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Saenz v. Spearman

September 30, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary S. Austin United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff Robert Gonzales Saenz ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and was incarcerated at Pleasant Valley State Prison in Coalinga, California ("PVSP") at the time the events in his complaint took place. Plaintiff is suing under section 1983 for the violation of his rights under the First, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiff names M. Spearman, D. Reeves, C. Hudson, M. Davis, and K. Marshall as defendants. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff is ordered to either notify the court of his willingness to proceed on the claims found to be cognizable in this order, or to file an amended complaint curing the deficiencies in his claims that have been identified in this order.

I. Screening Requirement

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally "frivolous or malicious," that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(2). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, the Court uses the same pleading standard used under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Under Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). "[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "[A] complaint [that] pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability . . . 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Further, although a court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in a complaint, a court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true. Id. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

II. Background

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff filed the Original Complaint in this action on March 26, 2009. (Doc. #1.) The Court screened Plaintiff's Original Complaint on July 29, 2009. (Doc. #7.) The Court found that Plaintiff stated some cognizable claims and other non-cognizable claims and ordered Plaintiff either to notify the Court of his willingness to proceed on only the cognizable claims, or to file an amended complaint within thirty days. Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint on August 12, 2009. (Doc. #8.) This action proceeds on Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint.

B. Factual Background

Plaintiff claims that Defendants Spearman, Reeves, Hudson, Davis, and Marshall violated his constitutional rights while housed in the administrative segregation unit ("ASU") at PVSP. Plaintiff alleges that while in the ASU, his safety was placed in danger when Defendant Spearman conducted a non-confidential segregation hearing within earshot of other prisoners. Plaintiff claims Defendant Reeves fabricated a retaliatory rape charge against Plaintiff and harassed Plaintiff while he was retained in the secured housing unit ("SHU"). Plaintiff claims that Defendant Hudson improperly screened out Plaintiff's "staff/citizens complaint". Plaintiff claims that Defendant Davis retained Plaintiff in the ASU for nearly a year without following procedural rules. Finally, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Marshall made "oxymoronic" decisions regarding Plaintiff's classification score that lead to his retention in the ASU.

On August 29, 2007, Plaintiff was erroneously housed in the ASU with a documented enemy by prison officials. (Compl. ¶ 6.) The enemy was a high ranking member of the northern Mexican prison gang "Nuestra/Nueva Flor". (Compl. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff became an enemy by providing information to prison officials regarding an attack that the gang had planned to kill a police officer and his family. (Compl. ¶¶ 7-9.) On August 30, 2007, Defendant Spearman conducted a segregation hearing through Plaintiff's cell door in the presence of "non-protected" prisoners. (Compl. ¶¶ 3-4.) Plaintiff sought a confidential segregation hearing, but Spearman denied confidentiality and claims that the loud-voiced hearing would have allowed other prisoners to discover why Plaintiff was in the ASU. (Compl. ¶ 10.) Plaintiff further alleges that Spearman failed to record the reasons for denying confidentiality and Plaintiff suggests that Spearman denied confidentiality in retaliation for Plaintiff's past inmate grievances against prison staff. (Compl. ¶ 12.)

On September 14, 2007, Defendant Reeves, "in an orchestrated act without prior notice to Plaintiff", by "intimidative[sic] and coersive[sic] actions did compel inmate Abreu" to join Plaintiff in ASU cell-182 as his cellmate. (Compl. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff claims that Reeves' actions was "[a] deviation from normal standardized ASU policy." (Compl. ¶ 20.)An unnamed ASU officer ordered Plaintiff to cuff-up and Abreu then entered the cell. (Compl. ¶ 21.) The officer then instructed Plaintiff and Abreu to sign and date two "compatability[sic] consent forms", per the orders by Reeves. (Compl. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff raised the issue that there was a "custodial gap" between himself and Abreu because Plaintiff was "level-2" and Abreu was "level-4". (Compl. ¶ 22.) Reeves threatened disciplinary action if Plaintiff rejected Abreu as a cell-mate. (Compl. ¶ 22.)

