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Martinez v. Morgan

United States District Court, D. Idaho

August 7, 2019

STEPHANIE MORGAN; JOHN DOE I, Sheriff of Malheur County; JOHN DOE II, Physician in Ada County; JASON R. CHANDLER; and JOHN DOE III, Sheriff of Bingham County, Defendants.


          B. Lynn Winmill, U.S. District Court Judge.

         The Clerk of Court conditionally filed Plaintiff Romelio Alvin Martinez, Jr.'s Complaint as a result of Plaintiff's status as an inmate and in forma pauperis request. The Court now reviews the Complaint to determine whether it should be summarily dismissed in whole or in part under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A. Having reviewed the record, and otherwise being fully informed, the Court enters the following Order directing Plaintiff to file an amended complaint if Plaintiff intends to proceed.

         1. Screening Requirement

         The Court must review complaints filed by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity, as well as complaints filed in forma pauperis, to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. The Court must dismiss a complaint or any portion thereof that states a frivolous or malicious claim, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) & 1915A(b).

         2. Pleading Standard

         A complaint 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). A complaint fails to state a claim for relief under Rule 8 if the factual assertions in the complaint, taken as true, are insufficient for the reviewing court plausibly “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” 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. In other words, although Rule 8 “does not require detailed factual allegations, ... it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). If the facts pleaded are “merely consistent with a defendant's liability, ” or if there is an “obvious alternative explanation” that would not result in liability, the complaint has not stated a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Id. at 678, 682 (internal quotation marks omitted). And a court is not required to comb through a plaintiff's exhibits or other filings to determine if the complaint states a plausible claim.

         3. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff is a prisoner in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction (“IDOC”). On February 6, 2019, while Plaintiff was in the custody of the Bingham County Jail pursuant to a parole violation, Defendant Deputy Morgan mistakenly issued Plaintiff a citation for possession of methamphetamine. (Compl., Dkt. 3, at 3.) As a result, Defendant Chandler, the Bingham County Prosecutor, issued a criminal complaint against Plaintiff. (Id. at 2.) On February 21, 2019, Defendants Morgan and Chandler realized that the possession citation was a mistake, and the criminal charges against Plaintiff were dismissed. (Id.; Dkt. 3-1 at 2.) Plaintiff claims that the mistaken charge was the result of negligence-specifically, “poor work performance” and “unsecured paperwork.” (Dkt. 3 at 2, 3, 4.)

         Plaintiff also alleges that, on an unidentified date, Plaintiff was supposed to be transported from the Bingham County Jail to the Ada County Jail. However, again due to “poor work performance” and “unsecured paperwork, ” he was mistakenly transported to the Idaho Correctional Center-which, until several years ago, was operated by a private prison company under contract with the IDOC.[1] Plaintiff claims that when he arrived at the prison, Warden Turner-an individual not identified as a defendant in the caption of the Complaint-physically assaulted him. (Dkt. 3-1 at 12.)

         Plaintiff also claims he was wrongfully placed in segregation “after being accused of a disciplinary offense” and that he has been discriminated against based on race or class. (Id. at 15.)

         Finally, Plaintiff claims that, on August 27, 2012, an unidentified physician at the Ada County Jail denied Plaintiff “low back surgery” and committed medical malpractice with respect to Plaintiff's serious back pain. (Dkt. 3 at 6.)

         4. Discussion

         Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to proceed with the Complaint. The Court will, however, grant Plaintiff 28 days to amend the Complaint. Any amended complaint should take into consideration the following.

         A. Statute of Limitations

         At least some of Plaintiff's claims appear barred by the statute of limitations. Federal civil rights actions arising in Idaho are governed by a two-year statute of limitations. Idaho Code § 5-219; Wilson, 471 U.S. at 280. Although the state statute of limitations governs the time period for filing a § 1983 claim, federal law governs when that claim accrues, or arises. Elliott v. City of Union City, 25 F.3d 800, 801-02 (9th Cir. 1994). Under the “discovery rule, ” a claim accrues “when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury” that is the basis of the claim. Lukovsky v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 535 F.3d 1044, 1048 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted). That is, the statute of limitations begins to run when the plaintiff becomes aware of the actual injury-not “when the plaintiff suspects a legal wrong.” Id.

         If a plaintiff cannot show that his claim accrued during the statute of limitations period, he may file a lawsuit beyond the limitations deadline only if he can show that the statute should have been tolled (or stopped) for a certain period of time during the deadline period within which he should have filed the lawsuit. Pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), the “statute of limitations must be tolled while a prisoner completes the mandatory exhaustion process.” Brown v. Valoff, 422 F.3d 926, 943 (9th Cir. 2005).

         In addition to tolling under the PLRA, state tolling law applies to § 1983 actions unless important federal policy will be undermined. See Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 421 U.S. 454, 464-65 (1975); Pesnell v. Arsenault, 543 F.3d 1038, 1043 (9th Cir. 2008). Idaho law allows for statutory tolling of the statute of limitations for a person's juvenile status or insanity. Idaho Code § 5-230. However, because the Idaho Supreme Court has determined that “[s]tatutes of limitation in Idaho are not tolled by judicial construction but rather by the expressed language of the statute, ” equitable tolling is not available in Idaho. Wilhelm v. Frampton, 158 P.3d 310, 312 (Idaho 2007).

         The doctrine of equitable estoppel, however, is available in Idaho. While it “does not ‘extend' a statute of limitation, ” equitable estoppel works in a similar manner to prevent a party who has falsely represented or concealed a material fact with actual or constructive knowledge of the truth “from pleading and utilizing the statute of limitations as a bar, although the time limit of the statute may have already run.” J.R. Simplot Co., v. Chemetics International, Inc., 887 P.2d 1039, 1041 (Idaho 1994). Equitable estoppel requires a showing of four elements: “(1) a false representation or concealment of a material fact with actual or constructive knowledge of the truth; (2) that the party asserting estoppel did not know or could not discover the truth; (3) that the false representation or concealment was made with the intent that it be relied upon; and (4) that the person to whom the representation was made, or from whom the facts were concealed, relied and acted upon the representation or concealment to his prejudice.” Id.

         Allowing for a maximum of thirty days to exhaust the prison or jail administrative process, any claims that arose more than two years and thirty days before the filing of the Complaint in this action appear to be time-barred. If Plaintiff includes any such claims in an amended complaint, he must explain why he believes those claims are not subject to dismissal as untimely.

         B. Substantive Legal Standards That May Apply to Plaintiff's Claims

         Plaintiff asserts his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the civil rights statute. (Dkt. 3 at 1.) To state a plausible civil rights claim, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights protected by the Constitution or created by federal statute proximately caused by conduct of a person acting under color of state law. Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991). To be liable under § 1983, “the defendant must possess a purposeful, a knowing, or possibly a reckless state of mind.” Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2472 (2015). Negligence is not actionable under ยง 1983, because a negligent act by a public ...

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