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Eichler v. Tilton


April 21, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 1).

The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it: (1) is frivolous or malicious; (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Moreover, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that complaints contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This means that claims must be stated simply, concisely, and directly. See McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996) (referring to Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e)(1)). These rules are satisfied if the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. See Kimes v. Stone, 84 F.3d 1121, 1129 (9th Cir. 1996). Because a plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts by specific defendants which support the claims, vague and conclusory allegations fail to satisfy this standard. Additionally, it is impossible for the court to conduct the screening required by law when the allegations are vague and conclusory.


Plaintiff makes several vague and general allegations about mistreatment and the hardships of prison life. His claims include not receiving adequate medical treatment, not being allowed to exercise his religious rights, being denied healthy food choices, being denied an adequate inmate appeals process, being subjected to overcrowded conditions, being denied parole, high prices for canteen items, limited visitors, and being denied his personal property. His complaint suffers from numerous deficiencies, as discussed below.


Rule 8

First and foremost, as stated above, Rule 8 requires a short and plain statement of the claim being raised. Plaintiff's complaint does not meet that standard. Instead, Plaintiff's complaint contains numerous vague and rambling allegations about the hardships he is faced with in prison. His rambling complaint is over 60 pages long. He fails to state his claims clearly and concisely. His complaint will therefore be dismissed on this basis, but he will be granted leave to file an amended complaint.

The federal rules contemplate brevity. See Galbraith v. Co. of Santa Clara, 307 F.3d 1119, 1125 (9th Cir. 2002) (noting that "nearly all of the circuits have now disapproved any heightened pleading standard in cases other than those governed by Rule 9(b)"); Fed. R. Civ. P. 84; cf. Rule 9(b) (setting forth rare exceptions to simplified pleading). Plaintiff's claims must be set forth in short and plain terms, simply, concisely and directly. See Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002) ("Rule 8(a) is the starting point of a simplified pleading system, which was adopted to focus litigation on the merits of a claim."); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8. Thus, he must not include in his pleading all preambles, introductions, argument, speeches, explanations, stories, griping, vouching, evidence, attempts to negate possible defenses, summaries, and the like. See McHenry, 84 F.3d at 1177-78 (affirming dismissal of § 1983 complaint for violation of Rule 8 after warning); see also Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 597 (1998) (reiterating that "firm application of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is fully warranted" in prisoner cases). The court (and defendant) should be able to read and understand plaintiff's pleading within minutes. See McHenry, 84 F.3d at 1179-80. A long, rambling pleading including many defendants with unexplained, tenuous or implausible connection to the alleged constitutional injury, or joining a series of unrelated claims against many defendants, very likely will result in delaying the review required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915 and an order dismissing plaintiff's action pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 41 for violation of these instructions.

While Plaintiff's claims are vague, it appears he is attempting to raise some claims which are non-cognizable, and others which simply suffer from lack of clarity and specificity.

Medical Treatment

The treatment a prisoner receives in prison and the conditions under which the prisoner is confined are subject to scrutiny under the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. See Helling v. McKinney, 509 U.S. 25, 31 (1993); Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 832 (1994). The Eighth Amendment "embodies broad and idealistic concepts of dignity, civilized standards, humanity, and decency." Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 102 (1976). Conditions of confinement may, however, be harsh and restrictive. See Rhodes v. Chapman, 452 U.S. 337, 347 (1981). Nonetheless, prison officials must provide prisoners with "food, clothing, shelter, sanitation, medical care, and personal safety." Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1107 (9th Cir. 1986). A prison official violates the Eighth Amendment only when two requirements are met: (1) objectively, the official's act or omission must be so serious such that it results in the denial of the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities; and (2) subjectively, the prison official must have acted unnecessarily and wantonly for the purpose of inflicting harm. See Farmer, 511 U.S. at 834. Thus, to violate the Eighth Amendment, a prison official must have a "sufficiently culpable mind." See id.

