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Hale v. Pounds

United States District Court, D. Idaho

December 9, 2019



          David C. Nye Chief U.S. District Court Judge

         The Clerk of Court has conditionally filed Plaintiff Ryan Allen Hale's Complaint as a result of his status as a prisoner and request to proceed in forma pauperis. Dkts. 3, 1. A “conditional filing” means that Plaintiff must obtain authorization from the Court to proceed. All prisoner and pauper complaints must be screened by the Court to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 & 1915A. The Court must dismiss any claims that state a frivolous or malicious claim, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         After reviewing the Complaint, the Court has determined that Plaintiff may proceed.


         1. Standard of Law for Screening Complaints

         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).

         Plaintiffs are required to state facts, and not just legal theories, in a complaint. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). In Iqbal, the Court made clear that “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. at 678. In other words, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 “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, ” the complaint has not stated a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Plaintiff brings his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the civil rights statute. To state a claim under § 1983, 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).

         2. Review of Sexual Harassment Claim

         A. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff is an inmate in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC). At the time of the incidents alleged, Plaintiff was housed in the Idaho State Correctional Institution's Behavioral Health Unit under a clinical diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and psychosis. In January 2019, Correctional Officer Angela Pound formed a personal relationship with Plaintiff and began to say sexually suggestive things to him. In late January and in February, Pound wrote him two notes with explicit sexual content, one of which he destroyed, and the other of which he gave to prison officials to complain of sexual harassment by Officer Pound.

         B. Standard of Law

         Whether a specific act constitutes Eighth Amendment cruel and unusual punishment is measured by “‘the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.'” Wood v. Beauclair, 692 F.3d 1041, 1045-46 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 8 (1992)). Sexual harassment or abuse of an inmate by a corrections officer is classified as a violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id., 692 F.3d at 1046. In Schwenk v. Hartford, 204 F.3d 1187 (9th Cir. 2000), the court observed: “In the simplest and most absolute of terms ... prisoners [have a clearly established Eighth Amendment right] to be free from sexual abuse.” Id. at 119.

         In Wood v. Beauclair, the court set forth the following test for determining whether sexual abuse occurred:

[W]hen a prisoner alleges sexual abuse by a prison guard, we believe the prisoner is entitled to a presumption that the conduct was not consensual. The state then may rebut this presumption by showing that the conduct involved no coercive factors. We need not attempt to exhaustively describe every factor which could be fairly characterized as coercive. Of course, explicit assertions or manifestations of non-consent indicate coercion, but so too may favors, privileges, or any type of exchange for sex. Unless the state carries its burden, the prisoner is deemed to have established the fact of non-consent.

         C. Discussion of Sexual Abuse Allegations

         Any romantic or sexual relationship between a prisoner and a prison employee begins with the presumption that it was nonconsensual. Plaintiff's allegations are sufficient to permit him to proceed on his claim of sexual harassment and abuse against Defendant Pound.

         3. Review of Failure to Protect Allegations

         A. Factual Allegations

         In February 2019, Plaintiff alleges that he wrote an anonymous concern form to authorities informing them of Pound's inappropriate actions. In May 2019, Pound came into Plaintiff's cell, upset and crying, and told him, “I'm fucked, ” which evinced Pound's knowledge of Plaintiff's report of her behavior to prison officials.

         Sergeant Blackburn was assigned to perform an investigation. Plaintiff alleges that Blackburn did not separate Plaintiff from Pound during the three-month investigation, which gave Pound opportunity to continue to harass Plaintiff. After three months, Pound was removed from Plaintiff's unit.

         B. Standard of Law

         To state a failure-to-protect claim, Plaintiff must allege facts showing that Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his safety and well-being. “[D]eliberate indifference entails something more than mere negligence, [but] is satisfied by something less than acts or omissions for the very purpose of causing harm or with knowledge that harm will result.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 835 (1994). To exhibit deliberate indifference, a prison 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.” Id. at 837.

         Prison officials who act with deliberate indifference to the threat of harm or injury from other individuals are subject to liability under § 1983. See Berg v. Kincheloe, 794 F.2d 457, 459 (9th Cir. 1986). In evaluating a prisoner's claim, courts must consider whether “the officials act[ed] with a sufficiently culpable state of mind and if the alleged wrongdoing was objectively harmful enough to establish a constitutional violation.” Hudson, 503 U.S. at 8 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); accord Wood, 692 F.3d at 1046.

         C. ...

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