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Lau v. Kekuaokalani

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

July 25, 2017

SHAWN THOMAS LAU, #A0205282, Plaintiff,


          J. Michael Seabright Chief United States District Judge

         Before the court is pro se Plaintiff Shawn Thomas Lau's prisoner civil rights Complaint. ECF No. 1. Lau, a pre-trial detainee housed at the Oahu Community Correctional Center (“OCCC”), is proceeding in forma pauperis. ECF No. 5. Lau claims that OCCC Chief of Security (“COS”) Denise Johnson, Correctional Officer (“CO”) Michael Kekuaokalani, and Richard Banner, M.D. (collectively, “Defendants”), violated the Eighth Amendment in connection with an accident Lau experienced in his cell and the alleged delay in surgery thereafter. For the following reasons, Lau's Complaint is DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C.§§ 1915(e) and 1915A(a) for failure to state a claim, with leave granted to amend.

         I. SCREENING

         Federal courts must screen all cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity, officer, or employee, or seek to proceed without prepayment of the civil filing fees. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(b)(2) and 1915A(a). The court must identify cognizable claims and dismiss those claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. at §§ 1915(b)(2) and 1915A(b).

         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). 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.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A plaintiff must “set forth specific facts as to each individual defendant's” deprivation of his rights. Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 634 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). That is, a plaintiff must demonstrate each defendant's personal participation in the deprivation of his rights. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676-77; Simmons v. Navajo Cty., 609 F.3d 1011, 1020-21 (9th Cir. 2010).

         Pro se prisoners' pleadings must be liberally construed and given the benefit of any doubt. Blaisdell v. Frappiea, 729 F.3d 1237, 1241 (9th Cir. 2013); Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). However, “the liberal pleading standard . . . applies only to a plaintiff's factual allegations.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989). “[A] liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled.” Bruns v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin., 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Ivey v. Bd. of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982)). A plaintiff must identify specific facts supporting the existence of substantively plausible claims for relief. Johnson v. City of Shelby, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014) (per curiam) (citation omitted). Leave to amend should be granted if it appears possible that the plaintiff can correct the complaint's defects. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000).


         “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.

         A. Official Capacity Claims

         “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). Defendants named in their official capacities are subject to suit under § 1983 only “for prospective declaratory and injunctive relief . . . to enjoin an alleged ongoing violation of federal law.” Oyama v. Univ. of Haw., 2013 WL 1767710, at *7 (D. Haw. Apr. 23, 2013) (quoting Wilbur v. Locke, 423 F.3d 1101, 1111 (9th Cir. 2005), abrogated on other grounds by Levin v. Commerce Energy Inc., 560 U.S. 413 (2010)); see also Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989) (“[A] suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office.”); Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908).

         Lau names Defendants in their individual and official capacities and seeks compensatory and punitive damages only. Lau's claims against Defendants named in their official capacities are DISMISSED.

         B.Fourteenth Amendment: Deliberate Indifference

         Lau alleges Defendants violated his rights under the Eighth Amendment. But, because he was a pretrial detainee when the incidents at issue occurred, Lau's claims arise under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause rather than under the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. See Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 535 (1979); Castro v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 833 F.3d 1060, 1067-68 (9th Cir. 2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct. 831 (2017).

         The Eighth Amendment's standard for deliberate indifference requires an objective and subjective showing. First, the risk posed to the prisoner must be objectively, sufficiently serious. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1970) (citation omitted). Second, the prison official must subjectively “know[] of and disregard[] an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.” Id. at 837. “In other words, the official must demonstrate a subjective awareness of the risk of harm.” Castro, 833 F.3d at 1068 (internal citation omitted). And, until recently, this standard was also applied to pretrial detainees' claims under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Lolli v. Cty. of Orange, 351 F.3d 410, 419 (9th Cir. 2003) (reasoning that pretrial detainee's claim of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need is analyzed under the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause rather than under the Eighth Amendment, but same standards apply); Castro, 833 F.3d at 1069. In the context of an excessive force claim, the United States Supreme Court has recently rejected the subjective component of the test, holding that the “appropriate standard for a pretrial detainee's excessive force claim is solely an objective one.” Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2473-74 (2015). Rather, “a pretrial detainee must show only that the force purposely or knowingly used against him was objectively unreasonable.” Id. at 2473.

         The Ninth Circuit has extended Kingsley's rationale to pretrial detainees' failure-to-protect claims, setting forth a “less stringent” standard that eliminates a “subjective intent to punish.” Castro, 833 F.3d at 1067-68, 1071 & n.4. Under Castro, a pretrial detainee alleging a failure-to-protect claim must show that:

(1) The defendant made an intentional decision with respect to the conditions under which the plaintiff was confined;
(2) Those conditions put plaintiff at substantial risk of suffering serious harm;
(3) The defendant did not take reasonable available measures to abate that risk, even though a reasonable officer in the circumstances would have appreciated the high degree of risk involved -- making the consequences of the defendant's conduct obvious; and
(4) By not taking such measures, the defendant caused the plaintiff's injuries.

Id. at 1071 & n.4. Castro characterized this test as requiring “more than negligence but less than subjective intent -- something akin to reckless disregard.” Id. Castro did not address whether this new Kingsley test applies beyond failure-to-protect claims to all pretrial detainee conditions of confinement claims. To date, only the Second Circuit has extended Kingsley's holding to encompass all pretrial detainee deliberate indifference conditions-of-confinement claims. See Darnell v. Pineiro, 849 F.3d 17, 35 (2d Cir. 2017) (explicitly relying on Castro, and interpreting Kingsley as “standing for the proposition that deliberate indifference for due process purposes should be measured by an objective standard”). The remaining circuits to discuss the issue have either ...

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