Deliberate indifference to a prisoner's serious illness or injury, or risks of serious injury or illness, gives rise to a claim under the Eighth Amendment. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 105; see also Farmer, 511 U.S. at 837. This applies to physical as well as dental and mental health needs. See Hoptowit v. Ray, 682 F.2d 1237, 1253 (9th Cir. 1982). An injury or illness is sufficiently serious if the failure to treat a prisoner's condition could result in further significant injury or the "unnecessary and wanton infliction of pain." McGuckin v. Smith, 974 F.2d 1050, 1059 (9th Cir. 1992); see also Doty v. County of Lassen, 37 F.3d 540, 546 (9th Cir. 1994). Factors indicating seriousness are: (1) whether a reasonable doctor would think that the condition is worthy of comment; (2) whether the condition significantly impacts the prisoner's daily activities; and (3) whether the condition is chronic and accompanied by substantial pain. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1131-32 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc).

The requirement of deliberate indifference is less stringent in medical needs cases than in other Eighth Amendment contexts because the responsibility to provide inmates with medical care does not generally conflict with competing penological concerns. See McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060. Thus, deference need not be given to the judgment of prison officials as to decisions concerning medical needs. See Hunt v. Dental Dep't, 865 F.2d 198, 200 (9th Cir. 1989). The complete denial of medical attention may constitute deliberate indifference. See Toussaint, 801 F.2d at 1111. Delay in providing medical treatment, or interference with medical treatment, may also constitute deliberate indifference. See Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1131. Where delay is alleged, however, the prisoner must also demonstrate that the delay led to further injury. See McGuckin, 974 F.2d at 1060.

Negligence in diagnosing or treating a medical condition does not, however, give rise to a claim under the Eighth Amendment. See Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106. Moreover, a difference of opinion between the prisoner and medical providers concerning the appropriate course of treatment does not give rise to an Eighth Amendment claim. See Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 332 (9th Cir. 1996).

To the extent Plaintiff is claiming denial of medical treatment, Plaintiff's claims are mostly vague and conclusory. While he claims he was denied medication and denied treatment as well as follow up visits, he fails to state who denied him medication, what medication he was denied, and who denied him treatment.*fn1 However, Plaintiff will be provided an opportunity to try to amend these claims.

Religious Practice

The United States Supreme Court has held that prisoners retain their First Amendment rights, including the right to free exercise of religion. See O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987); see also Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 822 (1974). Thus, for example, prisoners have a right to be provided with food sufficient to sustain them in good health and which satisfies the dietary laws of their religion. See McElyea v. Babbit, 833 F.2d 196, 198 (9th Cir. 1987). In addition, prison officials are required to provide prisoners facilities where they can worship and access to clergy or spiritual leaders. See Glittlemacker v. Prasse, 428 F.2d 1, 4 (3rd Cir. 1970). Officials are not, however, required to supply clergy at state expense. See id. Inmates also must be given a "reasonable opportunity" to pursue their faith comparable to that afforded fellow prisoners who adhere to conventional religious precepts. See Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972).

However, the court has also recognized that limitations on a prisoner's free exercise rights arise from both the fact of incarceration and valid penological objectives. See McElyea, 833 F.2d at 197. For instance, under the First Amendment, the penological interest in a simplified food service has been held sufficient to allow a prison to provide orthodox Jewish inmates with a pork-free diet instead of a completely kosher diet. See Ward v. Walsh, 1 F.3d 873, 877-79 (9th Cir. 1993). Similarly, prison officials have a legitimate penological interest in getting inmates to their work and educational assignments. See Mayweathers v. Newland, 258 F.3d 930, 38 (9th Cir. 2001) (analyzing Muslim inmates' First Amendment challenge to prison work rule).

