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Wheeler v. Maui Department of Public Safety

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

April 10, 2019

LACEY LEE WHEELER, #A4019658, Plaintiff,
v.
MAUI DEP'T OF PUBLIC SAFETY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

          Susan Oki Mollway United States District Judge

         Before the court is pro se Plaintiff Lacey Lee Wheeler's prisoner civil rights complaint brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 1. Wheeler claims that Maui Community Correctional Center (“MCCC”) adult corrections officers (“ACOs”) Sergeant Jared Tahon, Harley Dela-Cruz, Clyde Tokunaga, and Travis Kamaka (collectively, “Defendants”), violated the Eighth Amendment when they allegedly used excessive force against her on or about March 15, 2017.[1]

         The court has screened the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(a) and finds that Wheeler states a colorable claim for the use of excessive force. Wheeler, however, alleges claims against Defendants named in their official capacities only, and as explained below, these claims must be DISMISSED with prejudice.

         Wheeler is granted leave to file an amended pleading on or before May 6, 2019, realleging her claims against Defendants Tahon, Dela-Cruz, Tokunaga, and Kamaka in their individual capacities. If Wheeler timely amends her complaint to name Defendants in their individual capacities, the court will direct service of the Amended Complaint on Defendants Tahon, Dela-Cruz, Tokunaga, and Kamaka, who will be required to file a response after service is perfected. If Wheeler fails to do so, this action will be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(a) for failure to state a colorable claim for relief.

         I. STATUTORY SCREENING

         The court must perform a pre-answer screening of Wheeler's Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(a). Byrd v. Phoenix Police Dep't, 885 F.3d 639, 641 (9th Cir. 2018). Claims 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) (discussing § 1915(e)(2)); Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2010) (discussing § 1915A(b)).

         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); Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, 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 a complaint must allege enough facts to provide both “fair notice” of the claim asserted and “the grounds upon which [that claim] rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 & n.3 (2007) (citation and quotation marks omitted); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 555.

         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). Leave to amend must be granted if it appears the plaintiff can correct the defects in the complaint. Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1130.

         II. DISCUSSION

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 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). Additionally, a plaintiff must allege that she suffered a specific injury as a result of a particular defendant's conduct and an affirmative link between the injury and the violation of his rights. See Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 371-72, 377 (1976).

         A. Wheeler's Claims[2]

         Wheeler states that she and other MCCC inmates were out of their cells in an open area on March 15, 2017, because the air conditioning unit was malfunctioning, and the cells were intolerably hot and had inadequate air circulation. She says that when Defendant Sgt. Tahon threatened to return the inmates to their cells, the inmates became upset. Wheeler says several inmates began bullying and threatening her, so she knocked on a window to get ACO Washington's attention and to seek help. Defendants ACOs Sgt. Tahon, Kamaka, Dela-Cruz, and Tokunaga immediately entered the open area and allegedly accused Wheeler of breaking the day room door; Wheeler denies this. Defendants ordered Wheeler outside and, when she complied, they allegedly forcefully grabbed her. Wheeler says that ACO Tokunaga slammed her into the sharp corner of a counter, then all Defendants slammed her onto a table, banging her shins. Wheeler claims that Sgt. Tahon and ACO Kamaka roughly pushed her legs and arms up and against her back into a hog-tie position, while ACO Dela-Cruz applied pressure to her previously injured collar bone and slammed her head repeatedly on the table. Wheeler says she did not resist. At this point, Lieutenant Abac entered the area and, Wheeler says, Defendants immediately stopped.

         Wheeler says that she was unable to breathe, became hysterical, and believes she had a concussion because she briefly passed out. She was taken to the medical unit where photographs were taken, but she alleges the medical unit did not properly assess her injuries. Wheeler was placed in segregation, apparently received a disciplinary charge, was classified as a maximum custody inmate, and was transferred to WCCC on Oahu. Wheeler seeks compensation for her injuries.

         B. ...


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