On September 19, 2007, Abreu sought to speak with Reeves privately. (Compl. ¶ 23.) Afterwards, Plaintiff was then escorted to a holding cage. (Compl. ¶ 23.)Reeves then approached Plaintiff's cage and accused Plaintiff of "going after officers" and raping Abreu. (Compl. ¶ 24.) Reeves indicated that the fabricated rape accusation was retaliation for filing and inmate appeals and a habeas petition while incarcerated at a different prison that resulted in correctional officers being terminated from employment. (Compl. ¶¶ 24-26.)Plaintiff was held in the holding cage for 5.5 hours without drinking water and toilet use. (Compl. ¶ 28.)

The false rape charge produced a number of reports that Plaintiff fears will lead to future prosecution. (Compl. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff was held in ASU disciplinary punishment pending DNA testing results from August 29, 2007 to August 29, 2008. (Compl. ¶¶ 32, 34.) Plaintiff complains that Spearman, Reeves, and Davis, as co-members of the ASU Institutional Classification Committee (ICC) held Plaintiff in "undue hardship, toilet use denial, work assignment denial, rehabilitative workshop(s) denial, forced to exist in a bitterly cold cell, denial of water for drinking".(Compl. ¶ 34.)

Plaintiff claims that Spearman, Reeves, and Davis collaborated in a "finely orchestrated course of action" that "forced Plaintiff to remain in the custody of ASU Sgt. Reeves". (Compl. ¶ 35.) Plaintiff complains that on December 2, 2007, an unknown ASU officer planted a weapon in Plaintiff's cell, which resulted in Plaintiff being held in a holding cage for 4.5 hours without drinking water or toilet use. (Compl. ¶ 35.D.) Plaintiff's property was also searched, a photograph destroyed, and Plaintiff was moved to another cell with "extreme cold temperatures". (Compl. ¶¶ 35.E-F.) Reeves denied Plaintiff's requests for extra clothing and blankets in his new cell. (Compl. ¶ 35.G.) On December 27, 2007 Reeves charged Plaintiff with a Rules Violation Report ("RVR") for possession of a weapon that resulted in Plaintiff losing 121 loss of credits. (Compl. ¶ 35.J.) Plaintiff filed a habeas petition regarding the false weapon possession RVR. (Compl. ¶ 35.M.)

On September 28, 2007, Plaintiff filed a staff/citizens complaint to the PVSP appeals coordinator's office that Defendant Hudson responded to. (Compl. ¶ 52.) Plaintiff's complaint was screened-out on October 31, 2007. (Compl. ¶ 58.) Plaintiff claims that Hudson "invented an underground rule" to screen-out Plaintiff's complaint, "the outside of the appeal process" rule. (Compl. ¶ 59.)

Plaintiff also complains that CDCR policy violates his equal protection rights because it treats Plaintiff differently from private citizens. Plaintiff alleges that non-incarcerated private citizens are given 12 month period to submit a staff complaint while prisoners are only given a 15-day period to submit a complain. (Compl. ¶¶ 72-73.)

On December 27, 2007, Plaintiff appeared before the ASU-ICC, which consisted of Defendant Davis, Spearman, and Reeves. (Compl. ¶ 81.) Plaintiff complains that Davis retained Plaintiff in ASU housing in violation of procedural safeguards that protect Plaintiff from lengthy ASU retention. (Compl. ¶ 82.) Plaintiff specifically claims that prison officials must serve prisoners with written notification of RVR charges within 15 days, with a possible 30-day extension upon a showing of good cause. (Compl. ¶ 83.) An addition 45-day extension is available where evidence is required to be delivered to a crime lab for testing. (Compl. ¶ 84.) Plaintiff was retained in the ASU for one year, thus depriving Plaintiff of rehabilitative work shops, religious services, work credit assignments, loss of behavioral credits, loss of television, radio, and telephone privileges, and other aspects of "normal" prison life. (Compl. ¶ 85.) Davis retained Plaintiff in the ASU because DNA evidence related to the fabricated rape charge had not been sent back from the lab. (Compl. ¶ 86.) Plaintiff complains that the retention in the ASU was based on "non-truths" because the DNA evidence had not been delivered to the DOJ until July 2008. (Compl. ¶¶ 89-91.) Davis had full knowledge that the DNA evidence was stored in the PVSP evidence storage unit between September 2007 to July 2008, and the delay caused Plaintiff to be held in the ASU for an extended period of time. (Compl. ¶ 92.)