In addition, Congress enacted the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") in 2000. See Guru Nanak Sikh Soc. of Yuba City v. County of Sutter, 456 F.3d 978, 985 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing City of Boerne v. P.F. Flores, 521 U.S. 507 (1997)) . Under RLUIPA, prison officials are prohibited from imposing "substantial burdens" on religious exercise unless there exists a compelling governmental interest and the burden is the least restrictive means of satisfying that interest. See id. at 986. RLUIPA has been upheld by the Supreme Court, which held that RLUIPA's "institutionalized-persons provision was compatible with the Court's Establishment Clause jurisprudence and concluded that RLUIPA 'alleviates exceptional government-created burdens on private religious exercise.'" Warsoldier v. Woodford, 418 F.3d 989, 994 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 720 (2005)).

It is not clear whether a prisoner must specifically raise RLUIPA in order to have his claim analyzed under the statute's heightened standard. Compare Alvarez v. Hill, 518 F.3d 1152, 1157 (9th Cir. 2008) ("factual allegations establishing a 'plausible' entitlement to relief under RLUIPA, . . . satisfied the minimal notice pleading requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure."), with Henderson v. Terhune, 379 F.3d 709, 715 n.1 (9th Cir. 2004) (declining to express any opinion about whether plaintiff could prevail under RLUIPA because plaintiff brought his claim under the First Amendment only). Therefore, it is possible for a prisoner's complaint to raise both a First Amendment claim and a RLUIPA claim based on the same factual allegations. In other words, even if the plaintiff does not specifically invoke the heightened protections of RLUIPA, he may nonetheless be entitled to them. Under Henderson, however, the plaintiff's claim may be limited to the less stringent Turner "reasonableness test" if the plaintiff specifically brings the claim under the First Amendment only.

Under both the First Amendment and RLUIPA, the prisoner bears the initial burden of establishing that the defendants substantially burdened the practice of his religion by preventing him from engaging in conduct mandated by his faith. See Freeman v. Arpaio, 125 F.3d 732, 736 (9th Cir. 1997) (analyzing claim under First Amendment); see also Warsoldier, 418 F.3d at 994-95 (analyzing claim under RLUIPA). While RLUIPA does not define what constitutes a "substantial burden," pre-RLUIPA cases are instructive. See id. at 995 (discussing cases defining "substantial burden" in the First Amendment context). To show a substantial burden on the practice of religion, the prisoner must demonstrate that prison officials' conduct "burdens the adherent's practice of his or her religion by pressuring him or her to commit an act forbidden by the religion or by preventing him or her from engaging in conduct or having a religious experience which the faith mandates." Graham v. Commissioner, 822 F.2d 844, 850-51 (9th Cir. 1987). The burden must be more than a mere inconvenience. See id. at 851.

Plaintiff's claims that his religious rights are being denied is unclear. It appears that he is claiming his rights are being violated by prison officials not allowing him to practice yoga. In order for Plaintiff to show his rights have been violated, at a minimum, he will be required to show that his religious beliefs are sincerely held and that they are religious in nature. See Callahan v. Woods, 658 F.2d 679, 683 (9th Cir. 1981). If Plaintiff is going to amend his complaint to attempt to state a claim regarding his freedom of religion rights, he will be required to clearly state what rights he believes have been violated and how the defendants are substantially burdening the practice of his religion .

Property Rights

Where a prisoner alleges the deprivation of a liberty or property interest caused by the unauthorized action of a prison official, there is no claim cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 if the state provides an adequate post-deprivation remedy. See Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 129-32 (1990); Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 533 (1984). A state's post-deprivation remedy may be adequate even though it does not provide relief identical to that available under § 1983. See Hudson, 468 U.S. at 531 n.11. An available state common law tort claim procedure to recover the value of property is an adequate remedy. See Zinermon, 494 U.S. at 128-29.

To the extent Plaintiff is alleging he is being denied the property and other items he purchases through the canteen, the state provides an adequate remedy. It does not appear that he will be able to state a claim for denial of his property, nor that these defects are curable, so Plaintiff is not entitled to leave to amend this claim.

