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Wright v. Clark

February 9, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William M. Wunderlich United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Raymond Wright ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran, California ("CSATF"). Plaintiff brings suit under section 1983 for violations of his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

I. Screening Requirement

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(2).

"Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

"Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions," none of which applies to section 1983 actions. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). Pursuant to Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). "Such a statement must simply give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512. However, "the liberal pleading standard . . . applies only to a plaintiff's factual allegations." Neitze v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989). "[A] liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled." Bruns v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin., 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Ivey v. Bd. of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982)).

II. Factual Background

Plaintiff's dense, 23-page complaint exhaustively chronicles Plaintiff's disputes with the 40 prison staff members he names as defendants. Plaintiff has apparently filed numerous administrative grievances and lawsuits against prison staff and alleges that defendants responded by engaging in a campaign of retaliatory harassment.

Plaintiff's complaint begins by recounting his attempts to be granted single-cell status due to concerns that his safety would be threatened by a cell-mate. Plaintiff feared for his safety because he has had violent altercations with his four prior cell-mates. Plaintiff's request was denied and he was celled with inmate Arnold, whom Plaintiff describes as "a dangerous, mentally-deranged prisoner . . . who's prescribed 5 different anti-psychotic medications including court-ordered forced medication". (Compl. 6.)*fn1 Plaintiff filed another appeal for single-cell status but was denied again. In desperation, Plaintiff flooded the tier with his toilet and was placed in the Administrative Segregation ("Ad-Seg") in the Special Housing Unit ("SHU").

While housed in Ad-Seg, Plaintiff faced continued harassment from prison staff while he attempted to prepare pleadings for his various pending lawsuits. Plaintiff was denied access to the law library, photocopies, and other requested legal materials that caused Plaintiff's lawsuits to be dismissed because of his inability to meet filing deadlines. Plaintiff alleges that the actions taken against him were in retaliation for the numerous grievances he has filed against prison staff and/or were racially motivated because Plaintiff is an African American. In sum, Plaintiff alleges that defendants interfered with his right of access to the courts, retaliated against him for engaging in protected conduct, were deliberately indifferent to threats to his safety, and violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause.

III. Discussion

A. Access to Courts Claims

Plaintiff alleges that defendants obstructed Plaintiff's access to the courts by denying Plaintiff time in the law library and withholding legal materials. Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 346 (1996); Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977); Bradley v. Hall, 64 F.3d 1276, 1279 (9th Cir. 1995) (discussing the right in the context of prison grievance procedures); Vandelft v. Moses, 31 F.3d 794, 796 (9th Cir. 1994); Ching v. Lewis, 895 F.2d 608, 609 (9th Cir. 1989) (per curiam). To establish a violation of the right of access to the courts, a prisoner must establish that he or she has suffered an actual injury, a jurisdictional requirement that flows from the standing doctrine and may not be waived. See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 349. An "actual injury" is "'actual prejudice with respect to contemplated or existing litigation, such as the inability to meet a filing deadline or to present a claim.'" Id. at 348.

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Lefler refused to provide Plaintiff with photocopies of documents, denied access to the law library and refused to provide requested legal materials. Plaintiff also made numerous requests for law library access to Defendant Figueroa and was denied. As a result, Plaintiff was unable to meet filing deadlines and a number of his cases were dismissed. Plaintiff alleges that he also made requests for legal documents to Defendants Gonzalez, Hernandez, and Rivera but they were either ignored or fulfilled in an untimely manner. As a result, Plaintiff was unable to oppose a summary judgment motion against him. Therefore, Plaintiff has stated a cognizable claim for interference with his right of access to the courts against Defendants Lefler, Figueroa, Gonzalez, Hernandez and Rivera.

Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants Adams and Smart ignored or refused to fulfill Plaintiff's requests for legal materials. However, Plaintiff has not alleged that he suffered any actual prejudice in any of his lawsuits due to these refusals. Therefore, ...

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