Crowder v. Diaz, No. 2:17-CV-1657-TLN-DMC

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
Writing for the CourtDENNIS M. COTA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
PartiesTRISTAIN CROWDER, also known as Candice Crowder, Plaintiff, v. RALPH DIAZ, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date16 August 2019
Docket NumberNo. 2:17-CV-1657-TLN-DMC

TRISTAIN CROWDER, also known as Candice Crowder, Plaintiff,
v.
RALPH DIAZ, et al., Defendants.

No. 2:17-CV-1657-TLN-DMC

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA

August 16, 2019


FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the Court are Defendants' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 27) and motion for misjoinder (ECF No. 28). A hearing was held before the undersigned in Redding, California, on June 26, 2019. Felicia Medina, Esq., Jen Orthwein, Esq., Kevin Love Hubbard, Esq., and Daniel H. Galindo, Esq. appeared on behalf of Plaintiff. Janet N. Chen, Esq., appeared on behalf of Defendants. After considering the parties' arguments, the matters were submitted.

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I. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

This action proceeds on Plaintiff's first amended complaint. See ECF No. 17. Plaintiff names the following as Defendants, all of whom, except Defendant Diaz, were employed at the California Medical Facility ("CMF") at the time of the alleged events: (1) Ralph Diaz, Secretary of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"); (2) Robert W. Fox, prison warden; (3) Christopher Tileston, an associate warden; (4) Felix X. Hopper, an Investigative Services Unit lieutenant; (5) Ronald Hadrava, a lieutenant; (6) S. Cherniss, a lieutenant; (7) C. Santos, a sergeant; (8) Fabienne Farmer, the library program principal; (9) Brandy Ebert, a litigation coordinator; (10) D. Gibbs, a correctional officer and; (11) Does 1-3, correctional officers.

Plaintiff is a transgender woman who alleges systemic abuse, indifference, and discrimination at the hands of CDCR personnel.1 The gravamen of Plaintiff's complaint arises from her time at CMF. See ECF No. 17, p. 2.2 In September 2016, Plaintiff received death threats from her ex-boyfriend, another inmate at CMF. See id. at 10-11. Plaintiff expressed safety concerns to Defendant Santos, who took no action. See id. at 11. Two days later, Plaintiff was brutally attacked by her ex-boyfriend in the dining hall ("dining hall incident"). See id. Three Doe correctional officers standing in the dining hall failed to intervene. See id. Additionally, Defendant Santos allegedly heard the attack from a nearby hallway and also failed to take action. See id. Following the attack, prison staff escorted Plaintiff to CMF's emergency room where Defendants Hadrava and Hopper investigated the incident. See id. Defendants Hadrava and Hopper indicated Plaintiff's actions, particularly her "decision" to identify as a woman, were to blame for the attack. See id. at 12. Plaintiff was treated at Northbay Vaca Valley Hospital where she received 63 stitches and 14 staples to her head. See id. When she returned to CMF, Defendants Hadrava and Santos placed Plaintiff in non-disciplinary solitary confinement for eight days, despite her objections. See id. at 13. Despite being entitled to a review by the Institutional Classification Committee to determine her placement and release

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from administrative segregation, Plaintiff received no such process. See ECF No. 17, p. 13.

Plaintiff reported Defendants Santos, Hadrava, Hopper, and Does' conduct to no avail. See id. at 16-18. These grievances and Plaintiff's eventual civil suit triggered a cascade of alleged retaliatory actions, including targeted strip searches and false Rules Violation Reports ("RVRs") by Defendants Cherniss and Gibbs. See id. Additionally, Defendant Ebert knew of Plaintiff's civil complaint and reported her for disruptive behavior during one of Plaintiff's meetings with her attorneys. See id. at 18. Defendant Ebert also threatened to ban Plaintiff's attorneys. See id. Plaintiff alleges these actions were directed and sanctioned by Defendants Tileston and Fox to transfer her and retaliate against her for filing grievances. See id. at 18-21. As a result of the alleged retaliatory RVRs, prison officials increased Plaintiff's classification level, denied her a parole hearing, and transferred her to another facility where she was placed in the same yard as the ex-boyfriend who attacked her in 2016.3 See id. at 20. At the time of the hearing, Plaintiff resided at another facility but has since been transferred back to CMF. See ECF No. 35.

