United States District Court, N.D. California
November 14, 2005.
HENRY WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
JEANNE WOODFORD, etc.; et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUSAN ILLSTON, District Judge
ORDER OF DISMISSAL
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 Due
Process Clause because the deprivation of a correct
classification or custody designation cannot be characterized as
one of "real substance," i.e., it does not impose "atypical and
significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary
incidents of prison life," Sandin, 515 U.S. at 484, or
"inevitably affect the duration of [a] sentence," id. at 487.
Although classification in general does not implicate an
inmate's due process rights, an inmate may have a protected
liberty interest in avoiding being labeled as a sex offender
because the consequences of that particular classification may
amount to an atypical and significant hardship by, for example,
subjecting him to sex offender registration laws and sex offender
treatment programs. See Neal v. Shimoda, 131 F.3d 818, 829
(9th Cir. 1997). However, merely identifying the liberty interest
implicated by the sex offender label does not end the inquiry because the court must then determine what procedural protections
are due before the label may be attached. Id. at 830.
Significantly, Neal determined that there was no due process
violation in labeling an inmate as a sex offender when he had
been convicted of a sex offense. "An inmate who has been
convicted of a sex crime in a prior adversarial setting, whether
as the result of a bench trial, jury trial, or plea agreement,
has received the minimum protections required by due process.
Prison officials need do no more than notify such an inmate that
he has been classified as a sex offender because of his prior
conviction for a sex crime." Id. at 831. That occurred here, so
there was no due process violation in adding to Washington's
classification score the "R" suffix that indicated he had a sex
crime history. As the state habeas court noted, Washington did
not dispute that he had the requisite sex offense conviction.
Washington's criminal case provided the procedural protections
necessary before the prison officials could label him as a sex
The fact that the "R" suffix allegedly was not added to
Washington's classification score within the time frame provided
by the state regulations does not make it a federal due process
violation. A violation of the state's regulation is not
actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
C. No Claim Stated For Problems In The Inmate Appeal
The failure to grant an inmate's appeal in the prison
administrative appeal system does not amount to a due process
violation. There is no federal constitutional right to a prison
administrative appeal or grievance system for California inmates.
See Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988);
Antonelli v. Sheahan, 81 F.3d 1422, 1430 (7th Cir. 1996). The
denial of an inmate appeal is not so severe a change in condition
as to implicate the Due Process Clause itself and the State of
California has not created a protected interest in an
administrative appeal system in its prison. California Code of
Regulations, title 15 sections 1073 and 3084 grant prisoners in
the county jails and state prisons a purely procedural right: the
right to have a prison appeal. The regulations simply require the
establishment of a procedural structure for reviewing prisoner
complaints and set forth no substantive standards; instead, they
provide for flexible appeal time limits, see Cal. Code Regs.
tit. 15, § 3084.6, and, at most, that "no reprisal shall be taken
against an inmate or parolee for filing an appeal," id. §
3084.1(d). A provision that merely provides procedural requirements, even if mandatory, cannot form the basis
of a constitutionally cognizable liberty interest. See Smith
v. Noonan, 992 F.2d 987, 989 (9th Cir. 1993); see also
Antonelli, 81 F.3d at 1430 (prison grievance procedure is
procedural right that does not give rise to protected liberty
interest requiring procedural protections of Due Process Clause).
Washington had no federal constitutional right to a properly
functioning appeal system. An incorrect decision on an
administrative appeal or failure to process the appeal in a
particular way therefore did not amount to a violation of his
right to due process. The claims concerning the handling of the
administrative appeals are dismissed for failure to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted.
For the foregoing reasons, the complaint fails to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted. Leave to amend will not be
granted because it would be futile. This action is dismissed. The
clerk shall close the file.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
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