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Low v. Stanton

March 19, 2009

TONY RICHARD LOW, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GARY R. STANTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with various claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA) and state law. Before the court is the motion filed on behalf of defendants Dennis Von Ting, Carolyn Childers, Jason Trojanowski, Kenneth Jorgenson, and Dan Smith seeking summary judgment in their favor on the claims brought against them by plaintiff.*fn1 Specifically, the moving defendants seek summary judgment on plaintiff's claims that: (1) he was denied due process of law by being punished with placement in disciplinary segregation thereby interfering with his right to secure bail and communicate with his attorney; (2) he was routinely denied reasonable access to a telephone to secure bail and to communicate with his attorney in violation of his right to due process; (3) he received his meals on disposable, as opposed to plastic, trays as a form of punishment in violation of his due process rights; (4) his placement on disposable tray status without a disciplinary hearing violated his right to due process; (5) he was denied the right to call his attorney and to exercise without a disciplinary hearing, thereby violating his right to due process; (6) he was denied equal protection and due process by being placed in disciplinary segregation with limited telephone access relative to the telephone access enjoyed by other pretrial detainees; and (7) he was not allowed to file a citizen's complaint against jail staff through a procedure required by California Penal Code § 832.5. Plaintiff has filed his opposition to the pending motion and defendants have filed a reply.

For the reasons set forth below, the court will recommend that defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted in its entirety.

SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARDS UNDER RULE 56

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that there exists "no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

Under summary judgment practice, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file.'" Id. Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See id. at 322. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should be granted, "so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied." Id. at 323.

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, see Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1433, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987).

In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that "the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631. Thus, the "purpose of summary judgment is to 'pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) advisory committee's note on 1963 amendments).

In resolving the summary judgment motion, the court examines the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The evidence of the opposing party is to be believed. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. All reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. Nevertheless, inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 602 F. Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D. Cal. 1985), aff'd, 810 F.2d 898, 902 (9th Cir. 1987). Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.... Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted).

On December 8, 2006, the court advised plaintiff of the requirements for opposing a motion pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 957 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc); Klingele v. Eikenberry, 849 F.2d 409 (9th Cir. 1988).

ANALYSIS

I. Undisputed Facts

The following facts are undisputed as they relate to plaintiff's claims against the moving defendants. Defendants Trojanowski, Jorgenson, Von Ting, Childers, and Smith were employed at the Solano County Sheriff's Department at the time plaintiff was detained at the Solano County Jail. (Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Statement of Undisputed Facts (Doc. No. 181) at 1-2.) On July 19, 2005, Officers Garrison and Weary conducted a search of plaintiff's cell. (Compl. at 9.)*fn2 While the search was taking place, plaintiff fled out of the unit towards the door to the control tower. (Id. at 10.)

On July 26, 2005, plaintiff was in the common hallway outside his cell and pressed a red intercom button. (Decl. of Matthew Ross Wilson in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Exh. A at 115.) After pressing the button, plaintiff let the control tower know that he wanted to use the phone. (Pl's Opp'n to Defs' Statement of Undisputed Facts at 2.) Plaintiff received an immediate response from central control through the intercom. (Decl. of Matthew Ross Wilson in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Exh. A at 115.) The officer asked plaintiff the nature of his emergency and plaintiff reiterated that he wanted to use the telephone. (Pl's Opp'n to Defs' Statement of Undisputed Facts at 2.) Plaintiff was then instructed by the officer not to push the emergency call button again. (Decl. of Matthew Ross Wilson in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Exh. A at 115-116.) Plaintiff repeated his request to use the telephone. (Id.)

At the time plaintiff pressed the red button, defendant Trojanowski was working as a Rover on Level 4 of the jail. (Pl's Opp'n to Defs' Statement of Undisputed Facts at 3.) Shortly after plaintiff's intercom exchange with the control tower officer, defendant Trojanowski arrived and told plaintiff to "lock up" (i.e. return to his cell), effectively ending his access to the telephone and to exercise for that moment. (Decl. of Matthew Ross Wilson in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Exh. A at 116.) Defendant Jorgenson arrived to assist Trojanowski and also told plaintiff to lock up. (Pl's Opp'n to Defs' Statement of Undisputed Facts at 4, 18.) Plaintiff complied with these verbal commands and returned to his cell. (Id. at 4.)

Placement in disciplinary segregation results in an inmate losing some privileges. (Id. at 6.) Nonetheless, inmates in disciplinary segregation at the Solano County Jail are afforded three hours and forty-five minutes of time outside their cells spread over six days of the week.

(Id.) Jail inmates may be placed in segregation for a variety of reasons, including health issues that require closer monitoring, a history of violent behavior towards staff or other inmates, a history of escape attempts, or the presence of conditions that put the inmate's safety at risk were he to be placed in the general population. (Id. at 7.)

Assignment of an inmate to the Solano County Jail's Z module and placement in disciplinary segregation are not synonymous. (Id. at 5.) In this regard, inmates may be housed in the Z module without being on disciplinary isolation status and inmates on disciplinary isolation status may be housed in other housing units. (Id. at 6.) An inmate may be placed on disciplinary isolation status by a hearing officer following a finding of guilt at a disciplinary hearing. (Id. at 5-6.) All housing units in the Solano County Jail contain telephones for the use of the inmates. (Id. at 7.) While plaintiff was in the Z module, he had access to the telephone. (Decl. of Matthew Ross Wilson in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., Exh. A at 106.) Plaintiff was also able to use the yard for exercise. (Pl's Opp'n to Defs' Statement of Undisputed Facts at 11.)

Meals at the Solano County Jail were generally served on hard plastic trays. (Id. at 13.) Meals were also occasionally served on disposable styrofoam trays when an inmate refused to return a plastic tray, threw a tray, or tampered with or destroyed a plastic tray. (Id.) Disposable trays were also used when providing meals to a particular inmate who was deemed to pose a threat to the safety or security of the jail staff and other inmates. (Id.) When an ...


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