United States District Court, D. Arizona
DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.
On April 2, 2015, Plaintiff Cedric Ross Jordan, who is confined in the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye, Arizona, filed a pro se civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Doc. 1) and an Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. 2). On April 22, 2015, he filed a Motion for Appointed Counsel (Doc. 7). The Court will grant the Application to Proceed, dismiss the Complaint with leave to amend, and deny without prejudice the Motion for Appointed Counsel.
I. Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis and Filing Fee
Plaintiff's Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis will be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Plaintiff must pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). The Court will assess an initial partial filing fee of $1.80. The remainder of the fee will be collected monthly in payments of 20% of the previous month's income credited to Plaintiff's trust account each time the amount in the account exceeds $10.00. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). The Court will enter a separate Order requiring the appropriate government agency to collect and forward the fees according to the statutory formula.
II. 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 ). Plaintiff's 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.
In his one-count Complaint, Plaintiff sues Defendant Nurse J. Caffey. Plaintiff alleges a violation of the Eighth Amendment regarding his medical care and seeks six million dollars in damages. Plaintiff alleges that since January 2015, Defendant Caffey has been aware of Plaintiff's severe chest and head cold, but has chosen not to provide him with any medication to treat the cold. Plaintiff states that he met with Defendant Caffey on January 28, February 17, and March 9, 2015, regarding his severe chest and head cold, and Defendant Caffey refused to provide Plaintiff with any medication for his cold, despite determining that he was ill. Plaintiff also states that he is African-American, Defendant Caffey is a racist, and Defendant Caffey told him on January 28 that "Black People always want something that they cannot have." In addition, Plaintiff claims Defendant Caffey has denied his request for a blood test and, therefore, he will not be tested for hepatitis C or HIV/AIDS.
IV. Failure to State a Claim
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.
Not every claim by a prisoner relating to inadequate medical treatment states a violation of the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendment. To state a § 1983 medical claim, a plaintiff must show that the defendants acted with "deliberate indifference to serious medical needs." Jett v. Penner, 439 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976)). A plaintiff must show (1) a "serious medical need" by demonstrating that failure to treat the condition could result in further significant injury or the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain and (2) the defendant's response was deliberately indifferent. Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096 (quotations omitted).
"Deliberate indifference is a high legal standard." Toguchi v. Chung, 391 F.3d 1051, 1060 (9th Cir. 2004). To act with deliberate indifference, a prison official must both know of and disregard an excessive risk to inmate health; "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." Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). Deliberate indifference in the medical context may be shown by a purposeful act or failure to respond to a prisoner's pain or possible medical need and harm caused by the indifference. Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096. Deliberate indifference may also be shown when a prison official intentionally denies, delays, or interferes with medical treatment or by the way prison doctors respond to the prisoner's medical needs. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 104-05; Jett, 439 F.3d at 1096.
Deliberate indifference is a higher standard than negligence or lack of ordinary due care for the prisoner's safety. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835. "Neither negligence nor gross negligence will constitute deliberate indifference." Clement v. California Dep't of Corr., 220 F.Supp.2d 1098, 1105 (N.D. Cal. 2002); see also Broughton v. Cutter Labs., 622 F.2d 458, 460 (9th Cir. 1980) (mere claims of "indifference, " "negligence, " or "medical malpractice" do not support a claim under § 1983). "A difference of opinion does not amount to deliberate indifference to [a plaintiff's] serious medical needs." Sanchez v. Vild, 891 F.2d 240, 242 (9th Cir. 1989). A mere delay in medical care, without more, is insufficient to state a claim against prison officials for deliberate indifference. See Shapley v. Nevada Bd. of State Prison Comm'rs, 766 F.2d 404, 407 (9th Cir. 1985). The indifference must be substantial. The action must rise to a level of "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Caffey failed to give him medication for a cold. In Health Needs Request forms attached to his Complaint, Plaintiff identified his symptoms as "sneezing, watery eyes, itchy throat & runny nose, " a "really [bad] cough, " and pain when he coughs and breathes. Plaintiff's allegations regarding Defendant Caffey's failure to treat his cold do not support a claim that Defendant Caffey was deliberately indifferent to a serious medical need or an excessive risk to inmate health. See Cooper v. Casey, 97 F.3d 914, 916-17 (7th Cir. 1996) ("A prison's medical staff that refuses to dispense bromides for the sniffles or minor aches and pains or a tiny scratch or a mild headache or minor fatigue-the sorts of ailments for which many people who are not in prison do not seek medical attention-does not by its refusal violate the Constitution."); Gibson v. McEvers, 631 F.2d 95, 98 (7th Cir. 1980) ("Plaintiff's allegation that he was refused medical treatment for a cold does not show deliberate indifference to a serious medical need, and therefore there was no violation of his constitutional rights.").
In addition, although Plaintiff alleges that he requested and was denied a blood test for hepatitis or HIV/AIDS, he does not identify why he believes he needs such a test. He does not allege that he was a heightened risk of exposure to either disease, does not identify the basis for such a heightened risk, and does not allege that he communicated this information to Defendant Caffey prior to her rejection of his request. See Doe v. Wigginton, 21 F.3d 733, 738-39 (6th Cir. 1994) (no deliberate indifference when defendants adhered to policy requiring the testing of only inmates who request an HIV test and "provide a presumptive history of exposure"). Plaintiff's vague and conclusory allegation that Defendant Caffey denied his request for a blood test is insufficient to state a claim.
Finally, as to Defendant Caffey's racial comment, "[v]erbal harassment or abuse... is not sufficient to state a constitutional deprivation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.'" Oltarzewski v. Ruggiero, 830 F.2d 136, 139 (9th Cir. 1987) (quoting Collins v. Cundy, 603 F.2d 825, 827 (10th Cir. 1979)); see also Kennan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1092 (9th Cir. 1996); Hopson v. Frederickson, 961 F.2d 1378-79 (9th Cir. 1992) (racial slur and threat did not constitute at § 1983 claim). If true, Defendant Caffey's comment was plainly inappropriate and unprofessional, but does not rise to the level of a constitutional violation.
Thus, the Court will dismiss without prejudice Count One and Defendant Caffey.
V. Leave to Amend
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's Complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Within 30 days, Plaintiff may submit a first amended complaint to cure the deficiencies outlined above. The Clerk of Court will mail Plaintiff a court-approved form to use for filing a first amended complaint. If Plaintiff fails to use the court-approved form, the Court may strike the 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 "First Amended Complaint." The first amended complaint must be retyped or rewritten in its entirety on the court-approved form and may not incorporate any part of the original ...