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Ayarzagoitia v. Christensen

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 16, 2020



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

         The Clerk of Court conditionally filed Plaintiff Damian Ayarzagoitia's Complaint as a result of Plaintiff's status as an inmate and in forma pauperis request. Plaintiff has since filed an Amended Complaint.[1] See Dkt. 7. The Court now reviews the Amended Complaint to determine whether it or any of the claims contained therein should be summarily dismissed under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A. Having reviewed the record, and otherwise being fully informed, the Court enters the following Order.

         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).

         3. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff is a prisoner in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction (“IDOC”). He is currently incarcerated at Eagle Pass Correctional Facility (“EPCF”) in Eagle Pass, Texas. EPCF is operated by a private prison company that has contracted with the IDOC for the housing of Idaho prisoners. Plaintiff was transferred to EPCF from the Idaho State Correctional Center (“ISCC”) in October 2018. See Compl., Dkt. 7, at 2.

         Plaintiff contends that, before his transfer to EPCF, he sent a concern form to Defendant Christensen, the warden at ISCC, stating that Plaintiff had a “green light” placed against him by two prison gangs-the Aryan Knights (“AK”) and the Severely Violent Criminals (“SVC”). Id. A green light means that every gang member is tasked with attacking the green-lit inmate on sight. Id. Knowing that members of these gangs were housed at EPCF, Plaintiff told Defendant Christensen it would not be safe for him to be transferred.

         Despite these concerns, Plaintiff was transferred to EPCF on October 9, 2018. That same day, Plaintiff was attacked by prison gang members and suffered serious injury. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff later told the Director of the IDOC about the attack, but “nothing has happened to fix the issue.” Id. at 3. In May 2019, Plaintiff was placed in protective custody at EPCF, but he believes he is “still at risk of serious physical injury.” Id.

         Plaintiff claims that Defendant Christensen's inaction, which permitted Plaintiff's transfer to EPCF, violated the Eighth Amendment and Idaho Code § 20-241A. Id. at 2-5.

         Plaintiff also asserts claims against Idaho Governor Brad Little. He contends that Idaho Code §§ 20-209H, 20-209(3) and (4), and 20-241A are unconstitutional as violating the Eighth or Fourteenth Amendments. Id. at 6-8. Plaintiff also asserts that Idaho Code § 20-209H violates other Idaho statutes-specifically, Idaho Code §§ 19-5305(1) and (2), 19-4708(1) and (2)(c), and 19-4707. Id.

         4. Section 1983 Claims

         A. Standards of Law

         Plaintiff brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the civil rights statute. 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 § 1983, because a negligent act by a public official is not an abuse of governmental power but merely a “failure to measure up to the conduct of a reasonable person.” Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 332 (1986).

         Prison officials generally are not liable for damages in their individual capacities under § 1983 unless they personally participated in the alleged constitutional violations. Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677 (“[E]ach Government official, his or her title notwithstanding, is only liable for his or her own misconduct.”). Section 1983 does not allow for recovery against an employer or principal simply because an employee or agent committed misconduct. Taylor, 880 F.2d at 1045. However, “[a] defendant may be held liable as a supervisor under § 1983 ‘if there exists ... a sufficient causal connection between the supervisor's wrongful conduct and the constitutional violation.'” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1207 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 646 (9th Cir. 1989)).

         A plaintiff can establish this causal connection by alleging that a defendant (1) “set[] in motion a series of acts by others”; (2) “knowingly refus[ed] to terminate a series of acts by others, which [the supervisor] knew or reasonably should have known would cause others to inflict a constitutional injury”; (3) failed to act or improperly acted in the training, supervision, or control of his subordinates”; (4) “acquiesc[ed] in the constitutional deprivation”; or (5) engag[ed] in “conduct that showed a reckless or callous indifference to the rights of others.” Id. at 1205-09.

         The Eighth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects prisoners against cruel and unusual punishment. To state a claim under the Eighth Amendment, a plaintiff must show that he is (or was) “incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm, ” or that he has been deprived of “the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities” as a result of Defendants' actions. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (internal quotation marks omitted). An Eighth Amendment claim requires a plaintiff to satisfy “both an objective standard-that the deprivation was serious enough to constitute cruel and unusual punishment-and a subjective standard-deliberate indifference.” Snow v. McDaniel, 681 F.3d 978, 985 (9th Cir. 2012), overruled in part on other grounds by Peralta v. Dillard, 744 F.3d 1076 (9th Cir. 2014) (en banc).

         To rise to the level of an Eighth Amendment violation, the deprivation alleged must be objectively sufficiently harmful, Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834, or, in other words, sufficiently “grave” or “serious, ” Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991). As the United States Supreme Court has explained:

Not every governmental action affecting the interests or well-being of a prisoner is subject to Eighth Amendment scrutiny, however. After incarceration, only the unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain constitutes cruel and unusual punishment forbidden by the Eighth Amendment. To be cruel and unusual punishment, conduct that does not purport to be punishment at all must involve more than ordinary lack of due care for the prisoner's interests or safety.

Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986) (internal quotation marks, citation, and alteration omitted).

         With respect to the subjective prong of an Eighth Amendment analysis, a defendant acts with deliberate indifference only if the defendant (1) was aware of the risk to the prisoner's health or safety, and (2) deliberately disregarded that risk. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. Prison officials who actually knew of a substantial risk will not be liable under § 1983 “if they responded reasonably to the risk, even if the harm ultimately was not averted.” Id. at 844. Mere negligence is not sufficient to establish deliberate indifference; rather, the official's conduct must have been wanton. Id. at 835.

         Prison officials who act with deliberate indifference “to the threat of serious harm or injury” by one prisoner against another are subject to liability under § 1983. Berg v. Kincheloe, 794 F.2d 457, 459 (9th Cir. 1986). “Having incarcerated persons with demonstrated proclivities for antisocial criminal, and often violent, conduct, having stripped them of virtually every means of self-protection and foreclosed their access to outside aid, the government and its officials are not free to let the state of nature take its course.” Farmer, 511 U.S. at 833 (internal quotation marks, citation, and alterations omitted). Although even an obvious danger does not result in liability if the official is not subjectively aware of it, a prison official cannot “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 complainant was especially likely to be assaulted by the specific prisoner who eventually committed the assault.” Id. at 843.

         The standard governing most constitutional claims of inmates-other than Eighth Amendment claims-was outlined by the United States Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987). There, the Court examined the free speech issue in the context of prison officials prohibiting correspondence between inmates residing at different state institutions. The Court held that “when a prison regulation [or official action] impinges on inmates' ...

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