Blake v. Santa Clara Dept of Corrections

Northern District of California, cand-4:2015-cv-03352


Interested in this case?

Current View

Full Text

1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 SHAWNCEY BLAKE, 7 Case No. 15-cv-03352-HSG Plaintiff, 8 ORDER REMANDING CASE TO v. STATE COURT; DENYING PENDING 9 MOTIONS AS MOOT SANTA CLARA DEPT OF 10 CORRECTIONS, et al., Re: Dkt. Nos. 4, 13 11 Defendants. 12 Northern District of California United States District Court 13 INTRODUCTION 14 Plaintiff, an inmate at the Santa Clara County Jail, initiated this action by filing a pro se 15 complaint in Santa Clara County Superior Court against the Santa Clara Department of 16 Corrections ("Santa Clara DOC") and Santa Clara Valley Medical – Adult Custody Health 17 Services (collectively, "Defendants). Pending before the Court are Plaintiff‟s motions to remand 18 the case (Docket No. 4) and to consolidate cases (Docket No. 13). For the reasons set forth below, 19 the Court GRANTS Plaintiff‟s motion to remand and remands this case back to the Santa Clara 20 Superior Court; and DENIES AS MOOT the motion to consolidate cases filed in this action. 21 BACKGROUND 22 On December 16, 2014, Plaintiff initiated this case by filing a complaint in Santa Clara 23 County Superior Court against Defendants.1 See Docket No. 6-6 (hereinafter "Complaint"). The 24 Complaint lists a single cause of action for general negligence, which Plaintiff also refers to as 25 26 1 Plaintiff does not dispute that the Complaint initiated this action. However, Plaintiff attaches a 27 different complaint to his notice of removal. See Docket No. 4 at 6–9 (hereinafter Removal Complaint). Since the Complaint bears the Santa Clara County Superior Court‟s file-stamp and 28 the Removal Complaint does not, the Court treats the Complaint as the operative complaint in this action. 1 medical negligence. See id. at 3–4. In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants failed to 2 "treat and protect [him] from further injury [to his lower back]." See id. at 3. He alleges that after 3 he injured his back loading blankets in January 2014, he requested an immediate medical 4 appointment but was not seen by a doctor for eighty days. See id. He attaches two Santa Clara 5 County DOC inmate grievance forms to the Complaint. In the first grievance form, he complains 6 about the Santa Clara County Jail‟s failure to staff the jail with the necessary number of medical 7 professionals and complains about the denial of soap to inmates. See id. at 5. The second 8 grievance form is illegible but appears to grieve the above-mentioned delayed medical 9 appointment. See id. at 6. Plaintiff does not reference federal laws in the Complaint. 10 On June 23, 2015, Plaintiff served Defendants with the documents attached to the Notice 11 of Removal. 2 See Docket No. 1-1 and 1-2. Defendants received these documents on June 30, 12 2015. See Docket No. 5 at 3. Some of these documents reference the Eighth Amendment and the Northern District of California United States District Court 13 2 14 The documents consisted of the following: (1) Santa Clara Superior Court Civil Lawsuit Notice and Alternative Dispute 15 Resolution Information Sheet, see Docket No. 1-1 at 1–2; (2) California Form CM-010 Civil Case Cover Sheet file-stamped December 16, 2014 16 by the Santa Clara Superior Court and executed by Plaintiff on December 5, 2014, see Docket No. 17 1-1 at 3; (3) California Complaint Form PLD-PI-001 – Personal Injury, Property Damage, 18 Wrongful Death file-stamped December 16, 2014 by the Santa Clara Superior Court and executed by Plaintiff on December 5, 2014, see Docket No. 1-1 at 4–6; 19 (4) California Form SUM-100 Judicial Summons, see Docket No. 1-1 at 7; (5) California Form POS-010 Proof of Service of Summons, see Docket No. 1-1 at 8; 20 (6) California Form POS-015 Notice and Acknowledgement of Receipt – Civil, 21 executed by Plaintiff on June 23, 2014 see Docket No. 1-1 at 9; (7) letter dated June 12, 2015 from the Santa Clara County Sheriff‟s Office to Plaintiff 22 responding to Plaintiff‟s appeal of Grievance #101031, see Docket