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Cohea v. Adams

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


February 26, 2009

DANNY JAMES COHEA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
D. ADAMS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

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

ORDER REQUIRING PLAINTIFF TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT OR TO NOTIFY COURT OF WILLINGNESS TO PROCEED ONLY ON CLAIMS FOUND TO BE COGNIZABLE (Doc. 1) RESPONSE DUE WITHIN 30 DAYS

Plaintiff Danny James Cohea ("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 Rehabilitations and is currently incarcerated at the California State Prison in Corcoran, California ("CSP-Corcoran").Plaintiff is suing under section 1983 for violations of his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiff names D. Adams (warden, CSP-Corcoran), J. Jones (correctional counselor II), N. Hicinbothem (correctional counselor II), N. Kush (licensed vocational nurse), J. Guzman (library technical assistant), I. Vela-Lopez (correctional officer), and Does 1-5 as defendants.

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. Background

Plaintiff was transferred from California State Prison - Calipatria ("CSP-Calipatria") to CSP-Corcoran in January 2008. At the time, Plaintiff had several pending lawsuits. Plaintiff's legal materials were confiscated by CSP-Calipatria prison officials to be packed and transferred with Plaintiff to CSP-Corcoran. After he arrived at Corcoran, Plaintiff immediately submitted several requests for access to his legal materials as well as access to the law library to prepare pleadings for his numerous lawsuits. Plaintiff did not receive access to his legal materials or access to the law library and began filing administrative grievances regarding the access denials in February 2008. Plaintiff was not given access to the law library until March 3, 2008.

Plaintiff's legal materials were being stored in 22 boxes in the law library. Plaintiff requested that his 22 boxes of legal materials be transferred to his housing unit but his request was denied by Defendant Vela-Lopez. Defendant Vela-Lopez gave Plaintiff five days (March 3, 4, 6, 10 and 11) to sort through the 22 boxes to retrieve whatever documents he needed. When Plaintiff requested the release of all his legal materials again, Defendant Vela-Lopez told Plaintiff that "he should have thought about that before he filed all those complaints about getting to the law library". (Compl. 8.) Plaintiff's time in the law library was further limited because he would be escorted to the law library late, or removed from the law library early. On one occasion, Defendant Vela-Lopez fabricated a rules violation report ("RVR") in order to have Plaintiff escorted from the law library early.

Since the five days Plaintiff was given in March to sort through his 22 boxes of legal materials, Plaintiff was only given access to the law library once, on June 30, 2008. Due to the limited amount of time that Plaintiff was given in the law library to work on his pending lawsuits, Plaintiff missed a number of filing deadlines.

III. Discussion

A. Retaliation Claim

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants retaliated against him because he filed inmate grievances regarding his access to the law library. In the prison context, allegations of retaliation against a prisoner's First Amendment rights to speech or to petition the government may support a section 1983 claim. Rizzo v. Dawson, 778 F.2d 527, 532 (9th Cir. 1985); see also Valandingham v. Bojorquez, 866 F.2d 1135 (9th Cir. 1989); Pratt v. Rowland, 65 F.3d 802, 807 (9th Cir. 1995). "[A] viable claim of First Amendment retaliation entails five basic elements: (1) An assertion that a state actor took some adverse action against an inmate (2) because of (3) that prisoner's protected conduct, and that such action (4) chilled the inmate's exercise of his First Amendment rights, and (5) the action did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal." Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567-68 (9th Cir. 2005). An allegation of retaliation against a prisoner's First Amendment right to file a prison grievance is sufficient to support a claim under section 1983. Bruce v. Ylst, 351 F.3d 1283, 1288 (9th Cir. 2003).

Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Vela-Lopez retaliated against Plaintiff by fabricating a RVR because Plaintiff filed inmate grievances regarding access to the law library. Defendant Kush retaliated against Plaintiff by filing a false medical report in support of Defendant Vela-Lopez's RVR. Defendants Jones, Hicinbothem and Does 1-5 deliberately failed to investigate Plaintiff's grievances against Defendants Vela-Lopez and Kush in retaliation against Plaintiff filing grievances. Therefore, Plaintiff states a cognizable claim for retaliation against Defendants Vela-Lopez, Kush, Jones, Hicinbothem, and Does 1-5.

B. Access to Courts Claim

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants interfered with his right of access to the courts. 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 he was unable to meet filing deadlines in his lawsuits because he was not given sufficient access to his legal materials and the law library. Defendant Vela-Lopez interfered with his access to the courts because she denied Plaintiff sufficient law library access and refused to give Plaintiff sufficient access to his legal materials. Defendants Jones and Hicinbothem interfered with Plaintiff's access to the courts because Plaintiff attempted to gain access to the law library through the inmate grievance process but his requests were denied by Defendants Jones and Hicinbothem. Defendant Adams interfered with his access to the courts because he instituted a budgetary policy that allocated insufficient funds to the prison's law library, resulting in the prison's law library being insufficient to meet the needs of all the prisoners at CSP-Corcoran. As a result, Plaintiff was unable to meet his filing deadlines. Therefore, Plaintiff states a cognizable claim for interfering with his right of access to the courts against Defendants Vela-Lopez, Jones, Hicinbothem, and Adams.

C. Due Process Claim

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. The Due Process Clause protects prisoners from being deprived of liberty without due process of law. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). In order to state a cause of action for deprivation of due process, a plaintiff must first establish the existence of a liberty interest for which the protection is sought. Liberty interests may arise from the Due Process Clause itself or from state law. Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 466-68 (1983). 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." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995).

