Starr v. Baca

Decision Date25 July 2011
Docket NumberNo. 09–55233.,09–55233.
Citation11 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 9290,652 F.3d 1202,11 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 11148
PartiesDion STARR, Plaintiff–Appellant,v.Leroy BACA, Los Angeles County Sheriff; in his individual capacity, Defendant–Appellee.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Ninth Circuit


Sonia Maria Mercado, R. Samuel Paz, Law Offices of R. Samuel Paz, Culver City, CA, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Melinda Cantrall, Adrianna Corrado, Hurrell & Cantrall LLP, Los Angeles, CA, for defendant-appellee Baca.Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California, George H. Wu, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. 2:08–cv–00508–GW–SH.Before: STEPHEN S. TROTT and WILLIAM A. FLETCHER, Circuit Judges, and CHARLES R. BREYER, District Judge.*Opinion by Judge WILLIAM A. FLETCHER; Dissent by Judge TROTT.


The opinion filed on February 11, 2011, and published at 633 F.3d 1191 (9th Cir.2011), is withdrawn and replaced by the attached opinion.

The petitions for rehearing and for rehearing en banc, filed February 25, 2011, are hereby denied as moot.

No new petitions for rehearing or petitions for rehearing en banc shall be accepted in this case. However, any member of this court may make a sua sponte en banc call challenging the opinion filed today.


W. FLETCHER, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff Dion Starr brings a § 1983 action for damages resulting from a violent attack he allegedly suffered while he was an inmate in the Los Angeles County Jail. The district court dismissed Starr's supervisory liability claim for deliberate indifference against Sheriff Leroy Baca in his individual capacity under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Because we hold that Starr has adequately stated a claim, we reverse and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background

Starr's Third Amended Complaint alleges that on or about January 27, 2006, he was in custody in the Los Angeles County Jail. A group of inmates gathered at his cell door and threatened to inflict physical harm on him. He yelled for the deputies guarding the jail to come to his aid. Instead of protecting him, a deputy opened Starr's cell gate in order to allow the group of inmates to enter. The inmates entered the cell and repeatedly stabbed Starr and his cellmate with knife-like objects. They stabbed Starr twenty-three times while Starr screamed for help and protection. After the attacking inmates left the cell, several deputies went to Starr. Starr lay on the floor of his cell, seriously injured, bleeding and moaning in pain. One deputy yelled at him, “nigger lay down.” While repeatedly yelling “shut up nigger,” the deputy then kicked his face, nose, and body numerous times, causing pain, bleeding and a nose fracture. Other deputies stood by and watched. The deputy who kicked Starr subsequently interfered with his ability to obtain medical treatment for his injuries. Starr continues to suffer from and receive treatment for his injuries.

Starr sued Sheriff Baca as well as the deputies directly involved in the attack. His claims against the deputies are not at issue in this appeal. In his claim against Sheriff Baca, Starr alleges unconstitutional conditions of confinement in violation of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. He alleges that Sheriff Baca is liable in his individual capacity because he knew or should have known about the dangers in the Los Angeles County Jail, and that he was deliberately indifferent to those dangers.

After giving Starr several chances to plead his claim against Sheriff Baca, the district court dismissed the claim with prejudice under Rule 12(b)(6). The district court held that Starr's allegations against Sheriff Baca were insufficient to state a supervisory liability claim for deliberate indifference because the complaint's recital of prior incidents and accompanying allegations did not sufficiently state a causal connection between Sheriff Baca's action and inaction and the alleged injury to Starr. The district court wrote that Starr “does not allege that Baca himself directly participated in any way in the January 27, 2006 incident or that he was involved in any review or investigation of it.” Nor, the district court held, did Starr allege any specific policy implemented by Sheriff Baca that caused the violation.

The district court directed that final judgment in favor of Sheriff Baca be entered under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(b). Starr appeals.

II. Standard of Review

We review de novo a district court's dismissal of a complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. Caviness v. Horizon Cmty. Learning Ctr., Inc., 590 F.3d 806, 811–12 (9th Cir.2010).

