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Appell v. Maricopa County

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 18, 2014

Benjamin Jacob Appell, Plaintiff,
v.
Maricopa County, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

On June 2, 2014, Plaintiff Benjamin Jacob Appell, who is confined in the Maricopa County Durango Jail, filed a pro se civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and an Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. In a July 7, 2014 Order, the Court granted the Application to Proceed and dismissed the Complaint because Plaintiff had failed to state a claim. The Court gave Plaintiff 30 days to file an amended complaint that cured the deficiencies identified in the Order.

On August 11, 2014, Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint (Doc. 7). The Court will dismiss the First Amended 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). 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. 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). 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

In his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges four counts against the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office and Maricopa County.

In Count One, Plaintiff alleges that his bunk bed is faulty, which caused it to collapse on him.

In Count Two, Plaintiff alleges as follows: "molded bread, rotten fruit, hot meal served cold, expired milk, not enough portion of food, [and] under 2, 000 calories served per day." Plaintiff alleges that he has suffered loss of weight, headaches, and diarrhea.

In Count Three, Plaintiff alleges as follows: "no fresh air, filthy filter and unclean duct work, asbestos in building ceiling, lead paint chips falling off wall circulation with air, flu and cold virus, multiple inmates always sick, [and] tuberculosis." Plaintiff alleges that he has suffered loss of sleep, body aches, headaches, and flu viruses.

In Count Four, Plaintiff alleges as follows: "asbestos in building, 64 men to 2 toilets and 2 showers, overcrowding/to[o] many inmates, nowhere to eat my meals, no sprinkler system in housing unit, housing with sick inmates, lead paint falling off walls, fire hazards, [and] black mold in bathroom." Plaintiff alleges that he has suffered body injury, stress, loss of sleep, and constant coughing. Plaintiff requests monetary relief.

III. Failure to State a Claim

To prevail in a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must show that (1) acts by the defendants (2) under color of state law (3) deprived him of federal rights, privileges or immunities and (4) caused him damage. Thornton v. City of St. Helens, 425 F.3d 1158, 1163-64 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Shoshone-Bannock Tribes v. Idaho Fish & Game Comm'n, 42 F.3d 1278, 1284 (9th Cir. 1994)). 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)

Moreover, although pro se pleadings are liberally construed, Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972), conclusory and vague allegations will not support a cause of action. Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). Further, a liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled. Id.

A. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office

The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office is not a proper defendant. In Arizona, the responsibility of operating jails and caring for prisoners is placed by law upon the sheriff. See Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 11-441(A)(5); Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 31-101. A sheriff's office is simply an administrative creation of the county sheriff to allow him to carry out his statutory duties and not a "person" amenable to suit pursuant to § 1983. Accordingly, the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office will be dismissed.

B. Maricopa County

Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted against Defendant Maricopa County. The actions of individuals only support municipal liability if a claimed injury resulted pursuant to an official policy, practice, or custom of the municipality. Botello v. Gammick, 413 F.3d 971, 978-79 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted); Cortez v. County of Los Angeles, 294 F.3d 1186, 1188 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). For that reason, a municipality may not be sued solely because an injury was inflicted by one of its employees or agents. Long v. County of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006) (citation omitted). Rather, the municipality is liable only when the execution of its policy or custom inflicts the constitutional injury. Id. (citation omitted); Miranda v. City of Cornelius, 429 F.3d 858, 868 (9th Cir. 2005) (citation omitted).

Plaintiff has included no allegations against Maricopa County in his Complaint. Plaintiff does not allege that Maricopa County has a policy or custom that resulted in a constitutional injury to Plaintiff. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against Maricopa County in his Complaint and it will be dismissed.

IV. Leave to Amend

For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Within 30 days, Plaintiff may submit a second amended complaint to cure the deficiencies outlined above. The Clerk of Court will mail Plaintiff a court-approved form to use for filing a second amended complaint. If Plaintiff fails to use the court-approved form, the Court may strike the second amended complaint and dismiss this action without further notice to Plaintiff.

Plaintiff must clearly designate on the face of the document that it is the "Second Amended Complaint." The second 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 or First Amended Complaint by reference. Plaintiff may include only one claim per count.

