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Smith v. Yates

December 15, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge


Findings and Recommendations Following Screening of Complaint

I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff Michael LeNoir Smith, a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights, filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on May 7, 2009.*fn1

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).

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). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007)). "[P]laintiffs [now] face a higher burden of pleadings facts . . ," Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft, 580 F.3d 949, 977 (9th Cir. 2009), and while a plaintiff's allegations are taken as true, courts "are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences," Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

II. Plaintiff's Claims

A. Count One*fn2

1. Factual Allegations

Plaintiff is currently housed at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison (SATF) in Corcoran. Plaintiff alleges that on April 22, 2008, while housed at Pleasant Valley State Prison, Defendant Lubken, a lieutenant, held a disciplinary hearing and found Plaintiff guilty of mutual combat with another inmate. As punishment, Plaintiff lost his appliances and quarterly packages for thirty days.

Plaintiff alleges that the loss of appliances is a punishment authorized only if the disciplinary incident at issue occurred in D4 of the administrative segregation unit (ad-seg). Plaintiff appealed the sanction as unauthorized, and also made a verbal inquiry. Plaintiff was told by Defendant Lubken and Defendant Spearman, the associate warden, that they had been discussing it in response to Plaintiff's letters and were unsure. Plaintiff was told to appeal the issue and let them know the outcome of the appeal. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants had "no reasonable answer" when asked how they could impose a sanction when they were not sure it was authorized. (Doc. 6, Comp., court record p. 6.)

Plaintiff filed an appeal and learned on his own that three other inmates were found guilty of disciplinary incidents which occurred outside of ad-seg but were not assessed an appliance loss as punishment. Plaintiff alleges that while Defendant Lubken told him verbally that the sanction was mandatory pursuant to a memorandum, she stated in writing in an informal response that Defendants Spearman and Walker supported her decision to impose the sanction because it was discretionary. Plaintiff's appeal was subsequently denied at the informal level of review by Defendant Herrera and at the Director's level of review by Defendant Hutchins.

Plaintiff alleges that the sanction imposed against him violated his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment and his right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment under the Eighth Amendment. Plaintiff further alleges that because he was treated differently than the three other inmates, his right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment was violated. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that staff members were constantly imposing upon him sanctions not imposed on other prisoners because of his litigation activities.

Plaintiff seeks to impose liability on Defendant Lubken for assessing an unauthorized sanction against, and on Defendants Walker, Spearman, Herrera, Huckabay, and Hutchins for failing to properly investigate Plaintiff's ...

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