III. Discussion

To prevail on his claim under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, Starr must demonstrate “either that prison officials acted with ‘deliberate indifference’ or that their conduct was so reckless as to be tantamount to a desire to inflict harm.” Redman v. Cnty. of San Diego, 942 F.2d 1435, 1449 (9th Cir.1991). The gravamen of Starr's claim against Sheriff Baca is deliberate indifference.

On appeal, Starr contends that the district court erred in dismissing his claim against Sheriff Baca on the pleadings. Sheriff Baca contends that the Supreme Court eliminated all claims for supervisory liability—including deliberate indifference claims—in its decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009). He contends, further, that even under pre- Iqbal case law, Starr has not alleged a causal connection between Sheriff Baca's conduct and his injury. Finally, he contends that Starr has failed to allege anything more than legal conclusions, rendering the complaint insufficient under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), as interpreted by Iqbal.

Because the question of whether Iqbal eliminated supervisory liability claims based on deliberate indifference was not adequately briefed, we ordered supplemental briefing after oral argument. Having reviewed the original and supplemental briefing, we now address the parties' arguments.

A. Supervisory Liability for Deliberate Indifference after Iqbal

We have long permitted plaintiffs to hold supervisors individually liable in § 1983 suits when culpable action, or inaction, is directly attributed to them. We have never required a plaintiff to allege that a supervisor was physically present when the injury occurred. In Larez v. City of Los Angeles, 946 F.2d 630 (9th Cir.1991), we explained that to be held liable, the supervisor need not be “directly and personally involved in the same way as are the individual officers who are on the scene inflicting constitutional injury.” Id. at 645. Rather, the supervisor's participation could include his “own culpable action or inaction in the training, supervision, or control of his subordinates,” “his acquiescence in the constitutional deprivations of which the complaint is made,” or “conduct that showed a reckless or callous indifference to the rights of others.” Id. at 646 (internal citations, quotation marks, and alterations omitted).

After the district court dismissed Starr's claim, but before briefing on appeal, the Supreme Court decided Iqbal. Plaintiff Iqbal, a Pakistani Muslim, had been arrested and detained in severely restrictive conditions following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Id. at 1943. He filed a Bivens action in federal court against his jailers and various officials, including Attorney General John Ashcroft and F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller, alleging purposeful discrimination on the basis of race, religion and national origin. Id. (citing Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388, 91 S.Ct. 1999, 29 L.Ed.2d 619 (1971)). A Bivens action seeks to hold federal officers individually liable for constitutional violations. Although “more limited in some respects,” a Bivens action is the federal analog to an action against state or local officials under § 1983. Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250, 254 n. 2, 126 S.Ct. 1695, 164 L.Ed.2d 441 (2006).

The Court held that Iqbal's complaint failed to plead facts sufficient to state a claim against Attorney General Ashcroft and Director Mueller for purposeful and unlawful discrimination. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1954. The Court explained that because Bivens and § 1983 suits do not allow for the imposition of vicarious liability, stating a claim against a government official in his or her individual capacity for purposeful discrimination requires pleading that “each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution.” Id. at 1948.

The Court stated that [t]he factors necessary to establish a Bivens violation will vary with the constitutional provision at issue.” Id. The Court explained that purposeful discrimination, which was alleged against Attorney General Ashcroft and Director Mueller, requires a plaintiff to “plead and prove that the defendant acted with discriminatory purpose.” Id. Proving purposeful discrimination requires showing “more than intent as volition or intent as awareness of consequences”; the plaintiff must show that the decisionmaker acted because of his action's adverse effects, not merely in spite of them. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore, the supervisors in Iqbal needed to have “adopted and implemented the detention policies at issue not for a neutral, investigative reason but for the purpose of discriminating on account of race, religion, or national origin.” Id. at 1948–49. Holding Attorney General Ashcroft and Director Mueller personally liable for unconstitutional discrimination if they did not themselves have a discriminatory purpose would be equivalent to finding them vicariously liable for their subordinates' violation, which Bivens and § 1983 do not allow. In so holding, Iqbal followed earlier cases holding that alleging a supervisor's mere awareness of the discriminatory effects of his or her actions or inaction does...

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