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Prentiss v. Clark

February 20, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge


Screening Order

I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff Christopher Prentiss ("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 December 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

A. Plaintiff's Allegations

Plaintiff has been incarcerated at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison ("CSTAF") in Corcoran since October 9, 2007. Plaintiff alleges that the only program in place for the Wiccan/Pagan Community on D Yard at CSATF is a one hour worship time every Saturday. Documentation of the Wiccan/Pagan Community's needs and wants was submitted and when no response was received, Plaintiff submitted a group appeal on January 16, 2008, complaining of religious discrimination. Plaintiff met with Angela Romanello, the Community Resources Manager, on February 24, 2008, and was told that the group's requests would be reviewed at the next Religious Review Committee meeting on March 8, 2008. Plaintiff was also informed that the prison was in the process of securing an approved vendor for Wiccan/Pagan artifacts and books so that inmates could place orders.

On June 16, 2008, Ricky Gomez, an appeals coordinator, interviewed Plaintiff at the next appeal level. The interview was conducted at Plaintiff's cell door and Gomez seemed rushed, got flustered, and left. Subsequently, Plaintiff's appeal was signed by Warden Ken Clark and included some attached paperwork stating that the vendor approval paperwork from Romanello was on his desk awaiting his signature. At the third and final level of appeal (the Director's Level), Plaintiff was informed that the prison had a religious program in place and the Wiccan/Pagan Community was being provided with a means to place orders. Plaintiff contends that as of December 2008, nothing has changed since his arrival in October 2007, although other prisons provide the rights and freedoms that the Wiccan/Pagan Community is seeking at CSATF.

Plaintiff names Romanello, Gomez, Clark, Captain Patrick Denny, and Associate Warden Jack Lais as defendants, and is seeking damages and an injunction mandating that CSTAF provide Wiccan/Pagan inmates with rights such as a sacred piece of land and the ability to order herbs, oils, and sacred artifacts. Although Plaintiff does not identify his legal claims, his allegations potentially support the existence of three claims.

B. Equal Protection Claim

"The Equal Protection Clause . . . is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike." City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., Inc., 473 U.S. 432 (1985) (citing Plyler v. Doe, 457 U.S. 202, 216 (1982)). "'To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment a plaintiff must show that the defendants acted with an intent or purpose to discriminate against the plaintiff based upon membership in a protected class.'" Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 686 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998)). "Intentional discrimination means that a defendant acted at least in part because of a plaintiff's protected status." Serrano v. Francis, 345 F.3d 1071, 1082 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Maynard v. City of San Jose, 37 F.3d 1396, 1404 (9th Cir. 1994)) (emphasis in original).

Although Plaintiff alleges the Wiccan/Pagan Community is being discriminated against, Plaintiff does not allege facts supporting a claim that members are being treated differently than other similarly situated inmates because their religion. ...

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