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Roberts v. Blades

United States District Court, D. Idaho

December 15, 2014

ROY W. ROBERTS, Plaintiff,


B. LYNN WINMILL, Chief District Judge.

Pending before the Court in this prisoner civil rights action is Defendant Randy Blades' Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, which is now fully briefed. (Dkt. 26, 29, 30.) Having reviewed the parties' briefing, and the record before the Court, the Court concludes that oral argument is unnecessary. Accordingly, the Court enters the following Order.


1. Applicable Standards of Law

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA)[1] requires the Court to screen all pro se prisoner complaints to determine whether they have stated a claim upon which relief can be granted before such complaints are served on the defendants. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 & 1915A. The Court uses a liberal construction standard in the screening process.

The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir.1989).[2] Where claims appear plausible and supported by at least some particular factual allegations, the Court weighs the potential utility of requiring the prisoner to submit an amended complaint against the reality that it may be impossible for the prisoner to submit a pleading that is more detailed than the first, given that prisoners have few legal resources and that much of the evidence they need to support their claims is in the hands of jail officials. After weighing these issues, the Court at times permits claims teetering on the edge of Rule 8 standards to proceed to summary judgment-a stage of litigation where all the evidence is before the Court, and a review of the potential merits of the claims can be accomplished.

Not every questionable claim must wait for summary judgment to be fleshed out, however. The Court retains screening authority to dismiss claims at any time during the litigation under §1915(e).[3] The Court also has the authority to seek additional information from the parties to assess Plaintiff's claims during the screening process. The Court may exercise its discretion to require an amended complaint, a Watson questionnaire, [4] a Spears hearing, [5] or a Martinez report.[6]

The Court's authority to screen pro se prisoner complaints and review prison records often makes the filing of a Rule 12 motion to dismiss-which is designed to test a pleading without additional evidentiary support-unnecessary. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12. Where judicial efficiency is served by the Court requiring the plaintiff to provide such items at the outset of the case, the Court can exercise that option.

Where Defendants bring a pre-discovery motion to dismiss, the Court generally will not dismiss prisoner claims that have survived initial review, unless Defendants convincingly argue that, under a liberal construction of the pleadings, there is a lack of any cognizable legal theory or a failure to plead sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal theory. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).[7] To survive summary dismissal, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

In exercising its discretion to summarily dismiss claims on its own motion or by motion of the defendants, the Court takes into consideration that, in any case, and more so in pro se cases, the law requires that plaintiffs be given an opportunity to amend their pleadings to remedy any deficiencies that were identified during screening or after a motion to dismiss has been adjudicated, unless amendment would be futile. See Lipton v. Pathogenesis Corp., 284 F.3d 1027, 1039 (9th Cir. 2002) ("It is not unreasonable that plaintiffs may seek amendment after an adverse ruling, and in the normal course district courts should freely grant leave to amend when a viable case may be presented."); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1128-30 (9th Cir. 2000) (A pro se litigant bringing a civil rights suit must have an opportunity to amend the complaint to overcome deficiencies unless it is clear that they cannot be overcome by amendment, because, while Congress's intent in requiring screening is "to curb meritless lawsuits, " meritorious lawsuits should not be "swept away in the process.").

Where a party submits evidence beyond the pleadings, the Court may (1) consider it as a supplement to the Complaint under its § 1915 screening authority to determine whether Plaintiff has stated or could state a claim; or (2) convert a Rule 12 motion into a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment, after giving the parties notice and an opportunity to respond before making a ruling on the motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Full or limited discovery also may be warranted. Under Rule 56, where assertions of fact or objections to another party's assertion of facts are not properly supported or addressed, the Court may bring the deficiency to the attention of the parties and give them an opportunity to supplement their briefing and evidence, or may issue any other appropriate order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(1).

The Supreme Court has instructed that rulings on the qualified immunity defense "should be made early in the proceedings so that the costs and expenses of trial are avoided where the defense is dispositive, " because the defense is "an immunity from suit rather than a mere defense to liability." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001). A motion to dismiss on grounds of qualified immunity may be granted where the allegations on the face of the Complaint, taken as true, are sufficient to show that the qualified immunity test is met. See Cooper v. Pickett, 137 F.3d 616, 622 (9th Cir. 1997). However, an opportunity to amend to state a plausible claim must be provided to a plaintiff if qualified immunity is asserted in a motion to dismiss. See Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 974-75 (9th Cir. 2009). Where extra-record evidence is proffered or required to determine the facts at hand, qualified immunity must be asserted in a summary judgment motion. Id.

In § 1983 actions, the doctrine of qualified immunity protects state officials from personal liability for on-the-job conduct so long as the conduct is objectively reasonable and does not violate clearly-established federal rights. Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982) (citations omitted). A qualified immunity analysis consists of two prongs: (1) whether the facts as alleged by plaintiff establish a violation of a constitutional right, and (2) whether that right was clearly established given the state of the ...

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