No. 1-1 at 10; (8) Plaintiff‟s Inmate Grievance #101031, see Docket No. 1-1 at 11; 23 (9) letter dated June 10, 2015 from Plaintiff to Division Commander appealing the denial of his Grievance #101031, see Docket No. 1-1 at 12; 24 (10) letter dated July 3, 2014 from Santa Clara County‟s Employee Services Agency 25 Liability/Property Claims Department to Plaintiff rejecting Plaintiff‟s Claim #HL-035328, see Docket No. 1-1 at 13–16 (two copies); 26 (11) 5-page document titled "Plaintiff Summary Brief" and dated June 15, 2015, see Docket No. 1-2 at 1–5; and 27 (12) California Form POS-040 Proof of Service – Civil, dated June 23, 2015 see Docket 28 No. 1-2 at 7–8. 2 1 First Amendment. See, e.g., Docket No. 1-2 at 1–5. 2 On July 21, 2015, Defendants removed this case from Santa Clara Superior Court and paid 3 the $400 filing fee. See Docket No. 1. On August 7, 2015, Plaintiff timely filed a motion to 4 remand the case. See Docket No. 4. 5 DISCUSSION 6 A. Legal Standard Governing Removal 7 Section 1441(a) of Title 28 provides that a defendant may remove from state court any 8 action "of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction." The vast 9 majority of lawsuits "arise under the law that creates the cause of action." American Well Works 10 Co. v. Layne & Bowler Co., 241 U.S. 257, 260 (1916); Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Thompson, 11 478 U.S. 804, 808 (1986). Federal courts "shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions 12 arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Northern District of California United States District Court 13 However, "a case may [also] arise under federal law „where the vindication of a right under state 14 law necessarily turn[s] on some construction of federal law,‟" Merrell Dow, 478 U.S. at 808 15 (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. V. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust for Southern Cal., 16 463 U.S. 1, 9 (1983)), but "only [if] . . . the plaintiff‟s right to relief necessarily depends on 17 resolution of a substantial question of federal law," Franchise Tax Bd., 463 U.S. at 28 (emphasis 18 added). 19 For removal to be proper, it must be clear from the face of the complaint that federal 20 subject matter jurisdiction exists. Oklahoma Tax Comm'n. v. Graham, 489 U.S. 838, 840–41 21 (1989). The presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the well-pleaded 22 complaint rule, which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is 23 presented on the face of the plaintiff‟s properly pleaded complaint. Caterpillar, Inc., v. Williams, 24 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987) (quotation marks and citation omitted); Hunter v. Phillip Morris USA, 25 582 F.3d 1039, 1042 (9th Cir. 2009) (citations omitted). This rule makes the plaintiff the master 26 of his claim in that the plaintiff may avoid federal jurisdiction by exclusive reliance on state law. 27 Caterpillar, Inc., 482 U.S. at 392. 28 The removal statute is strictly construed against removal and the defendant bears the 3 1 burden of establishing grounds for removal. Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc. v. Henson, 537 U.S. 2 28, 32 (2002) (citations omitted); Nevada v. Bank of America Corp., 672 F.3d 661, 667 (9th Cir. 3 2012) (citation omitted). Courts must consider whether federal jurisdiction exists, Rains v. 4 Criterion Sys., Inc., 80 F.3d 339, 342 (9th Cir. 1996) (quotation marks and citations omitted), and 5 must reject federal jurisdiction if there is any doubt as to the right of removal in the first instance, 6 Duncan v. Stuetzle, 76 F.3d 1480, 1485 (9th Cir. 1996) (quotation marks and citation omitted); 7 Hunter, 582 F.3d at 1042 (citations omitted). 8 B. Analysis 9 Defendants removed this action pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a) and 10 1443, contending the complaint alleges causes of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of 11 the Eighth and First Amendments, and that this Court therefore has original jurisdiction over this 12 action under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. See Docket No. 1 at 1–2. Plaintiff seeks remand to state court, Northern District of California United States District Court 13 arguing that the instant action solely alleges the state-law claim of medical negligence. 