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Castillon v. Correction Corporation of America, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Idaho

July 7, 2016




         On December 3, 2015, United States Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale (“Judge Dale”) issued a Report and Recommendation (“Report”), recommending Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment be granted (Dkt. 231). Plaintiffs filed objections to the Report (Dkt. 233), and Defendant responded (Dkt. 235). The Court has considered the parties’ contentions and adopts in part and rejects in part the Report’s findings.


         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), this Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings and recommendations made by the Magistrate Judge. Where the parties object to a report and recommendation, this Court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report to which objection is made. Id. Where, however, no objections are made, arguments to the contrary are waived. Id.; see also Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 72. “When no timely objection is filed, the Court need only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” Advisory Committee Notes to Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 72 (citing Campbell v. United States Dist. Court, 501 F.2d 196, 206 (9th Cir. 1974)).

         The Court has reviewed the entire Report and the record in this matter and finds no clear error on the face of the record. In this case, only Plaintiffs filed objections to the Report. The Court has conducted a de novo review of the portions of the Report to which Plaintiffs object and finds as follows.


         This case involves a brutal inmate gang attack that occurred on May 5, 2012, at the Idaho Correctional Center (“ICC”). Plaintiffs Dusty Knight, Leon Russell, Christopher Jordan, Jacob Judd, Michael Ford-Bridges, and Raymond Bryant (“Plaintiffs”) are prisoners in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction (“IDOC”). At all relevant times, Plaintiffs were incarcerated at the ICC, a private prison which, at the time of the attack, was operated by Defendant Corrections Corporation of America, Inc. (“CCA” or “Defendant”), under contract with IDOC.[2]

         On May 4, 2012, Plaintiffs were moved into a housing unit at ICC known as F-pod or Pod F1, in the DEF unit. The DEF unit is the only unit within the IDOC system that is dedicated for offenders classified as close custody. (Dkt. 169, p. 6.) Close custody facilities are designed to house high risk inmates, either because they have escaped, have a serious institutional disciplinary history, or have displayed dangerous behavior while incarcerated. (Id., pp. 5-6.) The DEF unit houses a high percentage of Security Threat Groups (“STGs”), defined as “a group of two or more offenders who have been determined to be acting in concert so as to pose a significant threat to the safety, security, and orderly operation of any [IDOC] facility.” (Id., pp. 6-7.)

         An offender classified as “close custody” does not live within the general population of the prison, but is instead confined within a secure perimeter and under 24 hour staff supervision. (Id., p. 6.) Movement of close custody offenders in the institution is limited. Specifically, close custody offenders are only allowed out of their cells for one hour of exercise, five days per week, and one hour per day of dayroom time, five days per week. (Id., p. 8.) Close custody inmates thus spend 22 hours per day in their cells during the week, and 24 hours on weekends.

         The DEF unit had six pods, or tiers-Delta 1, Delta 2, Echo 1, Echo 2, Fox 1 and Fox 2. (Dkt. 167, ¶ 31.) Each tier, or pod, was divided into fourths, and a specific gang, grouped together in a “walk” was housed in each of these areas. (Dkt. 159-2, p. 4.) For example, the Aryan Knights would occupy one walk, the Severely Violent Criminals another, the Sureños another, and the Norteños yet another walk. Inmates from different walks were not allowed to recreate together. (Dkt. 169, p. 8.) In other words, only one group of inmates assigned to a particular walk was allowed out of their cells together for the same recreation or dayroom break. (Dkt. 167, ¶ 14.)

         Given the high percentage of STGs within the DEF unit, moving new arrivals into the unit posed difficulties. For instance, DEF Unit Manager Norma Rodriguez was concerned that moving new individuals into the F1 pod might cause such individuals to be recruited into a STG, or become subject to extortion by gang members. (Dkt. 168-5, pp. 3-4, 8.) Rodriguez thus wanted to put new inmates in the F1 pod who were not vulnerable to that type of pressure from other inmates. (Id.) At the time Rodriguez moved Plaintiffs into F1, there were already inmates living in the F1 pod, assigned to a different walk, who were members of STGs such as the Aryan Knights, Severely Violent Criminals (“SVC”), and Sureños. (Id., pp. 4-5.) Rodriguez thought Plaintiffs were good candidates to move into F1 because they were all friends who believed a walk of their own would benefit them as well as the facility.[3] (Dkt. 168-8, p. 2.)

