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Pitts v. Ige

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

April 1, 2019

JOSEPH PITTS, #A0259019, et al., Plaintiffs,
DAVID IGE, et al., Defendants.


          Leslie E. Kobayashi, 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. Pitts labels the Complaint as a “class action” brought on behalf of himself, inmates Brandon Harter and Austin McMillin (also named as “Plaintiffs”), and “all prisoners who are or will be confined at Oahu Community Correctional Center” (OCCC).[1] Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID #2.

         In the caption, Pitts names as Defendants Hawaii Governor David Ige; Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Nolan Espinda, DPS Corrections Division Administrators Cathy Ross and/or Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, and DPS Assistant Administrator of Corrections Shawn H. Tsuhu; OCCC Chief of Security Denise Johnston, OCCC Corrections Officers Sgt. Blue and ACO Laredo, and OCCC Case Manager Andrea Baryuga; Larry Hoffman; Michael J. Hoffman; John and Jane Does 1-100 (collectively, Defendants). See Compl., ECF No. 1. Pitts refers broadly to “Defendants” throughout the Complaint, omits Defendants Larry and Michael J. Hoffman from his list of Defendants within the Complaint (and provides no details regarding them or their connection to his claims), and explicitly names only Defendant Barayuga within any claim. See id., PageID #3-4, #5-9.

         Pitts alleges Defendants violated his and other OCCC prisoners' constitutional rights under the Eighth and/or Fourteenth Amendments by allowing overcrowded conditions to persist at OCCC. He seeks monetary and injunctive relief. For the following reasons, the Complaint is DISMISSED with leave to amend, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(a), for failure to state a colorable claim for relief.


         The court must conduct a pre-Answer screening of all prisoners' pleadings. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(a). Claims or complaints that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim for relief, or seek damages from defendants who are immune from suit must be dismissed. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc); Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2010).

         Screening under §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b) involves the same standard of review as that used under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012); Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012). A complaint must “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). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. The “mere possibility of misconduct” or an “unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation” falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id. at 678-79; see also Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).

         Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). “Specific facts are not necessary.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007). The court must accept the complaint's allegations as true, Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94, and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984).

         Pro se litigants' pleadings must be liberally construed and all doubts should be resolved in their favor. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). The court must grant leave to amend if it appears the plaintiff can correct the defects in the complaint, Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1130, but if a claim or complaint cannot be saved by amendment, dismissal with prejudice is appropriate. Sylvia Landfield Tr. v. City of L.A., 729 F.3d 1189, 1196 (9th Cir. 2013).

         II. BACKGROUND [2]

         Pitts was housed at OCCC for approximately six months between May and December 2016, while he awaited resentencing in state criminal proceedings. Pitts introduces his claims by alleging:

Overcrowding at OCCC not only exacerbates the problems there[, ] it is frequently the root of and cause of most deplorable conditions in prisons and jails. It depletes resources, overtaxes support systems and services creating a toxic environment. Increases stress, violence, tension[.] Look at the sheer number of assaults by staff and prisoners dying at OCCC. Deficient Medical Unit. Contagious communicable infections, diseases being spread. Inadequate mental health care. Constant lack of staff and qualified mental health psychiatrists. OCCC has got to be the oldest most “non” compliant Jail in the United States of America and sole cause of distress and unnecessary pain and suffering.

Compl., ECF No. 1, PageID #5.

         Pitts confines his claims to the areas where he was personally housed in 2016: the Special Holding Unit and the Module. Pitts alleges that black mold covers the entire ceiling in the Module, the roof leaked, and water pooled on the floor when it rained, despite trash cans placed about to catch the rain. Pitts says that: he was on lockdown for “23/24 hours a day, ” during which no showers or recreation were provided “for weeks into months;” three prisoners were housed in double-bunk cells, forcing Pitts or another inmate to sleep on the floor; there was only 3' by 5' feet within which to walk in the cell; inmates were denied outside recreation for weeks at a time; the toilets flushed once per hour, creating bad odor; cockroaches crawled on Pitts's face and bit him while he slept; the air conditioning often malfunctioned, making cell conditions “suffocating” at times;[3] and mail was often delivered late. See id., PageID #6-7. Pitts says that Defendant Barayuga “rarely” allowed him calls or visits with his attorney, which left him unprepared for his resentencing hearing and may have resulted in the denial of Pitts's motions. Id., PageID #7.

         Pitts was also housed in the Special Holding Unit (SHU) where he alleges conditions were worse than in the Module. Pitts says that: he was housed with another inmate with only 12' by 2' of floor space; the toilet was inches from the bunk; there was no electricity in the cell (making it impossible to read after sunset); rats entered through holes in the cell wall;[4] the roof leaked (“especially if a prisoner floods his toilet due to frustration”); there was no hot water in the sink or shower; and there was no air conditioning. Id., PageID #8. Pitts alleges these conditions cased “fights, frustration, one of the reasons reportedly [an inmate] was raped and murdered by his cell mate.” Id., PageID #8.

         Pitts alleges “OCCC was. . . serving [inmates] less than 1200 calories a day.” Id. Pitts says that he knew this because he had worked in the HCF kitchen and knew proper serving sizes. He says the food trays were moldy and had old food from previous meals stuck to them. He claims that medical and mental health care was deficient, although he alleges no specific incidents when he was denied such care.[5]

         Finally, Pitts complains that the conditions at OCCC violate “No. 84-1104 a mandatory consent degree . . . lodged regarding the overcrowding and deplorable conditions at OCCC.”[6] Id. Pitts alleges Defendant Espinda commented in the Star Advertiser newspaper in March 2016, that “he would reduce the overcrowding at OCCC, ” showing that Espinda was aware that OCCC was overcrowded while Pitts was there.


         To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). A person deprives another of a constitutional right, “within the meaning of § 1983, ‘if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative act, or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made.'” Preschooler II v. Clark Cty. Sch. Bd. of Trs., 479 F.3d 1175, 1183 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978)).

         A plaintiff must also allege that he suffered a specific injury as a result of a particular defendant's conduct and allege an affirmative link between the injury and the violation of his rights. See Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 692 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 371-72, 377 (1976).

         A. Pitts May Not Pursue a ...

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