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Womack v. Grannis

December 17, 2009


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


Plaintiff Daniel W. Womack ("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 is incarcerated at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison ("SATF-CSP") in Corcoran, California. Plaintiff is suing under section 1983 for the violation of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff names Nola Grannis, M. A. Baires, R. Gomez, R. Hall, and J. Lais as defendants. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Plaintiff's complaint fails to state any cognizable claims. Plaintiff's complaint will be dismissed and Plaintiff will be given leave to file an amended complaint that cures the deficiencies identified by the Court within 30 days.

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

Plaintiff appeared in a rule violation hearing on April 22, 2008 along with several other inmates. Defendant Baires told Plaintiff and the other inmates that even if they plead "not guilty" to the rule violation, Baires would still find them guilty. Baires then proceeded to describe the punishment that the inmates would receive. Plaintiff complains that he was found guilty of a rule violation without the presentation or consideration of any exculpatory evidence. Plaintiff also complains that his punishment was far more severe than the punishment that the other inmates received for the same offense. On June 4, 2008, Plaintiff filed an inmate appeal complaining about the disciplinary hearing. On July 22, 2008, Defendant Gomez denied Plaintiff's second-level appeal.

On March 17, 2009, Defendant Grannis denied Plaintiff's director's level appeal. Plaintiff contends that he was denied his rights under the Due Process Clause at the rule violation hearing.

On May 30, 2008, Plaintiff was seen by the Unit Classification Committee ("UCC"). The UCC was chaired by Defendant Lais. At the meeting, Plaintiff was removed from his work assignment and his gate-pass was removed. Plaintiff complained that he was being punished more severely than other similarly situated inmates. Lais told Plaintiff that the other inmates appeared before UCCs chaired by different prison officials and it was Lais' policy to prescribe the maximum allowable punishment for rule violations. Plaintiff filed an appeal on July 13, 2008 complaining about the unequal treatment. On September 22, 2008, Defendant Hall denied Plaintiff's second-level appeal. On March 16, 2009, Defendant Grannis denied Plaintiff's director's level appeal. Plaintiff contends that the unequal treatment violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Plaintiff alleges that, as a result of the disciplinary hearing and the decision by the UCC, Plaintiff was found guilty of a rule violation, assessed thirty days loss of credit, placed into "privilege group 'C'" for 90 days, removed from his job assignment, placed into "w/p group A2B" for thirteen months, and denied all employment opportunities and recreation program activities. (Compl. 7:24-8:6.) Plaintiff was also denied the opportunity to reduce his classification score in order to qualify for transfer to a "level 3 facility," where Plaintiff would enjoy additional freedom and privileges. (Compl. 8:12-14.)

III. Discussion

A. Due Process Claims

Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by presuming his guilt at a rule violation hearing before Plaintiff was given the opportunity to present any evidence. The Due Process Clause protects prisoners from being deprived of liberty without due process of law. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). In order to state a cause of action for deprivation of due process, a plaintiff must first establish the existence of a liberty interest for which the protection is sought. Liberty interests may arise from the Due Process Clause itself or from state law. Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 466-68 (1983). Liberty interests created by state law are generally limited to freedom from restraint which "imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995). In determining whether a hardship is sufficiently significant enough to warrant due process protection, the Court looks to (1) whether the challenged condition mirrored those conditions imposed upon inmates imposed upon inmates in administrative segregation and protective custody and is thus within the prison's discretionary authority to impose, (2) the duration of the condition and the degree of restraint imposed; and (3) whether the state's action will invariable affect the duration of the prisoner's sentence. Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 861 (9th Cir. 2003).

"Prison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution, and the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such proceedings does not apply." Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). With respect to prison disciplinary proceedings, the minimum procedural requirements that must be met are: (1) written notice of the charges; (2) at least 24 hours between the time the prisoner receives written notice and the time of the hearing, so that the prisoner may prepare his defense; (3) a written statement by the fact finders of the evidence they rely on and reasons for taking disciplinary action; (4) the right of the prisoner to call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his defense, when permitting him to do so would not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals; and (5) legal assistance to the prisoner where the prisoner is illiterate or the issues presented are legally complex. Id. at 563-71. As long as the five minimum Wolff requirements are met, due process has been satisfied. Walker v. Sumner, 14 F.3d 1415, 1420 (9th Cir. 1994). "When prison officials limit a prisoner's right to defend himself they must have a legitimate penological interest." Koenig v. Vannelli, 971 F.2d 422, 423 (9th Cir. 1992) (per curiam) (concluding that prisoners do not have a right to have an independent drug test performed at their own expense). The right to call witnesses may legitimately be limited by "the penological need to provide swift ...

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