While at CMF, Defendant Farmer refused to hire Plaintiff and removed her from educational courses because of Plaintiff's transgender status. See ECF 17, p. 15-16. Plaintiff alleges prison staff have misgendered transgender inmates4 and called them "faggots" and "abominations." See id. at 14-15. The complaint alleges this transphobic culture starts with Defendant Fox and trickles down. See id. at 16. To support her claim of systemic transphobia, Plaintiff provides factual allegations of official misconduct that occurred at other CDCR prisons. See id. at 8-10. Finally, Plaintiff alleges many of her claims stem from Defendants Diaz, Fox, and Tileston's failure to implement housing and screening standards under the

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Prison Rape Elimination Act ("PREA"),5 32 U.S.C. § 30302, designed to protect LGBTQI6 inmates. See ECF No. 17, p. 21-25.

From these allegations Plaintiff asserts the following four claims:

1. Defendants Santos and Does 1-3 were deliberately indifferent to Plaintiff's safety by failing to take her concerns seriously and failing to intervene when an inmate brutally attacked her in the dining hall;

2. Defendants Diaz, Fox, Tileston, Hopper, Hadrava, Santos, Gibbs, Farmer, and Does 1-3 violated Plaintiff's right to equal protection by discriminating against her because she is transgender;

3. Defendants Diaz, Fox, Hadrava, and Santos violated Plaintiff's right to due process by failing to adopt LGBTQI standards under PREA and failing to comply with CDCR's Department Operations Manual regulations; and

4. Defendants Fox, Tileston, Cherniss, Ebert, and Gibbs violated Plaintiff's First Amendment rights by retaliating against her for filing grievances and a civil suit.

II. DISCUSSION - MOTION TO DISMISS

A. Applicable Legal Standard

In considering a motion to dismiss, the court must accept all allegations of material fact in the complaint as true. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). The court must also construe the alleged facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); see also Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hosp. Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976); Barnett v. Centoni, 31 F.3d 813, 816 (9th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). All ambiguities or doubts must also be resolved in the plaintiff's favor. See Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411,

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421 (1969). However, legally conclusory statements, not supported by actual factual allegations, need not be accepted. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009). In addition, pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) 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)). However, in order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 555-56. The complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility for entitlement to relief." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court generally may not consider materials outside the complaint and pleadings. See Cooper v. Pickett, 137 F.3d 616, 622 (9th Cir. 1998); Branch v. Tunnell, 14 F.3d 449, 453 (9th Cir. 1994). The court may, however, consider: (1) documents whose contents are alleged in or attached to the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, see Branch, 14 F.3d at 454; (2) documents whose authenticity is not in question, and upon which the complaint necessarily relies, but which are not attached to the complaint, see Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001); and (3) documents and materials of which the court may take judicial notice, see Barron v. Reich, 13 F.3d 1370, 1377 (9th Cir. 1994).

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Finally, leave to amend must be granted "[u]nless it is absolutely clear that no amendment can cure the defects." Lucas v. Dep't of Corr., 66 F.3d 245, 248 (9th Cir. 1995) (per curiam); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

B. Analysis

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's first amended complaint on the following grounds: (1) Plaintiff fails to meet the pleading standards of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8; (2) Plaintiff has failed to exhaust her administrative remedies for her Eighth Amendment claim; (3) Plaintiff fails to state a claim for relief under the First, Eighth, or Fourteenth Amendments; (4) Defendants are immune from suit; (5) Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief are moot; and (6) Plaintiff lacks standing under PREA. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants'...

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