14 Because the presence of federal-question jurisdiction is governed by the well-pleaded 15 complaint rule, the Court examines whether a federal question is presented on the face of 16 Plaintiff‟s properly pleaded complaint. See Caterpillar, Inc., 482 U.S. at 392. Defendants 17 correctly note that three versions of the complaint exist in the record. However, the only 18 complaint that is relevant for the purposes of determining whether removal is appropriate is the 19 complaint filed with the Santa Clara County Superior Court on December 16, 2014, which 20 initiated this action, i.e. the Complaint. As discussed supra, the Complaint only brings a general 21 negligence claim against Defendants, which Plaintiff also refers to as medical negligence. See 22 Complaint at 3–4. The Complaint alleges that Defendants failed to "treat and protect [him] from 23 further injury [to his lower back]," by assigning him to work in the laundry room, by failing to 24 promptly provide him with medical attention after he reinjured his back in January 2014 and by 25 failing to properly staff the jail with medical professionals. See id. at 3 and 5. 26 Contrary to Defendants‟ arguments, Plaintiff‟s state-law negligence claim does not turn on 27 whether his Eighth Amendment rights were violated. A state-law claim of negligence requires a 28 showing that the defendant owed the plaintiff a legal duty, that the defendant breached the duty, 4 1 and that the breach was a proximate or legal cause of injuries suffered by the plaintiff. United 2 States Liab. Ins. Co. v. Haidinger–Hayes, Inc., 463 P.2d 770, 774 (1970); see also 6 Witkin, 3 Summary of California Law § 835, p. 52 (10th ed. 2010 and Supp. 2015). In contrast, an Eighth 4 Amendment violation requires deliberate indifference to a plaintiff‟s serious medical needs. See 5 Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 104 (1976). A prison official is deliberately indifferent to a 6 prisoner‟s serious medical needs only if he knew that the prisoner faced a substantial risk of 7 serious harm and if that prison official disregarded that risk by failing to take reasonable steps to 8 abate it. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 837 (1994). A showing that a prison official has been 9 negligent or medically negligent is insufficient to establish a constitutional deprivation under the 10 Eighth Amendment. See Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 744 (9th Cir. 2002) ("Mere medical 11 malpractice does not constitute cruel and unusual punishment.") (citation omitted); see also Wood 12 v. Housewright, 900 F.2d 1332, 1334 (9th Cir. 1990) (stating that even gross negligence is Northern District of California United States District Court 13 insufficient to establish a constitutional violation); Frost v. Agnos, 152 F.3d 1124, 1130 (9th Cir. 14 1998) (finding no merit in claims stemming from alleged delays in administering pain medication, 15 treating broken nose and providing replacement crutch, because claims did not amount to more 16 than negligence); McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992), overruled on other 17 grounds by WMX Technologies, Inc. v. Miller, 104 F.3d 1133, 1136 (9th Cir. 1997) (mere 18 negligence in diagnosing or treating a medical condition, without more, does not violate a 19 prisoner‟s 8th Amendment rights); O'Loughlin v. Doe, 920 F.2d 614, 617 (9th Cir. 1990) 20 (repeatedly failing to satisfy requests for aspirins and antacids to alleviate headaches, nausea and 21 pains is not constitutional violation; isolated occurrences of neglect may constitute grounds for 22 medical malpractice but do not rise to level of unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain); Anthony 23 v. Dowdle, 853 F.2d 741, 743 (9th Cir. 1988) (no more than negligence stated where prison 24 warden and work supervisor failed to provide prompt and sufficient medical care). The converse 25 is also true. If a certain set of facts are insufficient to show that prison officials have been 26 deliberately indifferent to a prisoner‟s serious medical needs in violation of the Eighth 27 Amendment, these same set of facts may be sufficient to make a showing of negligence. See, e.g., 28 O'Loughlin, 920 F.2d at 617 (although prisoner‟s allegations do not rise to the level of an Eighth 5 1 Amendment violation, "they may constitute grounds for a medical malpractice claim"). 