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Quin'Ley v. Craig

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

December 19, 2016

RHONDA'E QUIN'LEY, #A0167059, Plaintiff,
v.
WANDA CRAIG, ALTRES STAFFING MEDICAL SERVICES, DEP'T OF PUBLIC SAFETY, Defendants.

          ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT AND DENYING MOTION FOR COUNSEL

          Susan Oki Mollway United States District Judge

         Before the court is pro se Plaintiff Rhonda'e Quin'Ley's prisoner civil rights Complaint brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and Motion for Counsel. ECF Nos. 1, 9. Plaintiff names as Defendants the Hawaii Department of Public Safety (“DPS”), the Kulani Correctional Facility (“KCF”) Acting Warden Wanda Craig (in her individual capacity), and unidentified Altres Staffing Medical Services (“Altres”) personnel who are employed at the Halawa Correctional Facility (“HCF”)[1](in their individual capacities). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his rights under the First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

         This court DISMISSES the Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b). Plaintiff is granted leave to correct the deficiencies in his pleading as detailed below. Plaintiff's Motion for Counsel is DENIED without prejudice.

         I. SCREENING

         The court must screen all civil actions brought by prisoners challenging prison conditions or seeking redress from a governmental entity, officer, or employee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). Complaints or claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek relief from a defendant who is immune from suit must be dismissed. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (c)(1).

         A complaint that lacks a cognizable legal theory or alleges insufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory fails to state a claim. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). To state a claim, a pleading 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). This does not mean the pleading must include detailed factual allegations, but the pleading must have “more than an unadorned, the-defendant- unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. That is, a pleading suffices “when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         The court must construe a pro se pleading liberally to determine if it states a claim and, prior to dismissal, explain the deficiencies in the complaint and give the pro se plaintiff an opportunity to cure them if the complaint's defects can be corrected. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc); see also Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2010) (stating that courts must continue to construe pro se filings liberally even when evaluating them under standard announced in Iqbal); but cf. Sylvia Landfield Trust v. City of L.A., 729 F.3d 1189, 1196 (9th Cir. 2013) (holding dismissal with prejudice proper when “it is clear that the complaint could not be saved by any amendment”).

         II. BACKGROUND[2]

         In late July or early August 2016, KCF prison officials ordered Plaintiff to take a urinalysis test while he was working outdoors. Plaintiff is in his sixties, has several chronic medical conditions, and says he was drinking large amounts of water to stay hydrated to prevent a stroke or heart attack while working in the heat. Plaintiff's urinalysis tested negative for drugs, but showed a “low-creatinine level.” Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID #5. Plaintiff says that Warden Craig and the urinalysis officer told him that drinking “enough water to stay properly hydrated” could result in low creatinine levels, and that a low creatinine level is sufficient to charge an inmate with tampering with the test. Id., PageID 35-6. Plaintiff claims this is Warden Craig's “own personal policy, ” meant “to punish the innocent with the guilty.”[3] Id. Plaintiff was charged with tampering with the test and transferred to the KCF segregation unit.

         Plaintiff says he has a medical memorandum allowing him to keep Excedrin on his person to address the severe pain that he often experiences late at night from his chronic ankle and eye conditions. He says KCF officials took his Excedrin away for his first two days in segregation, and thereafter the KCF nurses provided it only on request. Plaintiff says he was unable to request the medication when he most required it, however, because Warden Craig has a personal policy of removing guards stationed outside of the segregation unit from “late at night” until breakfast at 4:30 a.m. Id., PageID #6. Guards are posted within the same building at all times, but it is unclear whether a prisoner in the segregation unit can always reach them.

         Plaintiff alleges that Warden Craig directed guards to take his personal property when he was moved to segregation and later transferred to HCF, including his medication, legal papers, hygiene items, and medical shoes. He says he was also denied “legal calls” while in KCF segregation. Id., PageID #7.

         Plaintiff says his transfer from KCF to HCF occurred on or about August 11, 2016.[4] Plaintiff alleges that HCF Altres medical staff denied him any pain medication for his first two weeks at HCF, apparently while his personal effects were being sent from KCF. Id.

         Finally, Plaintiff says he was told that he could pay $23.00 to have a second urinalysis performed, and that he would only be charged if the test returned “positive for drugs.” Id., PageId. #9. Plaintiff says he was charged $46.00 for the second test, which was not “positive for drugs, ” although he had not agreed to pay more than $23.00.

         Plaintiff seeks an order directing the DPS to stop considering prisoners' low-creatinine urinalysis results as proof of tampering, and compensatory damages.

         III. DISCUSSION

         “To sustain an action under section 1983, a plaintiff must show ‘(1) that the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law; and (2) that the conduct deprived the plaintiff of a federal constitutional or statutory right.'” Hydrick v. Hunter, 500 F.3d 978, 987 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted), vacated and remanded on other grounds, 556 U.S. 1256 (2009); see also West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Section 1983 also requires a connection between a defendant's actions and a plaintiff's allegations. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Serv., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). “A person ‘subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of section 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made.” Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

         A. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

         DPS is not a “person” subject to suit under § 1983. Groten v. California, 251 F.3d 844, 851 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Hale v. Arizona, 993 F.2d 1387, 1398-99 (9th Cir. 1993) (holding that state department of corrections is arm of state, not “person” within meaning of § 1983)).

         Further, “the Eleventh Amendment bars suits for money damages in federal court against a state, its agencies, and state officials acting in their official capacities.” Aholelei v. Dep't of Pub. Safety, 488 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2007). See Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978) (per curiam) (“There can be no doubt . . . that [a] suit against the State and its Board of Corrections is barred by the Eleventh Amendment, unless [the State] has consented to the filing of such a suit.”); Brown v. Cal. Dep't of Corr., 554 F.3d 747, 752 (9th Cir. 2009) (same).

         Plaintiff's claims against DPS are DISMISSED with prejudice. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A(b). Plaintiff may, however, amend the Complaint not only to continue to name Warden Smith in her individual capacity, but also to add her in her official capacity to preserve his claims for prospective injunctive relief, subject to the limitations discussed below. See Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians v. Hardin, 223 F .3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2000) (recognizing exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity “for prospective declaratory and injunctive relief against state officers, sued in their official capacities, to enjoin an alleged ongoing violation of federal law”).

         B. First Amendment Claims

         Plaintiff broadly alleges that Warden Craig violated the First Amendment when she allegedly directed guards to confiscate his “legal papers” and grievances and denied him “legal calls” in KCF segregation. See Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID #8.

         Plaintiff has a constitutional right of access to the courts, and prison officials may not interfere with his right to litigate or seek redress of grievances. See Silva v. Vittorio, 658 F.3d 1090, 1101-02 (9th Cir. 2011). To state a claim of denial of access to the courts, Plaintiff must allege that he suffered an actual injury to that right. This means Plaintiff must allege that he was prejudiced with respect to contemplated or existing litigation, such as the inability to meet a filing deadline or present a nonfrivolous claim. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349 (1996).

         Plaintiff does not explain how Warden Craig interfered with his active or contemplated litigation. He states that he has brought only one other suit as a prisoner, which was settled in 2005.[5] Plaintiff was able to commence the present action within two months after he was transferred from KCF. Moreover, Plaintiff neither explains what he means by “legal calls, ” nor alleges that he was denied constitutionally required contact with his attorney in a criminal proceeding while he was confined at KCF. Nor does Plaintiff explain how the alleged denial of “legal calls” prevented him from otherwise communicating with individuals outside of the prison. To the contrary, Plaintiff asserts that he contacted the American ...


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