United States District Court, N.D. California
April 19, 2004.
JEMAL D. LEWIS (H-57184), Plaintiff,
EDWARD ALAMEIDA, JR., et al., Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: THELTON HENDERSON, Senior District Judge
Summary judgment is entered in defendants' favor and against
IT IS SO ORDERED AND ADJUDGED.
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY
Jemal D. Lewis, an inmate currently housed at the Correctional Training
Facility in Soledad, California, filed this pro se civil rights
action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging his classification in
prison. Defendants now move for summary judgment. Defendants argue that
Plaintiff is appropriately housed in Close B custody and that Plaintiff
cannot show an uneven application of the law required for an equal
protection claim. Plaintiff did not file an opposition brief but since
Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court will address the
merits of Plaintiff's complaint. Defendants are entitled to judgment as a
matter of law on Plaintiff's complaint. Accordingly, the court will grant
Defendants' motion for summary judgment.
The following facts are undisputed. Inmates in California are
classified into several custody levels based on various case factors. The
seven different inmate custody designations in descending order of
required supervision are: Maximum Custody, Close A Custody, Close B
Custody, Medium A Custody, Medium B Custody, Minimum A Custody, and
Minimum B Custody. Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3377.1(a). Plaintiff
is a life term inmate, serving an indeterminate sentence of thirty-eight years to life
pursuant to a 1997 criminal conviction from the Los Angeles County
Superior Court. Upon being received by the California Department
of Corrections, Plaintiff was placed in Close A custody pursuant to §
3377. l(a) of Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations. After
successfully completing the minimum required period of one year at Close
A custody, Plaintiff's custody level was reduced to Close B custody in
February 1999. Plaintiff, as an inmate who is serving a life sentence,
"must be within seven (7) years of his or her MEPD [Minimum Eligible
Parole Date] before he or she is eligible for further reduction of
custody" under § 3377.2(c)(3)(C). Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, §
3377.2(c)(3)(C). Plaintiff's MEPD is April 12, 2033, leaving him eligible
for a further custody reduction in 2026. By contrast, inmates who are
sentenced to total determinate terms between 15 and 50 years are eligible
for a further reduction in custody after four years at Close B custody.
Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3377.2(c)(3)(D). Plaintiff contends that
this difference in treatment between life term prisoners and non-life
term prisoners for a custody reduction from Close B violates the Equal
VENUE AND JURISDICTION
Venue is proper in the Northern District of California under
28 U.S.C. § 1391 because the events or omissions giving rise to the claims
occurred at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, California,
which is located within the Northern District. This court has federal
question jurisdiction over this action brought under
42 U.S.C. § 1983. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
LEGAL STANDARD FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
The court will grant summary judgment "against a party who fails to
make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element
essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the
burden of proof at trial . . . since a complete failure of proof
concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily
renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,
477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986) (a fact is material if it might affect
the outcome of the suit under governing law, and a dispute about a
material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury
could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.")
Generally, the moving party bears the initial burden of identifying
those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine
issue of material fact. The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to
"go beyond the pleadings, and by his own affidavits, or by the
`depositions, answers to interrogatories, or admissions on file,'
designate "specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for
trial.'" Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324 (citations omitted).
A verified complaint may be used as an opposing affidavit under
Rule 56, as long as it is based on personal knowledge and sets forth specific
facts admissible in evidence. See Schroeder v. McDonald,
55 F.3d 454, 460 & nn. 10-11 (9th Cir. 1995) (treating plaintiff's verified
complaint as opposing affidavit where, even though verification not in
conformity with 28 U.S.C. § 1746, plaintiff stated under penalty of
perjury that contents were true and correct, and allegations were not
based purely on his belief but on his personal knowledge).
The court's function on a summary judgment motion is not to make
credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence with respect to
a disputed material fact. See T. W. Elec. Serv. v. Pacific Elec.
Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). The evidence
must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and
the inferences to be drawn from the facts must be viewed in a light most
favorable to the nonmoving party. See id. at 631.
A. Equal Protection Claim
"The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment commands that
no State shall `deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal
protection of the laws,' which is essentially a direction that all
persons similarly situated should be treated alike." City of Cleburne
v. Cleburne Living Center, 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985) (quoting
Plyer v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 216 (1982)). In equal protection
claims involving prisoners, prison administration regulations are deemed
valid if they are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987). In evaluating
whether administrative regulations are reasonably related to penological
interests, the Court looks to whether there is a valid, rational
connection between the prison regulation and the legitimate government
interest put forward to justify it. Id. Accordingly, Plaintiff
in the instant case must establish that (1) he is similarly situated to
inmates who are being treated differently under the challenged regulation
and that (2) Defendants have no rational basis for the dissimilar
Plaintiff is challenging a distinction in eligibility for reduced
custody under § 3377.2, which distinguishes between life term
prisoners and non-life term prisoners serving terms between 15 and 50
years. However, Defendants have presented undisputed evidence that life
term prisoners and non-life term prisoners represent different levels
of risk for escape, in-custody violence and assaultive behavior and thus
represent separate classes of prisoners. Cole Decl., Ex. C at 5.