         On May 5, 2012, the day after they were moved into the F1 pod, Plaintiffs were attacked when six members of the Aryan Knights did not return to their cells after they were let out for recreation. Instead, the gang members hid in a janitor’s closet that should have been locked, and then burst out of the closet and attacked Plaintiffs with homemade weapons and their fists when Plaintiffs were subsequently released for their recreation. The attackers seriously injured all of the Plaintiffs, one of whom was stabbed 18 times.

         Plaintiffs allege CCA had deliberate policies of understaffing and of housing individuals within the same gang affiliation together, and claim both of these policies caused the May 5, 2012 attack. CCA filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing the undisputed facts do not establish it had a deliberately indifferent custom or policy that was the moving force behind a violation of Plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. After considering CCA’s motion and conducting a hearing, Judge Dale issued the instant Report recommending summary judgment be granted in favor of CCA. (Dkt. 231.)

         The factual background of this matter is meticulously detailed in the Report and is not objected to by the parties.[4] As such, the Report’s recitation of the general background of this case (Dkt. 231, pp. 1-26) is incorporated by reference and hereby adopted.


         Plaintiffs object to the Report on two general grounds: (1) that it “fundamentally misconstrues Eighth Amendment jurisprudence and ignores the Law of the Case Doctrine”; (2) that the record demonstrates Plaintiffs have proven all four elements of a claim under Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978).[5] (Dkt. 233, pp. 2-3.) The Court will address Plaintiffs’ objections in turn. Before doing so, a review of the appropriate legal framework for Plaintiffs’ claim is necessary.

         Plaintiffs bring their claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the civil rights statute, which provides, in pertinent part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured[.]

42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         “Section 1983 does not create any substantive rights, but is instead a vehicle by which plaintiffs can bring federal constitutional and statutory challenges to actions by state and local officials.” Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing Cholla Ready Mix, Inc. v. Civish, 382 F.3d 969, 978 (9th Cir. 2004)). “The purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights.” Id. (citation omitted). 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).

         Plaintiffs here allege an Eighth Amendment violation based on a failure to prevent harm. The Eighth Amendment prohibition against “cruel and unusual punishment” imposes duties on prison officials to “take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of inmates.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994) (quoting Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 526-27 (1984)). In particular, “‘prison officials have a duty . . . to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners.’” Id. at 833 (quoting Cortes-Quinones v. Jimenez-Nettleship, 842 F.2d 556, 558 (1st Cir. 1988)). While prison conditions may be “restrictive and even harsh. . . gratuitously allowing the beating or rape of one prisoner by another serves no legitimate penological objective, any more than it squares with evolving standards of decency.” Farmer at 833 (internal quotation marks, bracket and citations omitted). Put simply, being violently assaulted in prison is not “‘part of the penalty that criminal offenders pay for their offenses against society.’” Id. (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)).

         However, not every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another translates into constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for a victim’s safety. Id. at 834. For an inmate to succeed on a claim based on a failure to prevent harm, he must show (1) that he was incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm; and (2) that the prison official was “deliberately indifferent” to inmate health or safety. Id. The first element of the test is objective. Clouthier v. Cnty. of Contra Costa, 591 F.3d 1232, 1242 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834). The second element, deliberate indifference, is a subjective test in that “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, 511 U.S. at 837. “[A]n official’s failure to alleviate a significant risk that he should have perceived but did not, while no cause for commendation, cannot under our cases be condemned as the infliction of punishment.” Id. at 838. Thus, if a “person should have been aware of the risk, but was not, then the person has not violated the Eighth Amendment, no matter how severe the risk.” Gibson v. Cnty. of Washoe, Nev., 290 F.3d 1175, 1188 (9th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted). “But if a person is aware of a substantial risk of serious harm, a person may be liable for neglecting a prisoner’s . . . needs on the basis of either his action or his inaction.” Id. (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 842).

         Where, as here, an inmate claims a private prison has violated the inmate’s constitutional rights, the plaintiff must also meet the test articulated in Monell v. Dep’t of Soc. Services, 436 U.S. 658, 691-94 (1978). See also 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 municipality is subject to liability under § 1983 if it is alleged “to have caused a constitutional tort through ‘a policy, statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by that body’s officers.’” City of St. Louis v. Praprotnik. 485 U.S. 112, 121 (1988) (quoting Monell, 436 U.S. at 690). To meet this test, Plaintiffs must go beyond the respondeat superior theory of liability and demonstrate the alleged constitutional deprivation was the product of a policy or custom of the local governmental unit, because municipal liability must rest on the action of the municipality, and not on the actions of the employees of the municipality.[6] See Connick v. Thompson, 536 U.S. 51, 60 (2011). The Supreme Court has emphasized that “[w]here a plaintiff claims that the municipality . . . has caused an employee to [violate a plaintiff’s constitutional rights], rigorous standards of culpability and causation must be applied to ensure that the municipality is not held liable solely for the actions of its employee.” Bd. of Cnty. Comm’rs v. Brown, 520 U.S. 397, 405 (1997).

