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Pitts v. Ige

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

July 22, 2019

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


          Leslie E. Kobayashi United States District Judge.

         Before the court is pro se Plaintiff Joseph Pitts' first amended Complaint (“FAC”) brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, and Hawaii Revised Statutes §§ 662-2, 663-31 & 96-18. See FAC, ECF No. 12. Pitts is incarcerated at the Halawa Correctional Facility (“HCF”). He alleges that prison officials violated his constitutional rights when he was incarcerated at the Oahu Community Correctional Center (“OCCC”) for six months between approximately May and December 2016.

         Pitts names the State of Hawaii and Governor David Ige; Department of Public Safety (“DPS”) Director Nolan Espinda, Deputy Director of Corrections Jodie Maesaka-Hirata, and Division Administrator Cathy Ross; OCCC Chief of Security Denise Johnston, Adult Corrections Officers (“ACOs”) Captain Evans, Sgt. Blue, ACO Koma, and ACO Laredo; Case Managers Andrea Barayuga and Joleen; Food Services and Environmental Health and Safety Director and staff Jane/John Doe 1-10, Medical and Mental Health staff Jane/John Doe 1-10; Librarian Caroline Gunn; Acting Wardens Michael J. Hoffman and Francis Sequirra;[1] and Brian Watanabe as Defendants (collectively, “Defendants”).

         Pitts seeks monetary damages and injunctive orders ensuring that, if he is ever rehoused at OCCC, he will not experience the conditions that he challenges here, and that he will be housed in a “Work Module with no roaches/ [and] afforded employment.” FAC, ECF No. 12, PageID #85.

         For the following reasons, the FAC is DISMISSED with leave to amend as limited below, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(a).


         The court conducts 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 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 12 is read in conjunction with Rule 8(a)(2) when screening a complaint; Rule 8 “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)). The court must accept the complaint's plausible allegations as true, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), 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. Byrd v. Maricopa Cty. Bd. of Supervisors, 845 F.3d 919, 922 (9th Cir. 2017). 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]

         A. Procedural History

         Pitts commenced this suit on behalf of himself, two named OCCC prisoners, and all present and future OCCC prisoners, on November 29, 2018, when his state-court attorney filed the Complaint with the court. See ECF No. 1. Pitts says that he was housed at OCCC for six months “between May 2016 to approximately December 2016, ” while he awaited re-sentencing and a decision on his motion for a new trial in State v. Pitts, Cr. No. 09-1-00097 (Haw. 1st Cir.).[3] Id., at PageID #2. He alleged that overcrowding at OCCC led to inhumane conditions of confinement, including tiny, filthy, vermin-infested cells, inadequate food, deficient medical and mental health care, increased violence, limited recreation and showers, and inmates sleeping on the floor. He also complained that case manager Barayuga often denied inmates attorney calls and visits during lockdowns, which prevented him from “constant contact” with his defense attorneys. Id., at PageID #7. Pitts suggested this resulted in the denial of his post-trial motion and the re-imposition of a life term.

         On April 1, 2019, the Court screened the Complaint and dismissed Pitts' claims for prospective injunctive relief with prejudice, because Pitts was no longer incarcerated at OCCC when he filed the Complaint. See Order, ECF No. 8, at PageID #54 (“April 1, 2019 Order”). The Court also dismissed damages claims against official capacity Defendants under the Eleventh Amendment without leave to amend, and the remaining claims against individual Defendants with leave to amend. The April 1, 2019 Order notified Pitts that, if he filed an amended pleading, he “MAY NOT expand his claims beyond those already alleged or add new claims or Defendants, ” without explaining how new claims or Defendants related to his original claims. Id., at PageID #53.

         On June 4, 2019, Pitts filed the FAC and a Motion for Reconsideration of the dismissal with prejudice of claims for injunctive relief. See Mot., ECF No. 11; FAC, ECF No. 12. Pitts argued that, if his pending direct appeal in Cr. No. 09-1-00097 is successful, he could be transferred to OCCC and might again be subjected to the conditions about which he complains here.

