The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge
Henry Washington, formerly an inmate at Salinas Valley State
Prison, has filed a pro se civil rights action under
42 U.S.C. § 1983. His complaint is now before the court for review pursuant
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
Prisoners in California Department of Corrections facilities
are subject to a classification process that attempts to "take
into consideration the inmate's needs, interests and desires,
his/her behavior and placement score in keeping with the
department and institution's/facility's program and security
missions and public safety." Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3375(b).
The process assigns numeric values for various factors (such as
the commitment offense, prior criminal activity, in-prison
disciplinary history, age, and gang affiliation), and the inmate
is assigned to a facility based on his classification score, generally with a
higher score resulting in placement in a more restrictive
facility. In addition to numeric values, the classification
process allows for special suffixes to be attached to the
inmate's classification score. An "R" suffix is added for an
inmate who has committed a sex offense and an "S" suffix is added
for an inmate who needs single-cell housing. See Cal. Code
Regs. § 3377.1(b).
In this action, Washington complains that his administrative
appeal regarding his classification score which included an "R"
suffix was not properly handled. Washington alleges that CDC
director Woodford allowed her inmate appeal staff members "to
intentionally deny petitioner appeal rights" that Washington
allegedly has under the federal and state constitutions and the
California Code of Regulations. Complaint, p. 3. Washington
further alleges that the classification problem that was the
subject of his appeal caused him to receive additional
classification points which increased his score and caused his
transfer to a higher security facility.
Although Washington does not describe in his complaint the
nature of the problem that was the subject of the inmate appeal,
the exhibits to the petition disclose that Washington was
appealing to have removed from his classification score the "R"
suffix because it caused him to be subjected to more restrictive
conditions of confinement.*fn1 His argument was that the "R"
suffix had not been added to his classification score within the
time limits in the regulations and therefore could never be added
to his score.
The exhibits to the complaint indicate that Washington's inmate
appeal was rejected as untimely by the CDC inmate appeals branch
and that Washington filed a state habeas petition challenging the
rejection of his inmate appeal. In Washington's state habeas
action, the deputy attorney general representing the respondent
wrote to the court indicating that Washington was correct that
his inmate appeal was improperly denied as untimely and invited
Washington to file another inmate appeal. See Petition, Exh. B.
The day after that letter was written, the superior court denied Washington's habeas petition. In the order denying
the petition, the court explained: "Petitioner contends that the
Classification Committee at Avenal State Prison improperly
affixed an `R' suffix to his status based on his prior
convictions involving rape. Petitioner does not dispute the prior
convictions. Rather, Petitioner contends that 15 C.C.R. § 3377.1
required the Classification Committee to affix any `R' suffix
within six months of his reception at the prison. As the `R'
suffix was affixed after this deadline's expiration, Petitioner
contends that the `R' suffix must be removed." Complaint, Exh. B
(Order filed May 26, 2005 in In re. Henry Washington, Monterey
County Superior Court No. HC 05033.) The court determined that
the "R" suffix was properly attached because the regulations
allowed the senior custodial official at an institution to
"increase the custodial classification of an inmate at any time
he or she believes such action is necessary to protect the
security and good order of the institution." Id., quoting Cal.
Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3272.
A. Standards For Initial Review
A federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any
case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity
or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See
28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review the court must identify any cognizable
claims, and dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious,
fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek
monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief.
See id. at 1915A(b)(1),(2). Pro se pleadings must be
liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't,
901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution
or laws of the United States was violated and (2) that the
violation was committed by a person acting under the color of
state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). B. No Due Process Violation In The "R" Suffix For Washington
Although Washington did not plead a due process claim
concerning his classification score, leave to amend will not be
granted to plead such a claim because it would be futile.
There is no due process right to a particular classification
score. Interests protected by the Due Process Clause may arise
from two sources the Due Process Clause itself and laws of the
states. See Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 223-27 (1976).
Changes in conditions so severe as to affect the sentence imposed
in an unexpected manner implicate the Due Process Clause itself,
whether or not they are authorized by state law. See Sandin v.
Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). Changes in conditions relating
to classification and reclassification do not implicate the Due
Process Clause itself. See Hernandez v. Johnston,
833 F.2d 1316, 1318 (9th Cir. 1987) (citing Moody v. Dagget,
429 U.S. 78, 88 n. 9 (1976)) (no constitutional right to particular
classification). Deprivations authorized by state law that are
less severe or more closely related to the expected terms of
confinement may also amount to deprivations of a procedurally
protected liberty interest, provided that (1) state statutes or
regulations narrowly restrict the power of prison officials to
impose the deprivation, i.e., give the inmate a kind of right to
avoid it, and (2) the liberty in question is one of "real
substance." See Sandin, 515 U.S. at 477-87. Although
California has created a regulatory scheme from which a protected
liberty interest in classification and custody designation might
arise, the liberty in question is not protected by the ...