         “Official municipal policy includes the decisions of a government’s lawmakers, the acts of its policymaking officials, and practices so persistent and widespread as to practically have the force of law.” Connick, 536 U.S. at 61. Absent a formal governmental policy, a plaintiff must show a “longstanding practice or custom which constitutes the standard operating procedure of the local governmental entity.” Trevino v. Gates, 99 F.3d 911, 918 (9th Cir. 1996). “[A]n act performed pursuant to a ‘custom’ that has not been formally approved by an appropriate decisionmaker may fairly subject a municipality to liability on the theory that the relevant practice is so widespread as to have the force of law.” Brown, 520 U.S. at 404 (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-91.) In addition, a policy of inaction may be a municipal policy within the meaning of Monell. Oviatt v. Pearce, 954 F.2d 1470, 1474 (9th Cir. 1992) (“[A] local governmental body may be liable if it has a policy of inaction and such inaction amounts to a failure to protect constitutional rights.”). However, liability of an allegedly improper custom or policy may not be predicated upon isolated or sporadic events; rather, “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, 99 F.3d at 918 (citations omitted).

         In sum, the requisite elements of a § 1983 policy-based claim against a municipality are the following: (1) the plaintiff was deprived of a constitutional right[7]; (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 Bernadino Cnty., 237 F.3d 1101, 1110-11 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Van Ort v. Estate of Stanewich, 92 F.3d 831, 835 (9th Cir. 1996)). With this framework in mind, the Court turns to Plaintiffs’ objections to the Report.

         1. Eighth Amendment Jurisprudence and Law of the Case

         Plaintiffs first fault the Report for purportedly ignoring this Court’s decision denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss at an earlier stage of this proceeding. (Dkt. 233, pp. 5-8.) Shortly after Plaintiffs filed their First Amended Complaint (Dkt. 14) in 2013, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim and Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies.[8] (Dkt. 19.) In denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, this Court held Plaintiffs had 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 unit. (Dkt. 54, pp. 6-7.)

         In so holding, this Court cited Farmer for the proposition that a prison official may not ignore a threat of violence even if he does not perceive it as likely. (Dkt. 54, p. 8) (citing Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833) (“Nor may a prison official escape liability for deliberate indifference by showing that, while he was aware of an obvious, substantial risk to inmate safety, he did not know that the claimant was especially likely to be assaulted by a specific prisoner who eventually committed the assault.”). This Court also concluded evidence of a longstanding custom may be introduced to support Plaintiffs’ claim, including evidence of understaffing and gang clustering dating back to 2008, noting: “Although Defendant contends that Plaintiffs’ attack in May 2012 is too far removed from the IDOC’s 2008 investigation, the allegation that gang members were still being housed on the same walk at the time of the attack raises a plausible inference that CCA had not resolved the problems identified by the IDOC years earlier.” (Dkt. 54, p. 8.) This Court also held the attackers’ actions should not be construed as a superseding cause, and the allegations that CCA had been indifferent to the mere threat of violence can constitute a proper Monell claim, stating:

Defendant appears to suggest that however dangerous the pod might have been, the attackers’ independent actions constituted a superseding cause eliminating any § 1983 claim. This argument illustrates a fundamental misunderstanding of § 1983 jurisprudence. Claims that a prison policy amounts to deliberate indifference ‘to the threat of serious harm of injury’ by one prisoner against another are cognizable under § 1983.

(Dkt. 54, p. 11) (quoting Berg v. Kincheloe, 794 F.2d 457, 459 (9th Cir. 1986)).

