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Finley v. Gonzales

February 13, 2009

JOWELL FINLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
T. GONZALES, III, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dennis L. Beck United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS RECOMMENDING DISMISSAL OF CERTAIN CLAIMS AND CERTAIN DEFENDANTS (Doc. 1)

Findings and Recommendations Following Screening of Complaint

I. Procedural History

Plaintiff Jowell Finley ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. §2000bb ("Religious Freedom Restoration Act"). Plaintiff filed this action on January 15, 2008. On February 4, 2009, the Court issued an order finding that Plaintiff's complaint states cognizable claims against Defendants Olive and Pina for violation of the Eighth Amendment, but does not state a cognizable First nor Fourteenth Amendment religion claim, nor a cognizable Religious Freedom Restoration Act claim, retaliation claim, supervisory claim, or access to the courts claim. The Court found that Plaintiff does not state any claims against defendants T. Gonzales III, Cano, Jones or Adams, and ordered Plaintiff to either file an amended complaint or notify the Court of his willingness to proceed only on the claims found to be cognizable. On February 11, 2009, Plaintiff notified the Court that he does not wish to amend and is willing to proceed on the claims found cognizable. Based on Plaintiff's notice, this Findings and Recommendations now issues.

II. 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)).

III. Summary of Plaintiff's Complaint*fn1

Plaintiff is currently housed at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano, California. The events giving rise to the claims at issue in this action allegedly occurred at California State Prison -Corcoran in Corcoran, California. Plaintiff names Correctional Sergeant T. Gonzales III, Correctional Officer A. D. Olive, Correctional Officer M. Pina, Correctional Counselor II Appeals Coordinator J. Jones, Appeals Coordinator L. Cano and Warden D. G. Adams as defendants.

A. Claim One*fn2

Plaintiff alleges that on September 29 and 30, 2007, defendants Olive and Gonzales refused to allow him to attend service. Plaintiff alleges that as a result, he was unable to participate in the seminar and receive a certificate or a blessing from God. Plaintiff alleges a violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, as well as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000bb.

Plaintiff states that he filed a grievance, and alleges that defendant Olive retaliated against him by refusing to allow Plaintiff to go to the law library on October 3, 2007.

i. First Amendment Claim

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ." U.S. Const., amend. I. Prisoners "retain protections afforded by the First Amendment," including the free exercise of religion. O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348, 107 S.Ct. 2400 (1987). However, "'[l]awful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system.'" Id. (quoting Price v. Johnson, 334 U.S. 266, 285, 68 S.Ct. 1049, 1060 (1948)). "In order to establish a free exercise violation, [a prisoner] must show the defendants burdened the practice of his religion, by preventing him from engaging in conduct mandated by his faith, without any justification reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Freeman v. Arpaio,125 F.3d 732, 736 (9th Cir. 1997). "In order to reach the level of a constitutional violation, the interference with one's practice of religion 'must be more than an inconvenience; the burden must be substantial and an interference with a tenet or belief that is central to religious doctrine.'" Freeman, 125 F.3d at 737 (quoting Graham v. C.I.R., 822 F.2d 844, 851 (9th Cir. 1987)).

Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged that defendants substantially burdened the practice of his religion by preventing him from engaging in conduct mandated by his faith. Freeman at 736. Plaintiff's allegation that he could not attend a seminar and receive a certificate and blessing is insufficient to support a cognizable free exercise ...


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