Starr v. Baca, 632 F.3d 1202 (9th Cir. 2011)

In a 2-1 decision a 9th Circuit panel reversed a District Court ruling disallowing the plaintiff to proceed against the Sheriff of Los Angeles County in his individual capacity. The Complaint alleged that sheriff’s deputies refused to assist him when he was attacked in jail.  The panel majority, conceding the Supreme Court prevented a theory of respondeat superior liability of government supervisors unless personally involved in an injury to an inmate, and distinguishing the most recent decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009),  resorts to the doctrine of “deliberate indifference” under the 8th and 14th Amendments applicable to individuals employed by public entities.

The underlying dispute concerns the pleadings alleged in plaintiff’s Complaint.  Because the Complaint lists nothing more than a series of Constitutional violations, none including the Sheriff himself, as ably discussed in the dissent, the panel nevertheless reverses and remands on “deliberate indifference” grounds.

The district court allowed numerous amendments to the pleadings, noting the absence of facts and reviewing Supreme Court limitations on pleadings. The dissent quotes from the judge’s dialogue with counsel and his explanation for his ruling.

Unquestionably there is some confusion in the sufficiency of pleadings in federal court.  Under its pleading rules, the stricter requirements of state pleadings are abandoned in exchange for a simple statement of facts. Of course this leads to an easy method of filing a case and hoping discovery will yield facts, and results in endless arguments. This practice allows innumerable cases, particularly civil rights, to extort damages from defendants who fear excessive court costs-as the majority concedes.

The case will be undoubtedly be reviewed by the Supreme Court.  Seven judges dissented from rehearing en banc; 2011 WL 4582500 (C.A.9).