Inmate Appeals Process

Prisoners have no stand-alone due process rights related to the administrative grievance process. See Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 860 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding that there is no liberty interest entitling inmates to a specific grievance process). Because there is no right to any particular grievance process, it is impossible for due process to have been violated by ignoring or failing to properly process grievances. Numerous district courts in this circuit have reached the same conclusion. See Smith v. Calderon, 1999 WL 1051947 (N.D. Cal 1999) (finding that failure to properly process grievances did not violate any constitutional right); Cage v. Cambra, 1996 WL 506863 (N.D. Cal. 1996) (concluding that prison officials' failure to properly process and address grievances does not support constitutional claim); James v. U.S. Marshal's Service, 1995 WL 29580 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (dismissing complaint without leave to amend because failure to process a grievance did not implicate a protected liberty interest); Murray v. Marshall, 1994 WL 245967 (N.D. Cal. 1994) (concluding that prisoner's claim that grievance process failed to function properly failed to state a claim under § 1983). Prisoners do, however, retain a First Amendment right to petition the government through the prison grievance process. See Bradley v. Hall, 64 F.3d 1276, 1279 (9th Cir. 1995). Therefore, interference with the grievance process may, in certain circumstances, implicate the First Amendment.

To the extent Plaintiff is attempting to state a claim for an inadequate inmate grievance process, he has failed to do so. In addition, it does not appear this defect is curable, so Plaintiff is not entitled to leave to amend this claim.


Plaintiff also claims he is not being provided adequate time to visit with his family. It appears he is claiming he is being denied contact visitation. To that extent, prisoners have no right to contact visitation. See Barnett v. Centoni, 31 F.3d 813, 817 (9th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). The Due Process Clause does not guarantee a right of unfettered visitation. See Kentucky Dep't of Corr. v. Thompson, 490 U.S. 454, 460-61 (9189). It therefore, does not appear possible that Plaintiff could state a claim for denial of visitation rights.


Plaintiff further alleges he is being denied a healthy diet. He is not claiming he is being denied food, or that the amount of food is insufficient. Rather, he appears to be complaining about the high fat content of the food being provided.

Prisoners are entitled to food which is adequate to maintain their health. See Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1091 (9th Cir. 1996), amended by 135 F.3d 1318 (9th Cir. 1998). However, it "need not be 'tasty or aesthetically pleasing.'" Id. (quoting LeMaire v. Maass, 12 F.3d 1444, 1456 (9th Cir. 1993)). Plaintiff does not allege he has been denied adequate food, only that he the food served is high in fat. According, it does not appear possible that Plaintiff can state a claim for denial of adequate food.


Finally, Plaintiff appears to raise an issue with being denied a parole date. When a state prisoner challenges the legality of his custody and the relief he seeks is a determination that he is entitled to an earlier or immediate release, such a challenge is not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the prisoner's sole federal remedy is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. See Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973); see also Neal v. Shimoda, 131 F.3d 818, 824 (9th Cir. 1997); Trimble v. City of Santa Rosa, 49 F.3d 583, 586 (9th Cir. 1995) (per curiam). Therefore, to the extent Plaintiff is alleging he should have been granted parole, and released from custody, his claim is not cognizable under § 1983. He does not raise any issue relating to the parole proceedings, only that he was denied parole. As such, it does not appear that Plaintiff can state a claim under § 1983.

Pleading Standards

Finally, Plaintiff's complaint is inadequate in that it fails to adequately link the proper defendants to his claims. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff must allege an actual connection or link between the actions of the named defendants and the alleged deprivations. See Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). "A person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). Rather, the plaintiff must set forth specific facts as to each individual defendant's causal role in the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 634 (9th Cir. 1988).

Supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees. See Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989) (holding that there is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983). A supervisor is only liable for the constitutional violations of subordinates if the supervisor participated in or directed the violations. See id. The Supreme Court has rejected the notion that a supervisory defendant can be liable based on knowledge and acquiescence in a subordinate's unconstitutional conduct because government officials, regardless of their title, can only be held liable under § 1983 for his or her own conduct and not the conduct of others. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). When a defendant holds a supervisory position, the causal link between such defendant and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley, 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld, 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of supervisory personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). "[A] plaintiff must plead that each Government-official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the constitution." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1948.

