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Castillon v. Corrections Corporation of America, Inc.

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 4, 2013

OMAR CASTILLON, DUSTY KNIGHT, JUSTIN KEITH PETERSON, LEON RUSSELL, CHRISTOPHER S. JORDAN, JACOB JUDD, MICHAEL FORD-BRIDGES, and RAYMOND BRYANT, Plaintiffs,
v.
CORRECTIONS CORPORATION OF AMERICA, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

EDWARD J. LODGE, District Judge.

Pending before the Court are (1) Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 19), and (2) Plaintiffs' Motion to Seal exhibits to Plaintiffs' counsel's declaration filed in response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Dkt. 35). The Court finds that the parties have adequately stated the facts and legal arguments in their briefs and that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument. In the interest of avoiding delay, the Court will decide this matter on the written motions, briefs, and record without oral argument. D. Idaho L. Civ. R. 7.1.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Plaintiff's Motion to Seal and grant in part and deny in part Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs are prisoners in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction ("IDOC") and at all relevant times were incarcerated at Idaho Correctional Center ("ICC"), a private prison operated by Defendant Corrections Corporation of America under contract with the IDOC. (First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), Dkt. 14, ¶15.) On May 4, 2012, Plaintiffs were moved into a housing unit of ICC known as F-pod or Pod F1. Plaintiffs claim they were afraid to move because the pod was heavily populated by members of two gangs, the Aryan Knights and the Severely Violent Criminals. ( Id. ¶¶49-55.) According to Plaintiffs, Defendant has a policy of housing individuals with the same gang affiliation in the same housing unit, which creates a gang-controlled "walk." ( Id. ¶¶30-34.) Plaintiffs also claim that Defendant intentionally uses prison gang members to control other inmates, "includes gang leadership in prison management decisions, " and "refus[es] to hold gang members accountable for misconduct, " all in an effort to increase its profit margin. ( Id. ¶¶45-48.)

Gang members on the walk almost immediately began threatening Plaintiffs within earshot of correctional officers. The day after Plaintiffs were moved to F-pod, six members of the Aryan Knights and the Severely Violent Criminals did not return to their cells after they were let out for recreation. Instead, they hid in a closet that should have been locked. The guards then let Plaintiffs out for recreation without first ensuring that all of the other inmates were back in their cells. ( Id. ¶57.)

When Plaintiffs were walking toward the recreation area, the six gang members came out of the closet and savagely attacked Plaintiffs with various homemade weapons. The attackers seriously injured all eight Plaintiffs, one of whom was stabbed 18 times. ( Id. ¶¶16-23.)

Plaintiffs brought the instant action, alleging that Defendant violated their Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment by failing to protect them from the attack. Plaintiffs assert that F-pod presented a known and substantial risk of serious harm to Plaintiffs, but that Defendant was deliberately indifferent to that risk.

PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO SEAL

Plaintiffs have filed a Motion to Seal exhibits attached to Plaintiffs' counsel's declaration submitted in response to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. Because Defendant has taken the position in the past that the documents are privileged, Plaintiffs request that they be sealed at this stage of the proceedings even though Plaintiffs' ultimate position is that the documents are not privileged. Defendant has not opposed the motion, and the documents appear to raise confidentiality concerns. For these reasons, the Court will grant Plaintiffs' Motion to Seal at this time.

DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

Defendant makes two arguments in support of its Motion to Dismiss. It contends that (1) the entire case must be dismissed because the FAC fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, and (2) the claims of six of the eight Plaintiffs must be dismissed because those Plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies.

A. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim for Relief

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted). Although a complaint attacked by a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim "does not need detailed factual allegations, " it must set forth "more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id.

To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). This "plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief." Id. (internal quotation marks and alteration omitted).

The Supreme Court has identified two working principles that underlie this dismissal standard. "First, the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id. "Rule 8 marks a notable and generous departure from the hyper-technical, code-pleading regime of a prior era, but it does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions." Id. at 678-79. Second, only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Id. at 679. "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.

Plaintiffs bring their claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the civil rights statute. To state a valid claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights protected by the Constitution or created by federal statute proximately caused by the conduct of a person acting under color of state law. Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991). Where, as here, an inmate claims that a private prison has violated the inmate's constitutional rights, the plaintiff must meet the test articulated in Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691-94 (1978). See Tsao v. Desert Palace, Inc., 698 F.3d 1128, 1138-39 (9th Cir. 2012) (applying Monell to private entities performing state functions).

Under Monell, a plaintiff must show the following: (1) the plaintiff was deprived of a constitutional right; (2) the defendant had a policy or custom; (3) the policy or custom amounted to deliberate indifference to the plaintiff's constitutional right; and (4) the policy or custom was the moving force behind the constitutional violation. Mabe v. San Bernardino Cnty., 237 F.3d 1101, 1110-11 (9th Cir. 2001). An unwritten policy or custom must be so "persistent and widespread" that it constitutes a "permanent and well settled" practice. Monell, 436 U.S. at 691 (internal quotation marks omitted). "Liability for improper custom may not be predicated on isolated or sporadic incidents; it must be founded upon practices of sufficient duration, frequency and consistency that the conduct has become a traditional method of carrying out policy." Trevino v. Gates, 99 F.3d 911, 918 (9th Cir. 1996).

In arguing that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for relief, Defendant correctly notes that the FAC is peppered with sensationalistic allegations. Although the Court has concluded that these allegations need not be stricken, it has disregarded the hyperbole and looked to the underlying factual allegations in considering Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

1. Existence of Policy or Custom

Defendant argues that the FAC does not plausibly allege that Defendant has an unconstitutional policy or custom as required by Monell. Specifically, Defendant challenges Plaintiffs' assertion that Defendant has a policy of housing members of a gang along the same walk and of "consulting with gang members when making housing decisions." (Memo. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, Dkt. 19-1, at 9.)

The Court agrees that Plaintiffs' allegations do not plausibly support an inference that Defendant has an ongoing "partnership" with prison gangs at ICC or "includes gang leadership in prison management decisions." (FAC ¶¶4, 45.) Plaintiffs offer no specific factual allegations supporting such a conclusion. However, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs have sufficiently stated a plausible Monell claim by alleging that Defendant maintained a policy or custom of (1) participating in a "ghost worker" scheme resulting in fewer correctional officers and thus contributing to danger in the prison, and (2) housing prison gang members together in the same housing unit.

With respect to the so-called ghost worker scheme, Plaintiffs allege that prison management regularly reports to the IDOC that guards work shifts, including overtime shifts, when those guards are not actually working. ( Id. ¶71.) Thus, the records submitted to IDOC show that each shift is fully staffed, when in reality fewer guards are available to help prevent violence among inmates. Plaintiffs also allege that Defendant has a policy of using guards with ...


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