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Gonda v. Recarte

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

September 15, 2017

JUSTIN GONDA, #A1049736, Plaintiff,
SCOTT RECARTE, et al., Defendants,


          Susan Oki Mollway United States District Judge

         Before the court is pro se Plaintiff Justin Gonda's amended prisoner civil rights Complaint. ECF No. 9. Gonda claims that Oahu Community Correctional Center (“OCCC”) officers Scott Recarte, Henry Moe, and John Doe failed to protect him from an assault by other inmates. Gonda alleges that Sergeant Matthew Kuresa failed to prevent his further injury when Gonda fell in his cell after the assault, and OCCC physicians Mark Pedri, D.O., and Richard Banner, M.D., failed to provide adequate medical care for his injuries. Gonda asserts claims against Defendants in their individual and official capacities and seeks damages pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law.

         The court has screened the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b)(1), and finds that it states a plausible claim for relief for damages against Defendants Recarte, Moe, Doe, Kuresa, and Dr. Pedri. Gonda again fails to state a plausible claim against Dr. Banner, and claims against him are DISMISSED. After the Complaint is served, Defendants Recarte, Moe, Doe, Kuresa, and Pedri are required to respond.

         I. SCREENING

         Because Gonda is a prisoner and is proceeding in forma pauperis, the court conducts a pre answer screening of his pleading 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) (“Nordstrom I”) (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).


         “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). Official capacity defendants 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, 7071 (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).

         Similarly, sovereign immunity bars awards for damages for past violations under Hawaii state law, unless the State has clearly relinquished its immunity. See Bush v. Watson, 918 P.2d 1130, 1137, 81 Haw. 474, 481 (1996); Pele Def. Fund v. Paty, 837 P.2d 1247, 1266, 73 Haw. 578, 60910(1992); cf. Sound v. Hawaii Dep't of Human Serv., 2013 WL 5021023, at *1 2 (Haw. App. 2013) (denying award of fees and recognizing the distinction between sovereign immunity on actions seeking prospective relief and those seeking retrospective relief).

         Gonda seeks compensatory and punitive damages only and alleges no ongoing violations of state or federal law. Gonda's claims against Defendants named in their official capacities are therefore DISMISSED with prejudice.

         B. Deliberate Indifference Claims Under § 1983 Against Defendants in Their Individual Capacities

         Because Gonda was a pretrial detainee when the incidents at issue occurred, his claims arise under the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. 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).

         Until recently, all pretrial detainees' deliberate indifference claims were nonetheless addressed under the Eighth Amendment's two pronged standard, as the minimum protection afforded under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Lolli v. Cty. of Orange, 351 F.3d 410, 419 (9th Cir. 2003) (stating that a 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 the same standards apply); Castro, 833 F.3d at 1069. The Eighth Amendment's standard requires a showing that (1) the risk posed to the prisoner is objectively, sufficiently serious; and (2) the prison official subjectively “knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety.” Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834, 837 (1970) (citation omitted). “In other words, the official must demonstrate a subjective awareness of the risk of harm.” Castro, 833 F.3d at 1068 (internal citation omitted).

         Recently, the Supreme Court has rejected the Eighth Amendment test for reviewing pretrial detainees' excessive force claims, holding that the “appropriate standard” for such claims “is solely an objective one.” Kingsley v. Hendrickson, 135 S.Ct. 2466, 2473 74 (2015). Under Kingsley, “a pretrial detainee must show only ...

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