrowding does not state a claim. Hoptowit v. Ray , 682 F.2d 1237, 1249 (9th Cir. 1982); see also Rhodes v. Chapman , 452 U.S. 337, 348 (1981). Overcrowding can result in certain effects that may form the basis for a constitutional violation, such as increased violence, the dilution of constitutionally required services, and shelter unfit for human habitation. Hoptowit , 682 F.2d at 1249; see also Akao v. Shimoda , 832 F.2d 119, 120 (9th Cir. 1987) ( per curiam ) (reversing district court's dismissal of claim that overcrowding caused increased stress, tension, communicable disease, and confrontation between inmates); Toussaint v. Yockey , 722 F.2d 1490, 1492 (9th Cir. 1984) (constitutional violation may occur as a result of overcrowded prison conditions engendering violence, tension and psychiatric problems).

In this case, Plaintiff's conclusory allegations of overcrowding fail to state a claim. Plaintiff fails to identify what each named Defendant did or failed to do that resulted in his injuries, whether he personally submitted any statements or grievances to Defendants regarding the prison conditions, and, if so, to whom, when, and what response(s) he received, if any. Finally, he fails to assert approximately when and for how long he was subjected to overcrowded and understaffed conditions and fails to describe his injuries beyond the very vague statement that he suffers "mental and physical pain." Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims of overcrowding in Counts One, Two, and Three will be dismissed.

To the extent Plaintiff claims inmate porters are not provided with adequate protective equipment and training, he has also failed to state a claim. Plaintiff has not alleged that he is employed as a porter and therefore suffers injury from being denied protective equipment and training. A "plaintiff generally must assert his own legal rights and interests, and cannot assert the legal rights or interests of third parties.'" Mothershed v. ...

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