2 Defendants‟ other attempts to "federalize" Plaintiff‟s negligence claim are also 3 unpersuasive. 4 Defendants argue, in essence, that the facts alleged in the Complaint could only support a 5 federal constitutional claim because (1) the facts alleged in the Complaint do not support a state- 6 law claim of negligence,3 and because (2) in a federal action previously filed by Plaintiff, Blake v. 7 Santa Clara Dep't. of Corr., et al., No. C 14-2568 JSW (PR) ("Blake I"), these same facts were 8 interpreted as seeking remedy for a Eighth Amendment violation. Defendants are incorrect. Any 9 failure by Plaintiff to allege sufficient facts to support his state-law claim does not transform his 10 claim into a violation of federal law. Similarly, a federal court finding that the facts alleged in the 11 Complaint could state a cause of action for an Eighth Amendment violation does not preclude the 12 same facts supporting a separate cause of action for negligence. In addition, Defendants misstate Northern District of California United States District Court 13 the basis for dismissal of Blake I. In Blake I, the federal court did not interpret the facts as seeking 14 remedy for an Eighth Amendment violation. Rather, the federal court did not reach that issue and 15 Blake I was dismissed because Plaintiff failed to allege any policy, pattern or general practice by 16 Santa Clara County that caused him to receive inadequate care, which is necessary to impose 17 liability for a civil rights violation under Section 1983 on municipal entities such as Defendants, 18 and because Plaintiff failed to make any factual allegations regarding Correctional Officer 19 Nguyen. See Order of Dismissal, Blake I (October 7, 2014). 20 Finally, Defendants‟ speculation that Plaintiff will amend the Complaint to add a federal 21 claim is irrelevant to the Court‟s analysis. In determining whether removal is proper, the Court 22 only examines the properly-pleaded complaint. See Caterpillar, Inc., 482 U.S. at 392; see, e.g., 23 Williams v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 471 F.3d 975, 976 (9th Cir. 2006) (post-removal 24 amendments to pleadings cannot affect whether a case is removable; propriety of removal 25 determined solely on the basis of the pleadings filed in state court). 26 3 27 Defendants incorrectly argue that Plaintiff is alleging a medical malpractice claim. See Docket No. 5 at 6. The Complaint utilizes the California Judicial Form for a general negligence cause of 28 action, see Complaint at 3; and Plaintiff describes his cause of action as negligence and medical negligence, see id. at 4. Medical malpractice is not mentioned in the Complaint. 6 1 Plaintiff is the master of his complaint. In the instant action, he has chosen to avoid federal 2 jurisdiction by exclusively relying on state law. Nor is federal law a necessary element of his state 3 law claim. Accordingly, remand is appropriate. See, e.g., Easton v. Crossland Mortgage Corp., 4 114 F.3d 979, 982 (9th Cir. 1997). 5 CONCLUSION 6 For the foregoing reasons, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff‟s motion to remand (Docket No. 7 4) and orders that this case be remanded back to Santa Clara County Superior Court. Any pending 8 motions in this case are DENIED AS MOOT, including the motion to consolidate cases filed in 9 this action (Docket No. 13). 10 IT IS SO ORDERED. 11 Dated: 12/8/2015 12 ______________________________________ Northern District of California United States District Court HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR. 13 United States District Judge 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 7