         On June 7, 2019, the Court denied Pitts' Motion for Reconsideration, holding that the possibility that he will be transferred to OCCC and subjected to the conditions he challenges is too speculative to reinstate his claims for injunctive relief. ECF No. 13 (“June 7, 2019 Order”). Thus, Pitts' claims for prospective injunctive relief as alleged against the State and damages claims alleged against official capacity Defendants remain DISMISSED without leave to amend.

         B. Allegations in the FAC

         As noted, Pitts says that he was housed at OCCC for approximately six months between May and “on or about December 2016, ” while he awaited resentencing and a decision on his motion for a new trial in Cr. No. 09-1-00097.[4]FAC, ECF No. 12, PageID #67-#70. He alleges that his transfer to OCCC was pursuant to DPS policy and state laws that designate OCCC as the facility where pretrial and unsentenced inmates are held. Pitts broadly asserts that Defendants Governor Ige, Espinda, Maesaka-Hirata, Hoffman, Sequeira, Ross, Johnston, Evans, and possibly others generally knew that OCCC was overcrowded upon their appointment to office, based on their public statements seeking prison funding and announcing a new site to expand OCCC (yet failing to begin construction), past civil cases, and letters and complaints that he and others sent to them. He suggests that Defendants violated the 1985 consent decree in Spear v. Waihee, Civ. No. 84-001104 (D. Haw. 1985), which governed overcrowding and the provision of medical and mental health care at OCCC and the Hawaii Women's Correctional Facility in these facilities; he attaches a copy of that decree to the FAC.

         The FAC is primarily focused on Pitts' claims that OCCC was unconstitutionally overcrowded, but it substantially expands his original claims beyond overcrowding and interference with attorney contacts. Pitts now alleges that Defendants (1) knowingly subjected him to constitutionally overcrowded conditions of confinement at OCCC (Counts I, II, and V); (2) promulgated an illegal mail policy (Counts I, VI); (3) discriminated against him on the basis of race (Counts III, IV); (4) denied him access to the courts and to the prison grievance process (Counts I, II, III); (5) limited attorney contacts (Counts I, II, III); and (6) retaliated against him for filing grievances (Counts I, II, III).


         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. The FAC Fails to Comply With Rule 8

         Rule 8 requires that a complaint contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ” and that [e]ach allegation . . . be simple, concise, and direct.” Fed R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), (d)(1). To state a plausible claim, a plaintiff must allege a factual and legal basis for each claim, so that each defendant is provided fair notice of what each claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, sufficient to frame a responsive pleading. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 562-563, 556-57. The court may dismiss a complaint for violation of Rule 8 if a defendant would have difficulty responding to its claims, see Cafasso, U.S. ex rel v. Gen. Dynamics C4 Sys., Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1059 (9th Cir. 2011), even if the complaint is not “wholly without merit, ” McHenry v. Renee, 84 F.3d 1172, 1179 (9th Cir. 1996).

         Accordingly, even claims that are not subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) may still be dismissed for violating Rule 8(a). McHenry, 84 F.3d at 1179. That is, even if the factual elements of a cause of action are present in a complaint, but are scattered throughout the complaint and not organized into any semblance of a “short and plain statement of the claim, ” the pleading may be dismissed for failure to satisfy Rule 8(a). Sparling v. Hoffman Constr. Co., 864 F.2d 635, 640 (9th Cir. 1988).

         The FAC is a perfect example of a pleading that does not comply with Rule 8. It is replete with irrelevant commentary and conclusions of law. Pitts' statement of facts is scattered throughout the FAC and its claims are repeated within several Counts, making it extremely difficult to ascertain what claim is asserted, when the events at issue regarding that claim occurred, which Defendants are personally connected to each allegation, and whether the allegations relate to Pitts' personal experience, or to other OCCC inmates' experiences. Pitts rarely provides a specific date when an incident occurred, or identifies a specific Defendant or Defendants who were allegedly involved in any specific claim.[5] Rather, his claims are mostly alleged as occurring at some unidentified date during the six months that he spent at OCCC, and, while Defendants are named at the top of each Count, Pitts generally refers to them within any count, if at all, as having been aware of his claims via grievances or complaints. This format does not enable a prompt and clear understanding of Pitts' allegations.