Plaintiff complains that Davis' decision "resulted in more retaliation", including being moved to a cell that did not have a "working cold water button", being "intentionally passed" by Officer Lee when Lee was distributing milk, fruit, juice and coffee, and being pushed into his cell and unto a concrete table by Lee. (Compl. ¶ 97.) Plaintiff also complains that ASU library officer Holiday and ASU property officer Singleton attempted to intimidate Plaintiff into halting his inmate grievances and lawsuits by threatening to mishandle his legal mail, deny law library access, deny photocopy services, and damaging Plaintiff's personal property. (Compl. ¶ 97.F.)

Plaintiff alleges that Davis is the "hiring authority for the purpose of reviewing staff/citizens' complaints" and is responsible for "assigning the complaints to the appropriate investigators". (Compl. ¶ 98.) Thus, Plaintiff concludes that Davis was aware of all of Plaintiff's inmate grievances, and was therefore aware of the cruel and unusual conditions of his ASU cell, including the cold temperatures, the lack of sufficient blankets and clothing, and the denial of toilet use and drinking water. (Compl. ¶ 99.)

On May 20, 2008, Defendant Marshall conducted an interview with Plaintiff and gave Plaintiff two documents, a "reclassification form" and a "segregation order form". (Compl. ¶ 104.) Plaintiff alleges that his "classification score" prior to the interview was 25 points. (Compl. ¶ 107.) Plaintiff's score was raised by two points because Plaintiff was issued an RVR for the weapon planted by other correctional officers. (Compl. ¶ 108.) Plaintiff was also told that the 11 months of punishment are completed for the alleged rape. (Compl. ¶ 109.) However, Plaintiff would not receive two points in his classification score because the RVR for the rape was not served. (Compl. ¶ 109.) Plaintiff complained that it did not make sense that Plaintiff had to serve 11 months of punishment while at the same time Marshall recognized the illegitimacy of the RVR by not adding two points to his classification score. (Compl. ¶ 109.)

III. Discussion

A. Threat to Safety Claims

Plaintiff claims that Defendant Spearman conducted a segregation hearing in front of Plaintiff's cell. Plaintiff alleges that the public nature of the hearing would have placed Plaintiff at risk because other inmates could have learned information that would place Plaintiff's life in danger. Plaintiff further alleges that Spearman deliberately conducted the hearing in this manner in retaliation for Plaintiff's prior grievances and lawsuits.

1. Eighth Amendment Claim

Plaintiff claims that Defendant Spearman deliberately exposed Plaintiff to a threat to his safety in violation of his rights under the Eighth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment prohibits the imposition of cruel and unusual punishments and "embodies 'broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity and decency.'" Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976) (quoting Jackson v. Bishop, 404 F.2d 571, 579 (8th Cir. 1968)). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) the objective requirement that the deprivation is "sufficiently serious", Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 834 (1994) (quoting Wilson v. Seiter, 501 U.S. 294, 298 (1991), and (2) the subjective requirement that the prison official has a "sufficiently culpable state of mind", Id. (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 298). The objective requirement that the deprivation be "sufficiently serious" is met where the prison official's act or omission results in the denial of "the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities". Id. (quoting Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981)). The subjective requirement that the prison official has a "sufficiently culpable state of mind" is met where the prison official acts with "deliberate indifference" to inmate health or safety. Id. (quoting Wilson, 501 U.S. at 302-303). A prison official acts with deliberate indifference when he/she "knows of and disregards an excessive risk to inmate health or safety". Id. at 837. "[T]he official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm exists, and he must also draw the inference." Id.

Plaintiff claims that Defendant Spearman violated Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights by exposing Plaintiff to an excessive risk of harm by conducting a segregation hearing in the presence of other prisoners. Specifically, Plaintiff has not alleged that he was ever attacked or targeted by prisoners who overheard the contents of the segregation hearing. Plaintiff alleges that the "loud voiced hearing would have made known to all prisoners the reason for ASU placement. Plaintiff would then be a target to both protected and non-protected prisoners." (Compl. ΒΆ 10) (emphasis added). Plaintiff has not alleged that any sensitive information that would have placed his life in danger was actually discussed at the segregation hearing, or that any prisoners overheard the segregation hearing. It is not clear what danger, if any, Plaintiff was placed in as a result of the segregation hearing. Plaintiff fails to ...

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