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Harris v. Pinero

March 29, 2010



Plaintiff, Wayde Hollis Harris, an inmate confined at Calipatria State Prison, filed this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His complaint concerns events alleged to have occurred while he was housed at the San Joaquin County Jail. In addition to filing a complaint, plaintiff has filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis and a request for court appointed counsel. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

I. Request to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

Plaintiff has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Dckt. No. 14. His application makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1) and (2). Accordingly, by separate order, the court directs the agency having custody of plaintiff to collect and forward the appropriate monthly payments for the filing fee as set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) and (2).

II. Screening Order

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the court shall review "a complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). "On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Id. § 1915A(b).

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

A district court must construe a pro se pleading "liberally" to determine if it states a claim and, prior to dismissal, tell a plaintiff of deficiencies in his complaint and give plaintiff an opportunity to cure them. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000). While detailed factual allegations are not required, "[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 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth "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 claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. 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. Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.

Id. (citations and quotation marks omitted). Although legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations, and are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. at 1950.

The court has reviewed plaintiff's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and finds it does not state a cognizable claim against any defendant. Moreover, the court finds that the deficiencies in plaintiff's complaint cannot be cured by amendment and will therefore recommend that the complaint be dismissed without leave to amend.

A. The Complaint

In his May 7, 2009 complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendants*fn1 held his legal property, including his legal work product, for four months and when it was finally returned to him, it had clearly been tampered with. See Compl., Dckt. No. 1. As a result, plaintiff alleges that he was denied a fair trial, as his ability to access the courts, to communicate with his attorney, and to defend himself in his criminal trial was obstructed.*fn2 Plaintiff also alleges that defendants may have provided the prosecutor with plaintiff's legal property. Plaintiff believes that defendants' actions may have been the reason for why he was convicted. Plaintiff also claims to have experienced stress, confusion, and anger as a result of defendants' alleged conduct. Plaintiff further claims he filed numerous grievances concerning his legal property and that defendants failed to adequately respond to them, in part because they would not tell plaintiff who was in possession of plaintiff's legal documents. As relief, plaintiff requests a determination of the complete chain of custody of his legal property, from the time it was initially taken from him until the time it was finally returned to him. Plaintiff also requests injunctive relief and damages. See Dckt. No. 5.

B. Discussion

Plaintiff's allegations center around the four month period that he was deprived of his legal property and the condition of his property when it was finally returned to him. He essentially claims that as a result of defendants' actions, he did not receive a fair trial. The Supreme Court has held that "a state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation)--no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit (state conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings)--if success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration." Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005) (emphasis added); see also Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641 (1997); Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994). Were plaintiff to succeed on his claims that defendants violated his due process right to a fair trial, those findings would necessarily implicate the validity of plaintiff's underlying criminal conviction. See Heck, 512 U.S. at 487; see also Cole v. Sisto, Civ. No. 09-0364 KJM P, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 76110, at *4-8 (E.D. Cal. July 24, 2009) (finding Heck barred plaintiff's ยง 1983 claims that plaintiff was denied access to the court and a right to a fair trial "when he was unable to prepare motions for the appointment of an investigator and an expert witness," for his criminal trial); Jones v. Michalski, No. CV F 04-5823 REC LJO P, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12986, at *3-5 (Mar. 8, 2006), adopted in ...

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