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Hypolite v. California Dep't of Corrections

September 8, 2008



Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a claim brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).*fn1 Now before the court is defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. Plaintiff has filed a timely opposition and defendants have filed a timely reply.


At the heart of this case is plaintiff's challenge to the grooming regulation implemented in 1997 by the California Department of Corrections, now the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). That regulation restricted the length of a male inmate's hair as follows:

A male inmate's hair shall not be longer than three inches and shall not extend over the eyebrows or below the top of the shirt collar while standing upright. Hair shall be cut around the ears, and sideburns shall be neatly trimmed, and shall not extend below the mid-point of the ear. The width of the sideburns shall not exceed one and one-half inches and shall not include flared ends.

Cal. Code of Regs., tit.15 § 3062(e) (1997).

In his amended complaint plaintiff alleges that he is of the Rastafarian faith and that a fundamental tenet of that faith prohibits the cutting of his hair. (Am. Compl., Attach. at 2.) Plaintiff also alleges that while incarcerated at the California Medical Facility (CMF), he was charged with several rule violations between October of 2001 and September of 2005 for failing to comply with the challenged grooming regulation. (Id. at 2-6.) Specifically, plaintiff alleges that rule violation reports were issued against him for violating California Code of Regulations, title 15 § 3062 on October 19, 2001 (log 04-V-1001-064), February 17, 2005 (log 04-V-0205-021), March 30, 2005 (log 04-V-0305-033), May 25, 2005 (log 04-V-0505-035), and August 17, 2005 (log 04-V-0805-027). (Id.) Plaintiff contends that the final August 2005 rule violation report was reissued on September 21, 2005, and that on September 22, 2005, he was found guilty of violating the challenged grooming regulation. (Id. at 5-6.) Plaintiff also alleges that from February of 2005 through November of 2005, he notified various prison officials including CDCR Director Tilton, Warden Schwartz, Associate Warden O'Ran, Appeals Coordinator Grannis and others of the rule violation reports being issued against him and requested, among other things, that the rule violation charges be withdrawn or at least be held in abeyance until their was a final ruling on the regulation by the courts. (Id. at 6-8.) Finally, plaintiff alleges that despite the fact that the challenged regulation has been found by the Ninth Circuit to violate RLUIPA and despite the fact that CDCR itself amended California Code of Regulations, title 15 § 3062 in light of that ruling, the rule violation reports have never been removed from his record by the defendants thereby affecting parole board decisions. (Id. at 12.) Plaintiff also claims that time credits he lost as a result of the violations have not been restored. (Id.)

Plaintiff has named fourteen defendants in this action. Those defendants are the correctional officers who issued the rule violation reports, the prison officials who found plaintiff guilty of the rule violations following disciplinary hearings, the warden and associate wardens of CMF, the officials who reviewed plaintiff's administrative appeals, the Director of CDCR, and the Chief of the Inmate Appeals Branch. Plaintiff seeks the following relief: (1) that the disciplinary actions relating to his grooming violations be expunged from his CDCR records, (2) nominal and compensatory damages in the amount of $100,000 from each defendant, and (3) punitive damages from each defendant.*fn2 (Id. at 13.)


I. Legal Standards for Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings under Rule 12(c)

Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that,

[a]fter the pleadings are closed but within such time as not to delay the trial, any party may move for judgment on the pleadings. If, on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion shall be treated as one for summary judgment and disposed of as provided in Rule 56, and all parties shall be given reasonable opportunity to present all material made pertinent to such a motion by Rule 56. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c). "Judgment on the pleadings is proper when, taking all allegations in the pleading as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Platt Elec. Supply, Inc. v. EOFF Elec., Inc., 522 F.3d 1049, 1054 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Stanley v. Trustee of the Cal. State Univ., 433 F.3d 1129, 1133 (9th Cir. 2006). See also 3550 Stevens Creek Assocs. v. Barclays Bank, 915 F.2d 1355, 1357 (9th Cir. 1990). In considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, the court reviews the pleadings only.*fn3 As noted, the allegations of the non-moving party must be accepted as true. Torbey v. United Airlines, Inc., 298 F.3d 1087, 1089 (9th Cir. 2002); Turner v. Cook, 362 F.3d 1219, 1225 (9th Cir. 2004); Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner and Co., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1989). The burden is on the moving party to demonstrate that no material issue of fact remains to be resolved and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Hal Roach Studios, Inc., 896 F.2d at 1550.

In moving for judgment on the pleadings defendants argue in summary fashion that: (1) they are entitled to qualified immunity with respect to plaintiff's RLUIPA claim; (2) judgment should be entered in favor of defendants Veal, O'Ran, Tilton, and Twyman because they are being sued only in their supervisorial capacities; and (3) plaintiff's claim against defendants Tilton, Grannis, Pearson, Surges, Schwartz, Veal and Twyman is based solely on the roles they played in the inmate appeals process and cannot be maintained. Below the court will address each of these arguments.

II. Qualified Immunity

Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity where, as here, the right asserted by plaintiff was not "clearly established" at the time of the challenged conduct. (Mot. to Dismiss (MTD) at 4.) Here, defendants contend that plaintiff's rights under RLUIPA were not clearly established at the time he was issued the rules violation reports for refusing to comply with the grooming regulations and was sanctioned with the loss of time credits. (Id. at 4-5.) Specifically, defendants argue that it was not clearly established between 2001 and 2005 that the CDCR grooming policy set forth in California Code of Regulations, title 15 ยง 3062(e) (1997) violated RLUIPA. (Id.) (citing ...

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