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Pitts v. Tuitama

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

May 2, 2017

JOSEPH PITTS, #A0259019, Plaintiff,
SGT. TUITAMA, et al., Defendants.


          J. Michael Seabright, Chief United States District Judge

         Before the court is pro se Plaintiff Joseph Pitts's prisoner civil rights Complaint brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law. ECF No. 1. Pitts names officials and employees of the Hawaii Department of Public Safety (“DPS”), the Halawa Correctional Facility (“HCF”), and the Hawaii State Hospital (“HSH”) as Defendants.[1] He alleges that HSH Defendants violated his rights by forcibly medicating him and DPS/HCF Defendants violated his rights by instituting an unconstitutional mail policy. The Complaint is DISMISSED in part with leave to amend as limited below.

         I. SCREENING

         Because Pitts is a prisoner and is proceeding in forma pauperis, the court must conduct a pre-answer screening of his Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b). The court must sua sponte dismiss a prisoner's complaint, or any portion of it, that is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks damages from defendants who are immune from suit. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)); Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2010) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)). “The purpose of [screening] is ‘to ensure that the targets of frivolous or malicious suits need not bear the expense of responding.'” Nordstrom v. Ryan, 762 F.3d 903, 920 n.1 (9th Cir. 2014) (describing pre-answer screening) (quoting Wheeler v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 689 F.3d 680, 681 (7th Cir. 2012)).

         “The standard for determining whether a plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) standard for failure to state a claim.” Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012); see also Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012) (noting that screening pursuant to § 1915A “incorporates the familiar standard applied in the context of failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)”). Rule 12(b)(6) requires that a complaint “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted); Wilhelm, 680 F.3d at 1121.

         Detailed factual allegations are not required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. The “mere possibility of misconduct” or “unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation[s]” fall short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id.

         Leave to amend should be granted if it appears the plaintiff can correct the complaint's defects. Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1130. A court may dismiss a complaint or claim without leave to amend, however, when “it is clear that the complaint could not be saved by any amendment.” Sylvia Landfield Trust v. City of L.A., 729 F.3d 1189, 1196 (9th Cir. 2013).


         Pitts alleges two distinct causes of action: the first asserts claims against HSH Defendants that allegedly occurred in June 2015; the second asserts claims against DPS and HCF Defendants at an unidentified time while he was confined at the Halawa Correctional Facility. For clarity, the court refers to Pitts's “Count III, ” set forth on pages 7-8 of the Complaint, as the “First Cause of Action, ” and his “Count I, ” set forth on pages 9-17, as Pitts's “Second Cause of Action.”

          A. First Cause of Action: HSH Defendants

          Pitts's First Cause of Action allegedly occurred while he was committed to the HSH. See Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID #7-8 (“Count III”). Pitts alleges that on June 19, 2015, Defendant RN Emelda began yelling that he was only allowed to call his attorney, mother, and patient advisor as Pitts was walking to the telephone. Id., PageID #7. Pitts says he questioned this, but returned to his room when Emelda became agitated.

         A short time later, Defendant Baker and five to six unidentified HSH staff (“HSH Does 1-5 ”) rushed into Pitts's room and told him to lie face down on the ground. Id. Pitts says he questioned this order, but complied without delay. Pitts alleges Baker and HSH Does 1-5 held him, pulled down his pants, injected him with tranquilizers, and shackled him with leather ankle restraints. Id. Baker told Pitts they did so because it had been reported that Pitts was agitated and had intimidated a staff member. Id., PageID #8. Pitts says they left him on the floor as they laughed and congratulated each other. Pitts passed out, and when he awoke, he was nauseated, disoriented, and in pain.

         Pitts told HSH Nursing Director Candy, who is not a named Defendant, that the report that he was agitated and had intimidated staff was false. Id. Candy allegedly reviewed the June 19, 2015 surveillance video of the incident, and later told Pitts that it confirmed his version of events. She said that “she would take care of it.” Id.

         Pitts says that he immediately filed a grievance arising from the incident, but has received no response. On September 10, 2015, Defendant HSH Medical Director William Sheehan, MD, allegedly told Pitts that HSH had no grievances on file from him regarding the incident.

         Pitts says he told his patient advisor, Defendant Catherine Davis, that HSH staff often targeted him because he is African-American and had filed grievances and complaints against HSH staff. He also told Davis that HSH employee Sam, who is not named as a Defendant, had sexually groped him while he was restrained (on another occasion), and that Baker was known to “target another black female patient.” Id. Pitts does not state when he spoke with Davis.

         Pitts says Defendant Carla Sheehan, MD, “may have ordered the injection.” Id.

         Pitts claims that HSH Defendants' actions constitute excessive force, cruel and unusual punishment, retaliation, denial of due process, assault and battery, negligence, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

         B. Second Cause of Action: HCF and DPS Defendants

          In Pitts's Second Cause of Action, detailing events that allegedly occurred at HCF, Pitts complains that Defendant HCF Mailroom Supervisor Terri Yoshinaga and unidentified HCF mailroom staff purposely mishandled, delayed, opened, and inspected his privileged and personal mail outside of his presence in retaliation for his having filed grievances and complaints and being a jail house lawyer. Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID #9-17.

         Pitts says that his criminal defense attorney, John Schum, mailed a letter that was labeled “confidential” to him on May 8, 2015, and was opened outside of his presence. Id., PageID #9. He claims that Yoshinaga and HCF mailroom staff opened, inspected, and read additional mail outside of his presence from Schum, Barry Sooalo, Esq., Lance T. Weber, Esq., the Hawaii Attorney General, “the courts, [and] the Judge.” Id., PageID #10. Pitts claims they refused to mail his confidential letters to the Hawaii State Ombudsman and Hawaii Medical Claims Conciliation Panel (“MCCP”) unless he allowed them to inspect these letters. Id. Pitts complains that his incoming and outgoing non-privileged mail is delayed, passed around, and read by mailroom personnel and others. See id., PageID #10-14.

         Pitts complains that, while DPS provides indigent inmates writing supplies and postage, these supplies are limited to the equivalent of three one-ounce letters per week. Id., PageID #15-16. He says inmates with adequate funds in their accounts are not limited to three ...

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