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Tracchia v. Tilton

September 21, 2009

GLENN MATTHEW TRACCHIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JAMES TILTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prison inmate proceeding pro se with a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 challenging state regulations that bar inmates sentenced to life but who do not have parole dates from family visiting. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment.

I. 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 May 12, 2009, 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), cert. denied, 527 U.S. 1035 (1999), and Klingele v. Eikenberry, 849 F.2d 409 (9th Cir. 1988).

II. Evidentiary Matters

Defendants have objected to all of plaintiff's exhibits on relevance, hearsay and authentication grounds. In addition, defendants have objected to much of plaintiff's declaration as hearsay and as based on documents that are not attached. Finally, they have objected to a number of factual statements in plaintiff's memorandum of points and authorities.

In the Rand notice issued to plaintiff in May 2009, the court advised plaintiff that if he relies on written records in opposition to the motion for summary judgment, he "must prove that the records are what plaintiff claims they are." Docket No. 48 at 2. This reflects the Ninth Circuit's teaching that a court may consider only admissible evidence in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Orr v. Bank of America, NT & SA, 285 F.3d 764, 773 (9th Cir. 2002).

Authentication is a "condition precedent to admissibility," and this condition is satisfied by "evidence sufficient to support a finding that the matter in question is what its proponent claims. Fed. R. Evid. 901(a) . . . [U]nauthenticated documents cannot be considered in a motion for summary judgment.

Id.; Hal Roach Studios v. Richard Feiner and Company, Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1550 (9th Cir. 1989); cf. Canada v. Blain's Helicopters, Inc., 831 F.2d 920, 925 (9th Cir.1987) (unauthenticated documents may not be relied upon to defeat a motion for summary judgment).

The Ninth Circuit has also held that hearsay evidence may not be considered in deciding whether material facts are at issue in summary judgment motions. Blair Foods, Inc. v. Ranchers Cotton Oil, 610 F.2d 665, 667 (9th Cir. 1980).

Under Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may rely on affidavits to support or oppose summary judgment, but these affidavits "must be made on personal knowledge, set out facts that would be admissible in evidence, and show that the affiant is competent to testify on the matters stated." Hearsay is inadmissible on summary judgment to the same extent it would be at trial, as is testimony not based on the affiant's personal knowledge of the events detailed in the declaration. Kim v. United States, 121 F.3d 1269, 1276-77 (9th Cir. 1997).

The Ninth Circuit has further recognized that "to survive summary judgment, a party does not necessarily have to produce evidence in a form that would be admissible at trial, so long as the party satisfies the requirements of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 56." Block v. City of Los Angeles, 253 F.3d 410, 419 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Fraser v. Goodale, 342 F.3d 1032, 1036-37 (9th Cir. 2003) (content of affiant's diary would be admissible at trial even if diary itself would not be, so sufficient on summary judgment). The appellate court instructs the district courts to take a "more lenient" view of affidavits submitted by a party opposing summary judgment, but nevertheless recognizes the limits of any such lenient view. Compare Scharf v. United States Attorney General, 597 F.2d 1240, 1243 (9th Cir. 1979) (pro se party's affidavit based in part on his reading of medical literature ...


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