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Chappell v. Pliler

June 10, 2009

REX CHAPPELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
C.K. PLILER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is a motion for summary judgment brought on behalf of defendants Goughnour, Plier, Rosario, Stiles, and Vance pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion. Defendants have not filed a reply.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is proceeding on his original complaint. Therein, he alleges as follows. On January 4, 2002, prison officials at CSP-Sacramento placed the facility on lockdown following a violent incident in the dining hall between Southern Mexican inmates and correctional staff. During the extended lockdown that resulted, he was not allowed outdoor exercise time, canteen privileges, quarterly packages, or visitation. In addition, prison officials issued a memorandum stating that all tobacco products would be considered contraband in 30 days. On two separate occasions during the lockdown, his attorney attempted to visit him but prison officials denied him the right to see him. Prison officials also denied plaintiff access to the law library. According to plaintiff, as a result of this lockdown he had virtually no permissible out-of-cell activity from January 2002 to August 2002. (Compl. at 1-7.)

Plaintiff claims that the defendants denied him outdoor exercise and access to the canteen for more than eight months in violation of the Eighth Amendment. In addition, he claims that the defendants interfered with his right of access to the courts by denying him visits with his attorney and access to the law library in violation of the First Amendment. Plaintiff also claims that defendants denied him equal protection and due process by imposing lockdown conditions on him while allowing privileges to those designated "critical workers" in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Finally, plaintiff claims that defendants violated California Penal Code § 825(b) and California Code of Regulations Title 15, § 3175. Plaintiff requests monetary damages. (Compl. at 12-17.)

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. 477 U.S. 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 February 2, 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).

OTHER APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

I. Civil Rights Act Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983

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. Department of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). "A person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative 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). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

II. Eighth Amendment and Denial of Outdoor Exercise and Personal Hygiene Items

The Eighth Amendment prohibits the infliction of "cruel and unusual punishments." U.S. Const. amend. VIII. The "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain" constitutes cruel and unusual punishment prohibited by the United States Constitution. Whitley v. Albers, 475 U.S. 312, 319 (1986); see also Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 670 (1977); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 105-06 (1976). Neither accident nor negligence constitutes cruel and unusual punishment, as "[i]t is obduracy and wantonness, not inadvertence or error in good faith, that characterize the conduct prohibited by the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause." Whitley, 475 U.S. at 319.

What is needed to show unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain "varies according to the nature of the alleged constitutional violation." Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 5 (1992) (citing Whitley, 475 U.S. at 320). However, to prevail on an Eighth Amendment claim, the plaintiff must show that objectively he suffered a "sufficiently serious" deprivation. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834; Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298-99 (1991). The plaintiff must also show that subjectively each defendant had a culpable state of mind in allowing or causing the plaintiff's deprivation to occur. Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834.

It is well established that inmates have a constitutional right to outdoor exercise under the Eighth Amendment. See LeMaire v. Maass, 12 F.3d 1444, 1457 (9th Cir. 1993). Long-term denial of outdoor exercise is unconstitutional. See Spain v. Procunier, 600 F.2d 189 (9th Cir. 1979). However, "prison officials are authorized and indeed required to take appropriate measures to maintain prison order and discipline and protect staff and other prisoners. . . ." LeMaire, 12 F.3d 1458; Hayward v. Procunier, 629 F.2d 599 (9th Cir. 1980) (five-month lockdown did not violate Eighth Amendment in light of state of emergency).

It is also well established that inmates have a constitutional right to access personal hygiene items under the Eighth Amendment. See Keenan v. Hall 83 F.3d 1083, 1091 (9th Cir. 1996). Prison officials must provide inmates with basic human needs, including sanitation. See Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1107 (9th Cir. 1986). However, the routine discomfort inherent in the prison setting is inadequate to satisfy the objective prong of an Eighth Amendment inquiry. Only those deprivations denying "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities" are sufficiently grave to form the basis of an Eighth Amendment violation." Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981).

III. First Amendment and Denial of Access to Courts

"Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts." Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977). Such access must be adequate, effective, and meaningful. Id. at 822. Prisons officials must provide inmates with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons who have training in the law. Id. at 828. However, a plaintiff claiming denial of access to the courts must show more than an inadequate law library or legal assistance program in the theoretical sense. The plaintiff must show that he suffered an "actual injury" as a result of the alleged inadequacies at the prison or that defendants hindered his attempt to pursue his legal claims. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 349 & 351 (1996).

The United States Constitution does not require the maximum or even an optimal level of access to the courts. See Sands v. Lewis, 886 F.2d 1166, 1169 (9th Cir. 1989). Nor does the Constitution guarantee inmates unlimited access to the library. See Lindquist v. Idaho State Bod. of Corrs., 776 F.2d 851, 858 (9th Cir. 1985). Prison officials may regulate the time, place, and manner in which prisoners use library facilities, so "[t]he fact that an inmate must wait for a turn to use the library does not necessarily mean that he has been denied meaningful access to the courts." Id.

If a prisoner asserts a backward-looking claim for denial of access to the courts and seeks a remedy for a lost opportunity to present a claim, he must allege three elements. First, he must identify a "non-frivolous" "arguable" underlying claim. Second, he must describe the official acts that frustrated the underlying litigation. Finally, he must identify a remedy that is not otherwise available in a future suit. See Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 415 (2002) (discussing the elements of forward-looking and backward-looking access to courts claims); Phillips v. Hust, 477 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2007) (discussing the elements of backward-looking access to courts claims), vacated on other grounds by, ___U.S.___, 129 S.Ct. 1036 (2009).

IV. Qualified Immunity

"Government officials enjoy qualified immunity from civil damages unless their conduct violates 'clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'" Jeffers v. Gomez, 267 F.3d 895, 910 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). When a court is presented with a qualified immunity defense, the central questions for the court are (1) whether the facts alleged, taken in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, demonstrate that the defendant's conduct violated a statutory or constitutional right and (2) whether the right at issue was "clearly established." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001).

Although the court was once required to answer these questions in order, the United States Supreme Court has recently held that "while the sequence set forth there is often appropriate, it should no longer be regarded as mandatory." Pearson v. Callahan, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 129 S.Ct. 808, 818 (2009). In this regard, if a court decides that plaintiff's allegations do not make out a statutory or constitutional violation, "there is no necessity for further inquiries concerning qualified immunity." Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. Likewise, if a court determines that the right at issue was not clearly established at the time of the defendant's alleged misconduct, the court may end further inquiries concerning qualified immunity at that point without determining whether the allegations in fact make out a statutory or constitutional violation. Pearson, 129 S.Ct. at 818-21.

In deciding whether the plaintiff's rights were clearly established, "[t]he proper inquiry focuses on whether 'it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted' . . . or whether the state of the law [at the relevant time] gave 'fair warning' to the officials that their conduct was unconstitutional." Clement v. Gomez, 298 F.3d 898, 906 (9th Cir. 2002) (quoting Saucier, 533 U.S. at 202). The inquiry must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case. Saucier, 533 U.S. at 201. Because qualified immunity is an affirmative defense, the burden of proof initially lies with the official ...


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