If Plaintiff files a second 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[1] 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.

Moreover, Plaintiff should be aware that a pretrial detainee's claim for unconstitutional conditions of confinement arises from the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause rather than from the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 n.16 (1979). Nevertheless, the same standards are applied, requiring proof that the defendant acted with deliberate indifference. See Frost v. Agnos, 152 F.3d 1124, 1128 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted).

Deliberate indifference is a higher standard than negligence or lack of ordinary due care for the prisoner's safety. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 835 (1994). To state a claim of deliberate indifference, plaintiffs must meet a two-part test. First, the alleged constitutional deprivation must be, objectively, "sufficiently serious"; 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).

To state a claim for unconstitutional conditions of confinement, a plaintiff must allege that a defendant's acts or omissions have deprived the inmate of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities" and that the defendant acted with deliberate indifference to an excessive risk to inmate health or safety. Allen v. Sakai, 48 F.3d 1082, 1087 (9th Cir. 1994) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834); see Estate of Ford v. Ramirez-Palmer, 301 F.3d 1043, 1049-50 (9th Cir. 2002). Whether conditions of confinement rise to the level of a constitutional violation may depend, in part, on the duration of an inmate's exposure to those conditions. Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1089, 1091 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing Hutto v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 686-87 (1978)). "The circumstances, nature, and duration of a deprivation of [ ] necessities must be considered in determining whether a constitutional violation has occurred." Hearns v. Terhune, 413 F.3d 1036, 1042 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Johnson v. Lewis, 217 F.3d 726, 731 (9th Cir. 2000)).

Allegations of overcrowding, without more, do not state a claim under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. See Hoptowit v. Ray, 682 F.2d 1237, 1248-49 (9th Cir. 1982). A plaintiff may, however, state a cognizable claim where he or she alleges that overcrowding results in some unconstitutional condition. See, e.g., Akao v. Shimoda, 832 F.2d 119, 120 (9th Cir. 1987) (reversing district court's dismissal of claim that overcrowding caused increased stress, tension and communicable disease among inmate population); see also Toussaint v. Yockey, 722 F.2d 1490, 1492 (9th Cir. 1984) (affirming that an Eighth Amendment violation may occur as a result of overcrowded prison conditions causing increased violence, tension and psychiatric problems).

With respect to meals, "[t]he Eighth [and Fourteenth] Amendment[s] require[] only that prisoners receive food that is adequate to maintain health; it need not be tasty or aesthetically pleasing." LeMaire v. Maass, 12 F.3d 1444, 1456 (9th Cir. 1993); see Frost, 152 F.3d at 1128 (applying Eighth Amendment standard to a pretrial detainee's Fourteenth Amendment claims regarding his conditions of confinement). "The fact that the food occasionally contains foreign objects or sometimes is served cold, while unpleasant, does not amount to a constitutional deprivation." LeMaire, 12 F.3d at 1456 (citations omitted). An inmate may, however, state a claim where he alleges that he is served meals with insufficient calories for long periods of time. Id.

A second amended complaint supersedes the original Complaint and First Amended 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 the original Complaint and First Amended Complaint as nonexistent. Ferdik, 963 F.2d at 1262. Any cause of action that was raised in the original complaint or first amended complaint and that was voluntarily dismissed or was dismissed without prejudice is waived if it is not alleged in a second amended complaint. Lacey v. Maricopa County, 693 F.3d 896, 928 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc).

V. Warnings

A. Release

Plaintiff must pay the unpaid balance of the filing fee within 120 days of his release. Also, within 30 days of his release, he must either (1) notify the Court that he intends to pay the balance or (2) show good cause, in writing, why he cannot. Failure to comply may result in dismissal of this action.

B. 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.

C. 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.

D. Possible "Strike"

Because the First Amended Complaint has been dismissed for failure to state a claim, if Plaintiff fails to file a second 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).

E. 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 First Amended Complaint (Doc. 7) is dismissed for failure to state a claim. Plaintiff has 30 days from the date this Order is filed to file a second amended complaint in compliance with this Order.

(2) If Plaintiff fails to file a second 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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