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Rouser v. White

March 9, 2010

WILLIAM ROUSER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THEO WHITE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



ORDER

Plaintiff William Rouser ("Rouser") is a prisoner proceeding with counsel who alleges that California prisons and their personnel have infringed upon his right to practice his religion. This motion concerns plaintiff's Fourth Amended Complaint ("FAC") insofar as it asserts a claim of retaliation against Defendants B. Flores ("Flores") and P. Ortiz ("Ortiz"). These defendants move to dismiss plaintiff's claim against them under two theories: (1) plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, and (2) plaintiff's claims are improperly joined. Defendants alternatively seek to sever trial for Flores and Ortiz from the remaining defendants. For the reasons discussed below, defendants' motion is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 7, 1993, plaintiff filed his original complaint seeking damages and injunctive relief from, inter alia, defendant Theo White ("White"), warden of California State Prison -Sacramento ("CSP-Sac"), and defendant James H. Gomez ("Gomez"), former director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") under several theories of liability for their alleged infringement of his religious practice. On December 5, 1997, the court dismissed the case pursuant to the parties' private settlement. On March 23, 2004, the court reopened the case to allow plaintiff to seek an order enforcing the settlement agreement.

On January 30, 2006, plaintiff filed an amended complaint adding defendants and claims relating to his treatment at Mule Creek State Prison ("MCSP"). In June 2007, plaintiff was transferred to Pleasant Valley State Prison ("PVSP"). On September 23, 2008, plaintiff filed his third amended complaint, bringing claims against four defendants, White, Gomez, Matthew Cate ("Cate"), Secretary of CDCR, and James A. Yates ("Yates"), warden at PVSP. This complaint sued all defendants in their individual and official capacities, and plaintiff sought damages and injunctive relief.

On December 10, 2009, this court granted plaintiff's motion to supplement his complaint to include claims for conduct occurring after he filed his Third Amended Complaint. Plaintiff sought to add three defendants to his complaint. At issue here is the addition of defendant correctional counselors P. Ortiz ("Ortiz") and B. Flores ("Flores"). Plaintiff alleges that Ortiz and Flores retaliated against his filing of grievances and litigation of this case by placing plaintiff in administrative segregation and then causing plaintiff to be transferred from PVSP to California State Prison Los Angeles County ("LAC"). Uncontested in this motion is the addition of defendant Brian Haws ("Haws"), warden of LAC.

The questions raised in this motion are whether plaintiff's claim against Ortiz and Flores is properly exhausted and whether Ortiz and Flores are properly joined as defendants. The facts relevant to each section will be discussed in detail below.

II. STANDARD FOR A FED. R. CIV. P. 12(B)(6) MOTION TO DISMISS

A Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion challenges a complaint's compliance with the pleading requirements provided by the Federal Rules. In general, these requirements are established by Fed. R. Civ. P. 8, although claims that "sound[] in" fraud or mistake must meet the requirements provided by Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b). Vess v. Ciba-Geigy Corp., 317 F.3d 1097, 1103-04 (9th Cir. 2003). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." The complaint must give defendant "fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotation and modification omitted).

To meet this requirement, the complaint must be supported by factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint," neither legal conclusions nor conclusory statements are themselves sufficient, and such statements are not entitled to a presumption of truth. Id. at 1949-50. Iqbal and Twombly therefore prescribe a two step process for evaluation of motions to dismiss. The court first identifies the non-conclusory factual allegations, and the court then determines whether these allegations, taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, "plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id.; Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007).*fn1

"Plausibility," as it is used in Twombly and Iqbal, does not refer to the likelihood that a pleader will succeed in proving the allegations. Instead, it refers to whether the non-conclusory factual allegations, when assumed to be true, "allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). A complaint may fail to show a right to relief either by lacking a cognizable legal theory or by lacking sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

The line between non-conclusory and conclusory allegations is not always clear. Rule 8 "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). While Twombly was not the first case that directed the district courts to disregard "conclusory" allegations, the court turns to Iqbal and Twombly for indications of the Supreme Court's current understanding of the term. In Twombly, the Court found the naked allegation that "defendants 'ha[d] entered into a contract, combination or conspiracy to prevent competitive entry... and ha[d] agreed not to compete with one another,'" absent any supporting allegation of underlying details, to be a conclusory statement of the elements of an anti-trust claim. Id. at 1950 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 551). In contrast, the Twombly plaintiffs' allegations of "parallel conduct" were not conclusory, because plaintiffs had alleged specific acts argued to constitute parallel conduct. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 550-51, 556.

Twombly also illustrated the second, "plausibility" step of the analysis by providing an example of a complaint that failed and a complaint that satisfied this step. The complaint at issue in Twombly failed. While the Twombly plaintiffs' allegations regarding parallel conduct were non-conclusory, they failed to support a plausible claim. Id. at 566. Because parallel conduct was said to be ordinarily expected to arise without a prohibited agreement, an allegation of parallel conduct was insufficient to support the inference that a prohibited agreement existed. Id. Absent such an agreement, plaintiffs were not entitled to relief. Id.*fn2

In contrast, Twombly held that the model pleading for negligence demonstrated the type of pleading that satisfies Rule 8. Id. at 565 n.10. This form provides "On June 1, 1936, in a public highway called Boylston Street in Boston, Massachusetts, defendant negligently drove a motor vehicle against plaintiff who was then crossing said highway." Form 9, Complaint for Negligence, Forms App., Fed. Rules Civ. Proc., 28 U.S.C. App., p 829. These allegations adequately "'state[]... circumstances, occurrences, and events in support of the claim presented.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3 (quoting 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure ยง 1216, at ...


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