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Harper v. Costa

June 15, 2009

DANIEL HARPER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SGT. COSTA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with an action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On December 8, 2008, defendants moved to dismiss this action, arguing that plaintiff's complaint fails to state a cognizable claim for relief. Plaintiff has not filed an opposition to the motion.*fn1

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is proceeding on an amended complaint against defendants Costa and Mendes. Therein, he alleges as follows. On April 19, 2007, plaintiff's cellmate assaulted defendant Mendes by throwing some unknown liquid at him. According to plaintiff, his cellmate told correctional officers that plaintiff had nothing to do with the incident. Nevertheless, officers issued him a false rules violation report ("RVR") for "Battery on a Peace Officer With an Unknown Liquid" and subsequently found him guilty of the charge. Plaintiff appealed the guilty finding. On appeal, prison officials determined that the evidence was insufficient to support a guilty finding, dismissed the RVR, and rescinded all related penalties. In terms of relief in this action, plaintiff requests monetary damages. (Compl. at 5 & Attach.)

DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

Counsel for defendants argues that this action should be dismissed because plaintiff's complaint fails to state a cognizable claim for relief. Specifically, defense counsel argues that plaintiff has no constitutional right to be free from a wrongfully-issued RVR if prison officials honored his procedural due process rights during the prison disciplinary process. Here, defense counsel argues that prison officials complied with all due process requirements. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 3-4.)

Defense counsel also argues that plaintiff has failed to allege any specific unconstitutional act by any of the defendants. For example, plaintiff has not alleged any wrongdoing by defendant Costa. In addition, although plaintiff alleges that he told defendant Mendes that he was innocent of the RVR charge, plaintiff has not alleged any specific constitutional violations engaged in by defendant Mendes. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 4.)

Finally, counsel for defendants argues that plaintiff has not suffered a cognizable injury. In this case, prison officials dismissed plaintiff's RVR and rescinded all related penalties. Counsel contends that plaintiff may not maintain a federal civil action based solely on a mental injury or a conjectural fear of reprisal. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 5-6.)

ANALYSIS

I. Legal Standards Applicable to a Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the sufficiency of the complaint. North Star Int'l v. Arizona Corp. Comm'n, 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983). Dismissal of the complaint, or any claim within it, "can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). See also Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc., 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984). In order to survive 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 Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).

In determining whether a pleading states a claim, the court accepts as true all material allegations in the complaint and construes those allegations, as well as the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trustees of Rex Hosp., 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976); Love v. United States, 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). In the context of a motion to dismiss, the court also resolves doubts in the plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). However, the court need not accept as true conclusory allegations, unreasonable inferences, or unwarranted deductions of fact. W. Mining Council v. Watt, 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981).

In general, pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The court has an obligation to construe such pleadings liberally. Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n.1 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc). However, the court's liberal interpretation of a pro se complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not pled. Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982); see also Pena v. Gardner, 976 F.2d 469, 471 (9th Cir. 1992).

II. Discussion

A prisoner has no constitutionally guaranteed immunity from being falsely or wrongly accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest. See Sprouse v. Babcock, 870 F.2d 450, 452 (8th Cir. 1989); Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 951 (2d Cir. 1986). As long as a prisoner receives procedural due process during his disciplinary hearing, a prisoner's allegation of a fabricated prison disciplinary charge fails to state a cognizable claim for relief under § 1983. See Freeman, 808 F.2d at 951 (the filing of a false disciplinary charge against a prisoner is not actionable under § 1983 if prison officials provide the prisoner with procedural due process protections); Hanrahan v. Lane, 747 F.2d 1137, 1140-41 (7th Cir. 1984) ("[A]n allegation that a prison guard planted false ...


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