         Pitts sets forth six causes of action, but he alleges numerous claims within each Count. For example, Pitts' deliberate indifference claims, meant to support his allegation that OCCC is unconstitutionally overcrowded, are randomly spread throughout the FAC's four-page, single-spaced introduction, and within Counts I, II, and V. Interspersed with his deliberate indifference claims are other claims that are unrelated to and provide no support for his overcrowding claims.

         The form complaint directs Pitts to state only one issue per count. Instead, Pitts alleges that Count I involves: deliberate indifference and threats to his safety, interference with mail, racial discrimination, denial of access to the courts and attorneys, denial of due process, racial discrimination, and violations of state law. See FAC, ECF No. 12, at PageID #70. Similarly, Count II allegedly involves: “Denial of Due process/(violation-denial) of state created liberty interests, state law COR.1F.02 and all applicable policies and procedures/ cruel and unusual punishment/ denial of food/ denial of access to courts/ deliberate indifference/ retaliation/ threat to safety and health/ violations of duties under state law/ negligence/ failure to adequately train/ DPS Policy 493.06.16.” Id., at PageID #74. Pitts does not support or even address each of these allegations within Count II, nor should he. Pitts continues this confusing, hyperbolic format throughout the FAC, and within each count, although his allegations in Counts III, IV, and VI are somewhat more focused.

         The FAC forces the Court to cross-reference each sentence and each Count, and even refer to the original Complaint, to discern what particular claim is being alleged against whom. See McHenry, 84 F.3d at 1177 (affirming dismissal of a complaint where the district court was “literally guessing as to what facts support the legal claims being asserted against certain defendants”). And even after this painstaking exercise, it is still largely unclear what happened, when it happened, and what any Defendant's personal action or inaction was that violated Pitts' rights. It is not the Court's responsibility to expend its time “preparing the ‘short and plain statement' which Rule 8 obligated [Pitts] to submit, ” so that Defendants can comprehend the FAC's claims. Id. at 1180. Nor should the Court or Defendants be required to prepare an outline of a pleading simply “to determine who is being sued for what.” Id. at 1179.

         In short, the FAC is disjointed, confusing, and extremely difficult for the Court or Defendants to understand. Its allegations are neither short nor plain, nor do they give Defendants fair notice of Pitts claims. The FAC is therefore DISMISSED for failure to comply with Rule 8. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2).

         Because there are several other deficiencies in Pitts' claims that he must consider and cure before filing any amended pleading, Pitts is granted leave to amend as specifically limited below.

         B. New or Unrelated Claims

         The April 1, 2019 Order warned Pitts that he may not expand his claims or allege new claims in the FAC without a clear explanation of how any new claims or defendants relate to his original claims. This restriction is grounded in Rules 18 and 20 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 18 allows a plaintiff to join as many claims as he has against an opposing party in one action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 18(a). But parties may be joined as defendants in one action only “if any right to relief is asserted against them jointly, severally, or in the alternative with respect to or arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and . . . any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 20(a)(2).

         Unrelated claims against different defendants must be brought in separate lawsuits. See Owens v. Hinsley, 635 F.3d 950, 952 (7th Cir. 2011); George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007); Coughlin v. Rogers, 130 F.3d 1348, 1350-51 (9th Cir. 1997); Jossy v. State, Civ. No. 19-00055 LEK-RT (D. Haw. May 29, 2019); Kealoha v. Espinda, 2017 WL 741570, at *4 (D. Haw. Feb. 24, 2017). This rule is particularly important in pro se prisoner suits, because it prevents the confusion inherent in such suits, ensures that prisoners pay the required filing fees for each separate lawsuit asserted, and prevents prisoners from circumventing the three-strikes rule set forth under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”). See George, 507 F.3d at 607; 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). The court may sever misjoined parties as long as no substantial right is prejudiced by severance. Fed.R.Civ.P. 21, Coughlin, 130 F.3d at 1350; Evans v. Deacon, 2016 WL 591758, at *6 (D. Or. Feb. 12, 2016).

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