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Valdes v. Schwarzenegger

May 19, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David O. Carter United States District Judge Sitting by Designation


Plaintiff, Christian Valdes, is a state prisoner proceeding pro se. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and his request to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 was granted on October 8, 2008.

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, this Court must "review, before docketing . . . or . . . as soon as practicable after docketing, a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). "On review, the court [must] identify cognizable claims or dismiss . . . any portion of the complaint, if the complaint -- (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. §1915A(b). This Court must therefore determine whether the Complaint states a cognizable claim for relief with respect to each named defendant.

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizon, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227.

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "requires only a 'short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007)(quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, in order to survive a dismissal for failure to state a claim, a complaint must contain more than a "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the Court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hospital Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969).

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of [state law] ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States ... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution ... shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. §1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Dept. of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. (1976). "A person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of 1983, if he does an affirmatives act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

Moreover, supervisory personnel are generally not liable under 1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisorial position, the causal link between him and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley, 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). Finally, vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Bd. of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

Under the above legal standard, Plaintiff's original complaint was dismissed without prejudice on October 8, 2008. In that complaint, Plaintiff only identified Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDRC") as defendants. And despite attaching numerous exhibits to his complaint, Plaintiff merely alleged the following: "Correctional Officers have confiscated my property and never returned it. They claimed I never had any personal property, while I have receipts claiming otherwise." Compl. at 11. The court dismissed the complaint by stating that the allegations were so vague and conclusory that the court could not determine whether the action was frivolous or failed to state a claim for relief. The court found that the complaint, as a result, did not comply with Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) requiring a short and plain statement of the claim for relief.

In granting leave to file an amended complaint, the court advised Plaintiff that he would need to specifically identify by name which correctional officers improperly confiscated his personal property. In addition, Plaintiff was further informed that "an unauthorized intentional deprivation of property by a state employee does not constitute a violation of the procedural requirements of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment if a meaningful post-deprivation remedy for the loss is available." Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 533, 104 S.Ct. 3194 (1984). Thus, as the previous court noted "where the state provides a meaningful post-deprivation remedy, only authorized, intentional deprivations constitute actionable violations of the Due Process Clause. An authorized deprivation is one carried out pursuant to established state procedures, regulations, or statutes." See Docket No. 9; October 8, 2008 Order at 5; Piatt v. McDougall, 773 F.2d 1032, 1036 (9th Cir. 1985). As a result, the court directed Plaintiff to allege whether the deprivation of his property was authorized or unauthorized. The court finally informed Plaintiff that the California Legislature has provided a remedy for tort claims against public officials pursuant to Cal. Gov't Code §§ 900 et seq. Thus, Plaintiff was advised that if he "has not attempted to seek redress in the state system, he will not be able to sue in federal court on the claim that the state deprived him of property without due process of the law." October 8, 2008 Order at 5.

As a result of the dismissal, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on November 7, 2008. In doing so, Plaintiff now identifies the two officers he claims deprived him of property: (1) Investigative Services Unit Officer Miranda and (2) Investigative Services Unit Officer D. Dittman. In attempting to clarify and provide a stronger factual basis for his allegations, Plaintiff now avers the following:

On September 15, 2005 Officer Miranda of ISU and D. Dittman has willfully deprived me of my property and Due Process to receive the property without using state authority. The officers has taken my property and stated I stood in silence when he asked me to claim the property that was on the floor and under the bottom bunk. The ISU staff stated I inmate Valdez did not make any claim. Plaintiff allege that ISU was authorized to confiscate the property just to search, but Plaintiff also alleges that the failure to return the property and commit perjury that Plaintiff did not claim property violates Plaintiff right to Due Process of property under the XIV Amendment § 1 Right; in which was then unauthorized.

Plaintiff asserts that grievance and administrative remedies are exhausted per 42 USC ยง 1997e(a) and (b). see exhibit "A' for 602 grievance and exhibit ...

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