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Dorrough v. Ruff

February 11, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge


Screening Order

I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff Michael Reed Dorrough ("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 filed this action on September 12, 2008.

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. Summary of Complaint

Plaintiff is currently housed at California State Prison-Corcoran. Plaintiff alleges a claim for violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, arising from his validation as a member of the Black Guerrilla Family while he was housed at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi.

A. Due Process Claim

The Due Process Clause protects against the deprivation of liberty without due process of law. Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221, 125 S.Ct. 2384, 2393 (2005). In order to invoke the protection of the Due Process Clause, a plaintiff must first establish the existence of a liberty interest for which the protection is sought. Id. Liberty interests may arise from the Due Process Clause itself or from state law. Id. The Due Process Clause itself does not confer on inmates a liberty interest in avoiding "more adverse conditions of confinement." Id. Under state law, the existence of a liberty interest created by prison regulations is determined by focusing on the nature of the deprivation. Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 481-84, 115 S.Ct. 2293 (1995). Liberty interests created by state law are "generally limited to freedom from restraint which . . . imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Id. at 484; Myron v. Terhune, 476 F.3d 716, 718 (9th Cir. 2007). In light of the Supreme Court's decision in Wilkinson, the Court presumes the existence of a liberty interest in avoiding long term confinement in the SHU, which is the result that follows a prisoner's validation as a gang member of associate. Wilkinson, 545 U.S. at 223-24.

The assignment of validated gang members and associates to the SHU is an administrative measure rather than a disciplinary measure, and is "essentially a matter of administrative discretion." Bruce v. Ylst, 351 F.3d 1283, 1287 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Munoz v. Rowland, 104 F.3d 1096, 1098 (9th Cir. 1997)). As a result, prisoners are entitled to the minimal procedural protections of adequate notice, an opportunity to be heard, and periodic review. Bruce, 351 F.3d at 1287 (citing to Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1100-01 (9th Cir. 1986)).

The minimal procedural protections require only that Plaintiff be provided with "an informal non-adversary hearing within a reasonable time" after segregation, notice of the charges or reasons for segregation, and an opportunity to present his views. Toussaint, 801 F.2d at 1100. Plaintiff was not entitled to detailed written notice, representation, the opportunity to present witnesses, or a written decision regarding the reasons for placement. Id. at 1100-01. Further, "due process does not require disclosure of the identity of any person providing information leading to the placement . . . in . . . segregation." Id. at 1101.

In addition to these minimal protections, there must be "some evidence" supporting the decision. Bruce, 351 F.3d at 1287 (citing Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454, 105 S.Ct. 2768 (1985)). However, the Due Process Clause does not require that all possible explanations except for the one reached by prison officials be eliminated. Hill, 472 U.S. at 457.

Plaintiff's allegations do not support a claim that he was validated without the minimal procedural protections he was due under federal law. The failure of the defendants to comply with Title 15 regulations governing validation or with the Castillo settlement agreement, as alleged in the complaint, do not support a claim. While Title 15 regulations may guarantee Plaintiff certain procedures under state law, the violation of those regulations does not support a federal due process claim. Further, to the extent that the defendants are violating the Castillo settlement agreement, Plaintiff's recourse is to contact class counsel in the Castillo case. "[A] civil rights action is not the proper means by which to enforce a remedial decree." Rogers v. Schriro, No. CV 07-0142-PHXMHM (JRI), 2007 WL 2808226, *2 (D. Ariz. Sept. 25, 2007) (citations omitted). ...

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