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Medina v. Arpaio

United States District Court, D. Arizona

July 8, 2014

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


DIANE J. HUMETEWA, District Judge.

Plaintiff Manuel Luis Medina, who is now confined in the Arizona State Prison Complex, Buckley-Blue Unit, in Buckeye, Arizona, filed a pro se civil rights Complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which the Court dismissed for failure to state a claim with leave to amend.[1] (Doc. 1, 8.) Plaintiff has filed a First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 14.) The Court will dismiss the First Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim 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 will dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint 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 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: Disciplinary Facility Commander A4038; Rick Bailey, head of classification personnel; and Detention Officer Burke. Plaintiff seeks injunctive, compensatory, and punitive relief.

Portions of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint, particularly page 3, are only partially legible. Omitting the illegible portions, Plaintiff alleges the following facts, which the Court summarizes chronologically: Plaintiff was booked into the Fourth Avenue Jail on March 2, 2012. (Doc. 14 at 3B.) On January 17, 2013, Plaintiff signed a waiver to be removed from General Population (GP) and to be placed into Protective Segregation (PS) after Plaintiff was informed by jail intelligence staff that a death threat had been made against him by known Mexican Mafia gang-members and upon the recommendation of jail intelligence staff.[2] However, after further review, jail officials informed Plaintiff that he was not eligible for placement in Administrative Segregation (AS) at the Lower Buckeye Jail (LBJ), where PS inmates were typically held.[3] The Fourth Avenue Jail, where Plaintiff was being held, did not have a PS pod. Therefore, Classification Officer Bailey raised Plaintiff's classification to Close Custody (CC) and Plaintiff was placed in a CC pod, specifically, pod 4F100. Each CC inmate was held in a one-person cell for 23 hours a day with an hour out of his cell alone for showers and other tasks; each CC inmate was supposed to be kept separate from other inmates, including other CC inmates. According to Plaintiff, most CC inmates were so designated because of disciplinary infractions that posed risks to other inmates and staff. In addition, at times relevant to Plaintiff's claims, inmates from the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) were also held in CC pods. Plaintiff contends that Defendants knew that placing a PS inmate in a CC pod could pose a risk to the PS inmate if the inmates were allowed out of their cells at the same time.

At some point prior to January 31, 2013, inmate Anthony German was in Pod 4F200, which was identical to Plaintiff's pod 4F100. An officer mistakenly simultaneously opened all of the cell doors in the pod, which enabled some of the CC inmates to assault German resulting in a severe spinal injury. On or about January 31, 2013, an officer, apparently Burke, mistakenly simultaneously opened all of the cell doors in Pod 4F100, although apparently no assaults occurred because of the error.

On February 3, 2013, ADC Inmate Cruz, who was a member of a Security Threat Group (STG), specifically the Mexican Mafia, arrived at the jail and was housed in Plaintiff's pod, 4F100. ( Id. at 3C.) Another inmate, Inmate Lechuga, who was also affiliated with the Mexican Mafia, was also housed in Plaintiff's pod. ( Id. at 3C-3D.)

On February 11, 2013, Burke again erroneously simultaneously opened all the cell doors in Pod 4F100 and immediately turned his attention away from Pod 4F100 to look at a computer. Plaintiff and other inmates in the pod began leaving their cells without realizing that all of the cells had been simultaneously opened. As they realized the error, some of the inmates attempted to alert Burke so that Burke would close the cell doors, but Burke, who was looking in another direction, did not see them. As this was occurring, Inmate Cruz, who had been in cell 4F22, began assaulting another inmate. Inmate Lechuga, who was two doors down from Plaintiff's cell, joined in the assault of that inmate. Lechuga then saw Plaintiff. Lechuga raised his hand to attack Plaintiff, but Plaintiff "defend[ed]" himself and prevented Lechuga from pushing Plaintiff back into his cell where Plaintiff might have been trapped with Lechuga. ( Id. at 3A.) At about this point, Burke saw what was happening in the pod and summoned back-up. Two or three minutes later, back-up officers arrived in force and used tasers to stop Cruz. Other officers came "running up the steps to subdue the remaining inmates, [and] inmate Lechuga was ordered to the [ground] as he did comply [sic]." ( Id. ) Plaintiff waited by his cell for the door to be re-opened.[4] Plaintiff suffered injuries to his left shoulder, lower back, and face as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In response to grievances, Sergeant Mank told inmates that there was nothing that could be done about housing PS inmates in CC pods because there was no room to house PS inmates separately in the Fourth Avenue Jail. Plaintiff was apparently issued a disciplinary charge. Facility Commander A4038, who was in charge of disciplinary appeals, found Plaintiff guilty of fighting, although he acknowledged that the doors were not supposed to have been opened simultaneously. ( Id. at 3E-3F.)

Plaintiff contends that Burke knew of the risk of inmate assaults if all cells in the pod were simultaneously opened, based on prior assaults in such circumstances, and had been trained to open cell doors properly. According to Plaintiff, there are "a lot of intricate buttons to push to operate each door correctly and prevent assaults, deaths, and other incidents from occurring, " about which officers receive extensive training. ( Id. ) Plaintiff contends that Classification Officer Bailey knew that housing PS inmates in a CC pod could pose a serious risk of assault or injury to a PS inmate by CC inmates, if an opportunity arose. Plaintiff further contends that Bailey knew that PS inmates, such as German, had previously been assaulted by CC inmates when inadvertently allowed out of their cells at the same time as PS inmates. According to Plaintiff, Bailey allowed "high Close Custody inmates to be housed amongst [PS] inmates which created and still is a high risk of housing [PS] inmates with [CC] inmates[.]" ( Id. at 3D.)

Plaintiff contends that Arpaio is chief custodian and is responsible for providing safe conditions. Plaintiff contends that Facility Commander A4038 acknowledged that the doors should not have been opened simultaneously and knew of the risks to inmates when such ...

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