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Woolridge v. California Dep't of Corrections

June 30, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Carlos T. Bea United States Circuit Judge, sitting by designation

Order re 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Complaint

Plaintiff Joshua Woolridge ("Woolridge"), a California prisoner proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the California Department of Corrections. Woolridge claims that he was retaliated against for exercising his right to file prison grievances, that prison officials negligently placed him in a gang-member cell block despite the fact he was not a gang member, that he has been denied access to adequate recreation, that he has been denied access to the law library, that he has been refused proper medical care for his Type I diabetes, that he is not receiving proper mental health treatment, and that prison officials consume state food without paying for it. Woolridge has not exhausted his administrative remedies with respect to his retaliation claim. He lacks standing to challenge the prison official's failure to pay for state food they consume. With respect to all of his other claims he has failed to allege sufficient facts to state a claim for relief. Woolridge's claim relating to prison guard's payment for food is DISMISSED with prejudice. His other claims are DISMISSED without prejudice.

I. Background

Woolridge is currently a prisoner at Kern Valley State Prison in Delano, California. (Docket No. 18.) He filed his complaint on July 9, 2008. (Docket No. 1.) The case was assigned to a magistrate judge and then a district court judge before it was reassigned on December 23, 2008, to Judge Carlos T. Bea of the Ninth Circuit, who sits by designation. (Docket No. 17.)

Woolridge's complaint alleges as follows. Woolridge was transferrred to the Sierra Facility at the California State Prison in Lassen County on February 20, 2008. (Compl. 2.) The Sierra Classification Committee housed him in a "crip dorm"*fn1 despite the fact Woolridge is not a gang member. (Id. at 11.) Since his arrival date, he had requested, on numerous occasions, an immediate transfer due to "safety concerns." (Id.)

On May 30, 2008, Woolridge was attacked in the "Crip dorm" by fellow inmate Aaron Snell, a member of the 69th Blvd. Manifa Crip gang from Long Beach. (Id. at 7.) Woolridge suffered a broken left index finger, and several fractured ribs as a result. (Id. at 2.) Snell also stole some of Woolridge's personal property. (Id.) On June 6, 2008, Woolridge had surgery to repair the broken finger. (Id.)

After the fight, on May 30, 2008, Woolridge was moved to administrative segregation. (Id. at 10.) Officer T. Williams was assigned to investigate the fight. (Id.) On June 11, 2008, Woolridge filed a Form 602 Inmate Appeal grievance against the Sierra Classification Committee Captain E.F. Musser; Lieutenant R. P. Roman; Correctional Counselor II, A. Fiegner; and Correctional Counselor I, D. Hurh for negligently and with "reckless disregard" housing Woolridge in a "Crip dorm" despite the fact Woolridge was not a gang member. In the grievance, Woolridge also blamed the officials for the theft of his property. (Id. at 11.) On June 13, 2008, in retaliation for Woolridge's June 11 grievance, Officer Williams "illegally concluded" that Woolridge, not Snell, started the May 30 fight. (Id. at 11--12.) On June 16, 2008, also in retaliation for Woolridge's June 11 grievance, Lieutenant R. P. Roman gave Woolridge a CDC-115 RVR for alleged "Battery on an Inmate" for his fight with Snell. (Id. at 12.) On June 19, 2008, Woolridge was told he would remain in administrative segregation for ninety days pending resolution of the CDC-115 RVR. (Id. at 3.)

II. Legal Standard

Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), a federal court must conduct a preliminary screening in any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity, or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review, this Court must identify any cognizable claims and dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. § 1915A(b)(1)--(2); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Pro se pleadings must, however, be liberally construed. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).

III. Discussion

A. Named Defendants

The only defendant Woolridge has named in the caption of his complaint is the California Department of Corrections. However, the state is not a proper defendant to this suit because "a State is not a person within the meaning of § 1983."*fn2 Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64 (1989). Because the California Department of Corrections is an arm of the state government, Woolridge has no cause of action against it. All claims against the California Department of Corrections are therefore dismissed with prejudice.

But, that is not the end of Woolridge's suit. The Ninth Circuit has held that "even if an improper defendant is indicated in the caption, [a court] may consider a complaint to have named the proper defendant if the allegations made in the body of the complaint make it plain that the party is intended as a defendant." Barsten v. Dep't of the Interior, 896 F.2d 422, 423 (9th Cir. 1989). Here, as explained below, Woolridge has named the proper defendant with respect to some of his claims.

B. Exhaustion

The exhaustion requirement of the PLRA states: "No action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under section 1983 of this title, or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a).*fn3 Under the PLRA, a prisoner "may initiate litigation in federal court only after the administrative process ends and leaves his grievances unredressed. It would be inconsistent with the objectives of the statute to let him submit his complaint any earlier than that." Vaden v. Summerhill, 449 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir. 2006). Although PLRA exhaustion is an affirmative defense, the Court may sua sponte dismiss the amended complaint if Woolridge's factual allegations, taken as true, establish nonexhaustion. See Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 214--15 (2007); Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1120 (9th Cir. 2003). Further, this court must dismiss any nonexhausted claim even if that claim has gone through third-level review while suit was pending, because it was not exhausted at the time Woolridge filed suit. See, e.g., ...

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