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Chism v. Woodford

July 22, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ronald M. Whyte United States District Judge


Plaintiff, a California prisoner at San Quentin State Prison ("SQSP"), filed this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in a separate written order. The court will dismiss allegations failing to state cognizable claims, dismiss several named defendants, dismiss without prejudice the unnamed defendant, and order service of the complaint on the remaining defendants.


A. Standard of Review

Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review the court must identify any cognizable claims, and dismiss any claims that 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. Id. at 1915A(b)(1),(2). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. 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 that a person acting under the color of state law committed a violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Liability may be imposed on an individual defendant under section 1983 if the plaintiff can show that the defendant proximately caused the deprivation of a federally protected right. See Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 634 (9th Cir. 1988); Harris v. City of Roseburg, 664 F.2d 1121, 1125 (9th Cir. 1981). A person deprives another of a constitutional right within the meaning of section 1983 if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative act or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do, that causes the deprivation of which the plaintiff complains. See Leer, 844 F.2d at 633; Robins v. Meecham, 60 F.3d 1436, 1442 (9th Cir. 1995). To state a claim a plaintiff must show a specific constitutional or federal guarantee safeguarding the interests that have been invaded. See Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 697 (1976).

B. Plaintiff's Claims

1. Use of Confidential Information

Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief to remove "confidential information" from his central file and asserts that prison officials violated their duty to keep such information private. Plaintiff does not cite to, and the court is not aware of, any federal right giving rise to such alleged actions as a cognizable claim under section 1983. As there is no alleged or apparent violation of federal law, plaintiff's request for injunctive relief with respect to the removal of confidential information and, relatedly, the creation of a "firm policy" to prevent misuse of such information, will not be granted under § 1983 as it fails to state a cognizable claim for relief. The dismissal of this claim does not mean that there cannot be liability for the deliberate use of confidential information to discriminate against or create a potential for harm to an inmate. See Plaintiff's Claims B.2 - B.4 below.

2. Failure-to-Protect

Plaintiff claims that prison officials violated their duty to maintain order and keep him safe by being deliberately indifferent to the inclusion of known homophobic inmates into plaintiff's population, knowing that plaintiff supported and befriended a homosexual inmate, in an attempt to provoke violence. The Eighth Amendment requires that prison officials take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of prisoners. Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). In particular, prison officials have a duty to protect prisoners from violence at the hands of other prisoners. Id. at 833. A prisoner may state a § 1983 claim under the Eighth Amendment against prison officials only where the officials acted with "deliberate indifference" to the threat of serious harm or injury to an inmate by another prisoner, see Berg v. Kincheloe, 794 F.2d 457, 459 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Valandingham v. Bojorquez, 866 F.2d 1135, 1138 (9th Cir. 1989) (deliberately spreading rumor that prisoner is snitch may state claim for violation of right to be protected from violence while in state custody). Liberally construed, plaintiff's allegation states a cognizable claim that defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights by acting with deliberate indifference to the threat of serious harm or injury by another prisoner.

3. Retaliation

Plaintiff alleges that on several occasions, he filed prison grievances and, as a result, he was prevented from program advancements, served prolonged stays in the segregated housing units, was the victim of arranged assaults, was the subject of false charges, and suffered other various forms of retaliation for filing claims. The right of access to the courts extends to established prison grievance procedures. See Bradley v. Hall, 64 F.3d 1276, 1279 (9th Cir. 1995). Thus, a prisoner may not be retaliated against for using such procedures as such filings are subsumed under the First Amendment. See Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567 (9th Cir. 2005).

Plaintiff also claims that such retaliation was not only because he filed grievances in support of his homosexual friend and inmate, but also because of his association with him (SAC 14, 66, 69). The right to equal protection includes the right not to be retaliated against because of a plaintiff's protected status. See Maynard v. City of San Jose, 37 F.3d 1396, 1404 (9th Cir. 1994). In order to prove retaliation in violation of the Equal Protection Clause, a plaintiff must show that the defendants performed acts which operated to deprive plaintiff of his constitutional rights at least in part because of plaintiff's protected status. See id. at 1404-05. Liberally construed, plaintiff's allegations ...

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