Consequently, Plaintiff, as a life term prisoner, fails to raise a
triable issue of fact that he is similarly situated to non-life term
Moreover, Plaintiff does not dispute Defendants' assertion that the
assignment of different custody levels for life and non-life term
prisoners is based on legitimate interests in preventing escapes,
reducing in-custody violence and assaultive behavior. Defs.' Mot. for
Summ. J. at 11:3-6. The California Department of Corrections' Initial
Statement of Reasons behind the adoption of § 3377.2 supports this
rationale, citing the finding by staff that "a longer prison term or
possibility of additional prison terms increases the inmate's incentive
to escape." Cole Decl., Ex. C at 5. Life term prisoners, with little to
lose, represent a category of prisoners with a higher prison escape risk
who require higher levels of supervision. Thus, a valid, rational
connection exists between the custody distinction and the prison
administration's legitimate penological interest in reducing the
likelihood of escapes or attempted escapes.
The more appropriate class of comparable prisoners for Plaintiff's
claim would be other life term prisoners who received custody reductions
from Close B. Although Plaintiff alleges that other life term inmates
were granted custody reduction requests, he has supplied no competent
evidence to support this assertion. The possibility that some life term
inmates were granted reduced custody status does not aid Plaintiff because
he has not shown that other inmates with his same case factors (a
life-term inmate in CDC custody prior to 2000, who has maintained Close A
or Close B custody at all times, and is not within seven years of his
MEPD) have had their custody level reduced to Medium A status.
Consequently, Plaintiff has not shown that he is similarly situated to
other life term inmates who may have had their custody level reduced to
Medium A status.
The California Code of Regulations allows for individualized
recommendations for custody reductions to some life term inmates who
otherwise would not qualify for a custody reduction since the adoption of
§ 3377.2. Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3377(a)(16). The exceptions
allowed for under § 3377(a)(16) are limited to those life term
prisoners who have already served some amount of time in a less
restrictive degree of custody and thus proven to be less of a risk for
misconduct, escape or violence. Id. Life term prisoners who have
already demonstrated positive programming at Medium A custody and a
reduced likelihood of misconduct or violence represent a category of
prisoners different from Plaintiff. The prison administration's interest
in providing housing to inmates in the least restrictive setting,
commensurate with the inmate's need for supervision represents a
legitimate penological interest in allowing for individualized
recommendations for custody reductions under § 3377(a)(16).
In sum, Plaintiff has provided no evidence that he is similarly
situated to non-life term prisoners or life term prisoners who have
already demonstrated positive programming under Medium A custody.
Moreover, Defendants have put forward an undisputed rational basis for
the dissimilar treatment that represents legitimate penological interests
in preventing escape and reducing the likelihood of misconduct or
violence. Consequently, the Court holds that there is an absence of a
genuine issue of material fact with regard to Plaintiff's equal
protection claim that would prevent the Court from granting summary
B. Ex Post Facto Claim
In the penultimate sentence of his complaint, Plaintiff makes a
one-sentence assertion that his equal protection argument also implicates the Ex Post
Facto Clause. Because the regulatory guidelines were adopted midway
through Plaintiff's Close B custody period, an ex post facto argument
could be tied to the diminishment of earnable good time credits for a
prisoner in a higher custody status.
The Court is unpersuaded by this line of reasoning for multiple
reasons. First, the prisoner has no ex post facto right to avoid changes
in prison regulations. "Changes in a prisoner's location, variations of
daily routine, changes in conditions of confinement (including
administrative segregation), and denials of privileges matters
which every prisoner can anticipate are contemplated by his original
sentence to prison are necessarily functions of prison management
that must be left to the broad discretion of prison administrators."
Gaston v. Taylor, 946 F.2d 340, 343 (4th Cir. 1991), cert.
denied, 506 U.S. 977 (1992). "It is precisely because reasonable
prison regulations, and subsequent punishment for infractions thereof,
are contemplated as part of the sentence of every prisoner, that they do
not constitute additional punishment and are not classified as ex post
facto. Moreover, since a prisoner's original sentence does not embrace a
right to one set of regulations over another, reasonable amendments, too,
fall within the anticipated sentences of every inmate." Id. at
309-10; see also Gilbert v. Peters, 55 F.3d 237, 238 (7th Cir.
1995) (Clause "does not prohibit every alteration in a prisoner's
confinement that may work to his disadvantage"). Second, Plaintiff does
not dispute that the regulations adopted in 2000 were merely
standardizing existing guidelines across the California prison system.
Consequently, the Court holds that there is an absence of a genuine issue
of material fact with regard to Plaintiff's ex post facto claim that
would prevent the Court from granting summary judgment CONCLUSION
For the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is
GRANTED. (Docket # 14.) Judgment now will be entered in favor of all
Defendants and against Plaintiff. The clerk shall close the file.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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