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Soto v. Ryan

United States District Court, D. Arizona

November 10, 2014

Angel Soto, Plaintiff,
Charles L. Ryan, et al., Defendants.


STEPHEN M. McNAMEE, Senior District Judge.

On June 13, 2014, Plaintiff Angel Soto, who is confined in the Arizona State Prison Complex-Eyman in Florence, Arizona, filed a pro se civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1). On August 21, 2014, this Court issued an Order to Show Cause why Counts One and Two of the Complaint should not be dismissed as time-barred. On September 3, 2014, Plaintiff filed a timely response to the Order to Show Cause. Because Plaintiff has adequately alleged a recognized basis for tolling the statute of limitations, the Court will require a response to certain portions of the Complaint, as set forth below. Defendant Ryan, Defendant Banghart, and Count Two of the Complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim.

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. Complaint

In his two-count Complaint, Plaintiff names the following Defendants: Arizona Department of Corrections ("ADOC") Director Charles Ryan, Sergeant Sweetman, CO II Zamora, CO II Gutierrez, SSU Banghart, CO II Ramirez, CO II Harris, CO II Jones, CO II Schell, CO II Emore, CO II Rodriguez, Sergeant Victoria, CO II Bope, Sergeant Swaney, and Sergeant McClellan. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment and damages.

In Count One, Plaintiff asserts a claim of excessive force, alleging that he "requested suicide watch treatment" after explaining to staff that he had stopped taking his medications and was experiencing paranoid psychosis. According to the Complaint, instead of treating Plaintiff, "Defendant(s) brutally attacked [him] and used torture." Defendants placed Plaintiff in hand cuffs and leg cuffs, and then, while he was subdued, "violently assaulted [him], with punches, kicks and excessive pepper spray." The "Defendant(s) got on [Plaintiff's] back and twisted [his] right hand causing (2) broken fingers." Plaintiff's hair was pulled up and held while a sergeant "violently stomped [Plaintiff's] head smashing [his] jaw into the concrete [and] inflicting a laceration that required several stitches." Plaintiff was then placed face down onto a gurney, while still in leg and hand cuffs, and strapped down. A sergeant climbed on top of Plaintiff, "spread [Plaintiff's] buttocks and inserted pepper spray into [his] rectum." Plaintiff then "requested medical, " but "the torture continued." As a result, Plaintiff alleges, he suffered a debilitating jaw injury, two broken fingers, stitches in his chin, limited function in his right hand, emotional trauma, PTSD, and pain from the pepper spray.

In Count Two, Plaintiff asserts a threat to safety claim, alleging that "[t]he Director and all Defendant(s) were deliberately indifferent when he failed to train his subordinates by implementing a policy to recognize mental health problems not protective segregation problems." As a result of this deliberate indifference, Plaintiff alleges, Defendant Banghart allowed another inmate to talk to Plaintiff, "making [the other inmate] believe the reason [Plaintiff] requested suicide watch was for protection." Word spread across the prison that Plaintiff was seeking protection and the inmates plotted against Plaintiff, causing him to become paranoid and psychotic, and ultimately leading him to "barricade" his cell. As a result, Plaintiff was sent to Special Management Unit II (SMU II), "where officers knew or should have known [Plaintiff] was suffering from mental illness, but instead brutally assaulted [him]" both physically and sexually, "breaking [Plaintiff's] fingers and causing several stitches to [his] jaw." Plaintiff alleges he suffered a jaw injury, two broken fingers, emotional and psychological trauma, and burned skin from the pepper spray.

It appears, based on several exhibits attached to the Complaint, that the events that form the basis of Plaintiff's claim occurred in April 2010. For example, in an Inmate Letter dated May 18, 2010 and addressed to CO III Lipkowitz, Plaintiff wrote that he was taken to SMU II on April 17, 2010 and that, while he was there, "the COs used excessive force, " "tortured [Plaintiff] with mace, " and sexually assaulted him. In another Inmate Letter dated February 19, 2014, Plaintiff wrote that he was attempting to informally resolve an issue relating to an incident in April 2010 where he was beaten and stomped by COs, Sergeants and SSU staff. A Memorandum dated April 4, 2014 from E. Bonkowski, a Special Investigator from the Criminal Investigations Bureau, stated that the "date of the incident claimed by you, which was 4-17-2010, was confirmed referenced [ sic ] several staff members involved with your incident. The totality of the circumstances was deemed unfounded/insufficient evidence to support your allegation."

III. Statute of Limitations

On August 21, 2014, this Court issued an order noting that Plaintiff's Complaint appeared to have been filed outside the relevant statute of limitations period and requiring Plaintiff to show cause why his Complaint should not be dismissed on that basis. Plaintiff filed a response indicating that "he was unable to exhaust his Administrative Remedies... until an investigation had been conducted by the Criminal Investigations Bureau (CIU), " and that his "request to be seen by CIU was ignored and his inmate letters thrown away." Under Arizona law, the statute of limitations period is tolled during mandatory exhaustion of administrative remedies. See Brown v. Valoff, 422 F.3d 926, 943 (9th Cir. 2005); Arizona Dep't of Revenue v. Dougherty, 29 P.3d 862 (Ariz. 2001); Third & Catalina Assoc. v. City of Phoenix, 895 P.2d 115, 119 (Ariz.Ct.App. 1994); see also Ariz. Rev. Stat. § 12-821.01(c) (cause of action required by law or contract to be submitted to administrative review process does not accrue until process ...

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