Plaintiff alleges that his due process rights were violated when he was issued a false RVR and again when Defendants failed to diligently investigate his inmate grievances regarding Defendant Vela-Lopez's misconduct. Plaintiff has failed to allege what, if any, liberty interests he was deprived of as a result of Defendants' misconduct. In other words, Plaintiff has not alleged what harm, if any, he had suffered as a result of the false RVR or Defendants' failure to investigate Plaintiff's inmate grievances. Improper or fraudulent conduct in the processing of RVRs or inmate grievances is not in itself a violation of due process. "[A prison] grievance procedure is a procedural right only, it does not confer any substantive right upon the inmates." Buckley v. Barlow, 997 F.2d 494, 495 (8th Cir. 1993) (citing Azeez v. DeRobertis, 568 F. Supp. 8, 10 (N.D. Ill. 1982)); see also Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 860 (9th Cir. 2003) (no liberty interest in processing of appeals because no entitlement to a specific grievance procedure); Massey v. Helman, 259 F.3d 641, 647 (7th Cir. 2001) (existence of grievance procedure confers no liberty interest on prisoner); Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988). "Hence, it does not give rise to a protected liberty interest requiring the procedural protections envisioned by the Fourteenth Amendment." Azeez v. DeRobertis, 568 F. Supp. at 10; Spencer v. Moore, 638 F. Supp. 315, 316 (E.D. Mo. 1986). Conduct in processing RVRs and inmate grievances will only implicate the Due Process Clause if liberty interests are at stake. Plaintiff has failed to allege that he was deprived of any liberty interests, therefore, he fails to state a cognizable claim for a due process violation.

D. Equal Protection Claim

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Equal Protection Clause requires that persons who are similarly situated be treated alike. City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). A plaintiff may establish an equal protection claim by showing that the defendant was intentionally discriminated against on the basis of the plaintiff's membership in a protected class. See, e.g., Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 686 (9th Cir.2001). Under this theory of equal protection, the plaintiff must show that the defendants' actions were a result of the plaintiff's membership in a suspect class, such as race. Thornton v. City of St. Helens, 425 F.3d 1158, 1167 (9th Cir.2005). Plaintiff has not alleged that he was discriminated against as a result of his membership in a suspect class.

If the action in question does not involve a suspect classification, a plaintiff may establish an equal protection claim by showing that similarly situated individuals were intentionally treated differently without a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose. Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000); San Antonio School District v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1972); Squaw Valley Development Co. v. Goldberg, 375 F.3d 936, 944 (9th Cir.2004); SeaRiver Mar. Fin. Holdings, Inc. v. Mineta, 309 F.3d 662, 679 (9th Cir.2002). To state an equal protection claim under this theory, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) the plaintiff is a member of an identifiable class; (2) the plaintiff was intentionally treated differently from others similarly situated; and (3) there is no rational basis for the difference in treatment. Village of Willowbrook, 528 U.S. at 564. Plaintiff has not alleged that he was intentionally treated differently from others. Plaintiff has not alleged any facts that suggest that he was discriminated in any way, other than his blank allegations that Defendants violated his equal protection rights. Therefore, Plaintiff has failed to state a cognizable claim for an equal protection violation.

IV. Conclusion and Order

Plaintiff's complaint states cognizable claims against Defendants Vela-Lopez, Kush, Jones, Hicinbothem, and Does 1-5 for retaliation and against Defendants Vela-Lopez, Jones, Hicinbothem, and Adams for interfering with Plaintiff's right of access to the courts. Plaintiff's complaint fails to state claims against any other defendants. The Court will provide Plaintiff with the opportunity to file an amended complaint curing the deficiencies identified by the Court in this order. Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448-49 (9th Cir. 1987). Plaintiff may not change the nature of this suit by adding new, unrelated claims in his amended complaint. George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007) (no "buckshot" complaints).

If Plaintiff does not wish to file an amended complaint and is agreeable to proceeding only on the claims identified in this order as cognizable, Plaintiff may so notify the Court in writing, and the Court will issue a recommendation for dismissal of the other claims and defendants, and will forward Plaintiff five (5) summonses and five (5) USM-285 forms for completion and return. Upon receipt of the forms, the Court will direct the United States Marshal to initiate service of process.

Finally, Plaintiff is advised that an amended complaint supercedes the original complaint. Forsyth v. Humana, Inc., 114 F.3d 1467, 1474 (9th Cir. 1997); King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987). The amended complaint must be "complete in itself without reference to the prior or superceded pleading." Local Rule 15-220. Plaintiff is warned that "[a]ll causes of action alleged in an original complaint which are not alleged in an amended complaint are waived." King, 814 F.2d at 567 (citing London v. Coopers & Lybrand, 644 F.2d 811, 814 (9th Cir. 1981)); accord Forsyth, 114 F.3d at 1474. In other words, even the claims that were properly stated in the original complaint must be completely stated again in the amended complaint.

Based on the foregoing, it is HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. The Clerk's Office shall send Plaintiff a civil rights complaint form;

2. Within thirty (30) days from the date of service of this order, Plaintiff must either:

a. File an amended complaint curing the deficiencies identified by the Court in this order, or

b. Notify the Court in writing that he does not wish to file an amended complaint and wishes to proceed only against Defendants Vela-Lopez, Kush, Jones, Hicinbothem, and Does 1-5 for retaliation and against Defendants Vela-Lopez, Jones, Hicinbothem, and Adams for interfering with Plaintiff's right of access to the courts; and

3. If Plaintiff fails to comply with this order, this action will be dismissed for failure to obey a court order.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

20090226

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