         Plaintiffs criticize the Report for purportedly departing from the aforementioned analysis and holding, “[p]laintiffs fail to explain how the actual staffing pattern on May 5, 2012, in the DEF unit caused Plaintiff’s injuries[.]” (Dkt 231, p. 43.) Plaintiffs argue the “threat” of serious harm or injury is enough to claim an Eighth Amendment violation under Farmer and this Court’s order denying Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, and that they thus need not explain how the staffing pattern on the date of their attack caused their injuries. (Dkt. 233, p. 6.) As such, Plaintiffs claim the Report violates the “law of the case” doctrine, which provides a “court is generally precluded from reconsidering an issue that has already been decided by the same court, or a higher court in the identical case.” Rebel Oil Co., Inc. v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 146 F.3d 1088, 1093 (9th Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Plaintiffs’ argument is unavailing. First, the law of the case doctrine does not apply where, as here, two different standards of review apply to the relevant Court orders. See, e.g., Stagl v. Delta Airlines, Inc., 117 F.3d 76, 80 (2d Cir. 1997) (law of the case does not apply where the procedural posture changes the nature of the issue). Specifically, at the motion to dismiss stage, the parties had yet to present evidence and this Court was confined to the allegations in Plaintiffs’ complaint. The issue before this Court at the motion to dismiss stage was solely whether Plaintiffs’ complaint, accepted as true, contained sufficient factual matter to “state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). By contrast, at the summary judgment stage, Judge Dale was charged with applying the law to the facts and evidence to determine whether Plaintiffs established a genuine issue of material fact sufficient to withstand summary judgment. In finding the facts and evidence failed to establish a genuine dispute of material fact, Judge Dale did not contradict this Court’s holding with respect to Plaintiffs’ ability to satisfy the lesser standard required for stating a plausible claim at the pleading stage.

         Second, the Report did not depart from this Court’s recitation of the law with respect to a successful § 1983 claim. The Report’s explanation of the law is consistent with, but more detailed than, this Court’s analysis of the law in the order denying the Motion to Dismiss. Both this Court and Judge Dale highlighted that a successful Monell claim requires a plaintiff to prove “the policy or custom is a moving force behind the constitutional violation.” (Compare Dkt. 54, pp. 5-6 with Dkt. 231, pp. 39, 41-42, 46-49, 55.) Although this Court held Plaintiffs’ theory that Defendant created a substantial risk of serious harm by instituting and maintaining a policy or custom of placing too few guards on duty and of housing prison gang members in the same area was plausible, Judge Dale determined the evidence did not establish such alleged policies were the moving force behind Plaintiffs’ injury. Although, as will be further discussed, this Court disagrees with some of Judge Dale’s factual findings regarding causation, the Report’s legal analysis is consistent with both this Court’s decision denying the Motion to Dismiss and with cases interpreting the Monell causation element. See, e.g., Mabe, 237 F.3d at 1110-11; Thomas v. Baca, 514 F.Supp.2d 1201, 1206 (C.D. Cal. 2007) (noting that the custom must be the “moving force” behind a plaintiff’s constitutional injuries, which requires the plaintiff to establish that the custom is “closely related to the ultimate injury, ” and that the injury “would have been avoided had proper policies been implemented.”); Long v. Cnty. of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1190 (9th Cir. 2006).

         Similarly, Plaintiffs claim the Report contradicts itself because it holds both that the “first objective component of an Eighth Amendment violation is met if the inmate shows that ‘he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm…” and that “Plaintiffs fail to explain how the actual staffing pattern on May 5, 2012 in the DEF unit caused Plaintiffs’ injuries….” (Dkt. 233, p. 6) (internal brackets, quotation marks and emphasis omitted) (citing Dkt. 231, pp. 34, 43.) Plaintiffs posit, “[i]f the Plaintiffs only need to demonstrate conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, then the Plaintiffs do not need to explain how the staffing pattern on a particular date caused their injuries. The ‘threat’ of serious harm or injury is enough to claim an Eighth Amendment violation.” (Id.) In making this argument, Plaintiffs conflate the test for an Eighth Amendment violation with that of a successful Monell claim. To establish liability under Monell, a causal link between the alleged constitutional violation and the policy or custom is necessary. City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989) (“our first inquiry in any case alleging municipal liability under § 1983 is the question whether there is a direct causal link between a municipal policy or custom and the alleged constitutional deprivation.”). The Report did not err in so holding.

         Finally, Plaintiffs challenge the Report’s reliance on Clouthier v. Cnty. of Contra Costa, 591 F.3d 1232 (9th Cir. 2010) when this Court determined Clouthier was inapposite in deciding the Motion to Dismiss. As Defendant notes, Plaintiffs misconstrue this Court’s order, which simply found Clouthier-an appeal from summary judgment- immaterial at the motion to dismiss stage. (Dkt. 235, pp. 3-4.) Clouthier remains good law for purposes of summary judgment and the Report.[9]

         2. Plaintiffs’ Ability to Meet Four Elements ...

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