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Coe v. Yates

March 17, 2009


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


I. Findings and Recommendations Following Screening of Amended Complaint

Plaintiff filed his original complaint onFebruary 22, 2007, in the Northern District of California. (Doc. 1.) The case was transferred to the Eastern District of California on May 9, 2007. (Id.) On February 7, 2008, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's original complaint with leave to amend. (Doc. 10.) On May 8, 2008, after receiving an extension of time, Plaintiff filed his first amended complaint. (Doc. 14.)

On February 26, 2009, the Court issued an order finding that Plaintiff's allegations give rise to cognizable claims for relief under section 1983 against defendants DeFrance and Green for violation of 1) the First Amendment for interference with outgoing mail and retaliation, 2) the Equal Protection Clause, and 3) RLUIPA, and against defendant Voss for retaliation. However, the Court found that Plaintiff's allegations do not give rise to any claims for relief against defendant Yates. The Court also found that Plaintiff's allegations against defendants Ken Clark, L. Polk, K. Allison, S. Smith, B. Murberger, and John Doe 1 violated Rule 18(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court ordered Plaintiff to either file an amended complaint or notify the Court that he wishes to proceed only on his cognizable claims. On March 3, 2009, Plaintiff notified the Court that he does not wish to amend and wishes to proceed only on claims identified by the Court as cognizable. (Doc. 19.) Based on Plaintiff's notice, the instant Findings and Recommendations now issues.

A. 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. Pro. 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. Pro. 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. A court may dismiss a complaint only if it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations. Id. at 514. "'The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims. Indeed it may appear on the face of the pleadings that a recovery is very remote and unlikely but that is not the test.'" Jackson v. Carey, 353 F.3d 750, 755 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Austin v. Terhune, 367 F.3d 1167, 1171 (9th Cir. 2004) ("'Pleadings need suffice only to put the opposing party on notice of the claim . . . .'" (quoting Fontana v. Haskin, 262 F.3d 871, 977 (9th Cir. 2001))). 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)).

B. Plaintiff's Complaint and Rule 18(a)

Plaintiff is currently a state prisoner at Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad, California. Plaintiff was formerly imprisoned at Pleasant Valley State Prison ("PVSP") and the California Substance Abuse and Treatment Facility ("CSATF"), where the acts he complains of occurred. Plaintiff names as defendants: James A. Yates, Warden of PVSP; Ken Clark, Warden of CSATF; L. Polk and K. Allison, associate wardens of CSATF; S. Smith, Lieutenant at CSATF; M. C. Voss, CCII/AC at PVSP; Brian DeFrance and N. N. Greene, correctional sergeants at PVSP; B. Murberger, correctional officer at CSATF; and John Doe 1, Protestant chaplain at CSATF. (Doc. 14, pp. 2-4.)

1. Rule 18(a)

Plaintiff makes allegations regarding events at both PVSP and CSATF. The Court finds that the events alleged at each prison are unrelated. Plaintiff's complaint thus fails to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 18(a). "The controlling principle appears in Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a) 'A party asserting a claim to relief as an original claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, may join, either as independent or as alternate claims, as many claims, legal, equitable, or maritime, as the party has against an opposing party.' Thus multiple claims against a single party are fine, but Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2. Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits, not only to prevent the sort of morass [a multiple claim, multiple defendant] suit produce[s], but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees-for the Prison Litigation Reform Act limits to 3 the number of frivolous suits or appeals that any prisoner may file without prepayment of the required fees. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)." George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). The Court will focus its analysis on Plaintiff's allegations regarding events at PVSP. Plaintiff's allegations regarding events at CSATF and all defendants related therein, namely Ken Clark, L. Polk, K. Allison, S. Smith, B. Murberger, and John Doe 1, are dismissed without prejudice for non-compliance with Rule 18(a). Plaintiff is advised that if he wishes to pursue a claim against the CSATF defendants, Plaintiff should file a separate complaint.

2. Summary of Plaintiff's Complaint Regarding Events at PVSP

Plaintiff alleges the following regarding events at PVSP. Plaintiff is an Eastern Band Cherokee Native American Indian. Plaintiff was incarcerated at PVSP from May 6, 2004, until May 30, 2007. (Doc. 14, p. 8, ¶ 19.) Plaintiff became deeply involved with his Native American religious culture. Plaintiff discovered that other religions were given weekly access to the facility chapel. Plaintiff and other Native Americans were not given equal access. (Id., pp.8-9, ¶ 21.) Plaintiff and other Native Americans were classified as Sensitive Need Yard ("SNY") inmates and housed in Facility A. Facility A lacked a sweat lodge for Native Americans to assemble and practice their religion. (Id., pp. 9-10, ¶¶ 22-23.) Plaintiff filed a grievance on February 19, 2006, seeking the construction of a sweat lodge for Facility A, and access to the available sweat lodge in Facility C in the interim. (Id., p. 10, ¶ 24.) Because Plaintiff received no response, Plaintiff tried to file another appeal on March 10, 2006. Plaintiff gave this appeal directly to defendant DeFrance, who refused to accept it and vowed to sabotage any further complaints. Plaintiff submitted an appeal to defendant Voss complaining of this threat, and received no response. (Id., p. 11, ¶ 25.) Receiving no response to Plaintiff's second appeal, Plaintiff filed a third appeal on April 3, 2006, complaining of discriminatory practices and prison officials' failure to respond to his grievance in a timely manner. (Id., p. 12, ¶ 27.)

Plaintiff, having received no responses to his appeals as of April 19, 2006, began to send correspondence directly to defendant Yates. Defendants Greene and DeFrance interfered with Plaintiff's mail. (Id., p. 12, ¶ 28.) On October 2006, Greene confronted Plaintiff regarding Plaintiff's grievances. (Id., p. 13, ¶ 29.) Plaintiff mailed two more letters to Yates seeking Yates' intervention. Plaintiff received no response. (Id., pp. 13-14, ¶ 30.)

Plaintiff claims a conspiracy to violate his civil rights, retaliation and interference with First Amendment rights, denial of due process and equal protection, and a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. (Id., pp. 22-25.) Plaintiff ...

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