Plaintiff has named several supervisory personnel as defendants in his complaint, including the Director and Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, as well as the Warden. There is no indication in his complaint that any of the supervisory personnel were directly involved in any violation raised in his complaint. An action will only be allowed to proceed against supervisory defendants who were specifically, personally involved in the alleged constitutional violations.

Plaintiff also states in his complaint that several of his claims have not been fully exhausted. Prisoners seeking relief under § 1983 must exhaust all available administrative remedies prior to bringing suit. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This requirement is mandatory regardless of the relief sought. See Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001) (overruling Rumbles v. Hill, 182 F.3d 1064 (9th Cir. 1999)). Because exhaustion must precede the filing of the complaint, compliance with § 1997e(a) is not achieved by exhausting administrative remedies while the lawsuit is pending. See McKinney v. Carey, 311 F.3d 1198, 1199 (9th Cir. 2002). Plaintiff does not specify which claims were not exhausted at the time he filed this action. However, Plaintiff is informed that claims which were not properly exhausted prior to filing this action will be subject to dismissal upon motion by the defendants.


Plaintiff's complaint is deficient in several ways. It violates Rule 8's brevity requirement, that a complaint contain a clear and concise statement of the claims. He fails to identify specific claims against specific defendants, setting forth the facts showing how the individual defendants violated his rights. He generally complains about the hardships of prison life, for which he generally cannot state a constitutional violation. However, he also raises claims which could be cognizable, such as denial of medical treatment and violation of his freedom of religion rights. Plaintiff is advised that if he chooses to file an amended complaint, he will be required to set forth his claim in a clear, concise way in order to allow the court and the defendants to identify his claims. He may chose do so by using headings to clearly identify which facts he alleges give rise to his medical claims and which facts give rise to his religious claims.

Because it is possible that some of the deficiencies identified in this order may be cured by amending the complaint, Plaintiff is entitled to leave to amend prior to dismissal of the entire action. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126, 1131 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Plaintiff is informed that, as a general rule, an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. See Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1262 (9th Cir. 1992). Thus, following dismissal with leave to amend, all claims alleged in the original complaint which are not alleged in the amended complaint are waived. See King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987). Therefore, if Plaintiff amends the complaint, the court cannot refer to the prior pleading in order to make Plaintiff's amended complaint complete. See Local Rule 220. An amended complaint must be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. See id.

If Plaintiff chooses to amend the complaint, he must demonstrate how the conditions complained of have resulted in a deprivation of his constitutional rights. See Ellis v. Cassidy, 625 F.2d 227 (9th Cir. 1980). The complaint must allege in specific terms how each named defendant is involved, and must set forth some affirmative link or connection between each defendant's actions and the claimed deprivation, and he must do so clearly and concisely. See May v. Enomoto, 633 F.2d 164, 167 (9th Cir. 1980); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

Because some of the defects identified in this order cannot be cured by amendment, Plaintiff is not entitled to leave to amend as to such claims. Plaintiff, therefore, now has the following choices: (1) Plaintiff may file an amended complaint which does not allege the claims identified herein as incurable, in which case such claims will be deemed abandoned and the court will address the remaining claims; or (2) Plaintiff may file an amended complaint which continues to allege claims identified as incurable, in which case the court will issue findings and recommendations that such claims be dismissed from this action, as well as such other orders and/or findings and recommendations as may be necessary to address the remaining claims.

Finally, Plaintiff is warned that failure to file an amended complaint within the time provided in this order may be grounds for dismissal of this action. See Ferdik, 963 F.2d at 1260-61; see also Local Rule 110. Plaintiff is also warned that a complaint which fails to comply with Rule 8 may be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to Rule 41(b). See Nevijel v. North Coast Life Ins. Co., 651 F.2d 671, 673 (9th Cir. 1981).

Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed with leave to amend; and

2. Plaintiff shall file an amended complaint within 30 days of the date of service of this order.

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