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Chess v. Felker

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


July 9, 2010

MICHAEL CHESS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOM FELKER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This proceeding was referred to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 302.

Plaintiff has submitted a declaration that makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted. Plaintiff is required to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action.

28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a), 1915(b)(1). By this order, plaintiff will be assessed an initial partial filing fee in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). By separate order, the court will direct the appropriate agency to collect the initial partial filing fee from plaintiff's prison trust account and forward it to the Clerk of the Court. Thereafter, plaintiff will be obligated to make monthly payments of twenty percent of the preceding month's income credited to plaintiff's prison trust account. These payments will be forwarded by the appropriate agency to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in plaintiff's account exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is paid in full. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

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).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.

Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous when it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227.

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "requires only 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the 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) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, a complaint must contain more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement [of facts] need only 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 555) (citations and internal quotations marks omitted). In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, id., and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974).

Named as defendants in plaintiff's complaint are Warden Felker, Correctional Officer Quezada, Correctional Officer Wheeler, Deputy District Attorney Burns, Associate Warden Gower, Captain Phillips and Chief of Appeals Grannis.

Plaintiff alleges that on May 13, 2008, he was placed in administrative segregation based on unsubstantiated charges made against him by defendants Quezada and Wheeler for conspiring to bring narcotics into the prison. In conjunction with these charges, a large amount of money was allegedly taken from plaintiff's bank account by defendants Quezada and Gower. Defendants Phillips and Grannis also allegedly endorsed the taking of these funds. Plaintiff alleges that although he was exonerated of the charges, defendant Felker did not return the money taken from his account. Plaintiff also alleges that defendant Deputy District Attorney Burns also was involved in the taking of his funds. According to exhibits attached to the complaint, the Lassen County Superior Court ordered the money to be seized from plaintiff's bank account. As relief, plaintiff seeks money damages as well as a return of the money taken from his bank account.

Plaintiff alleges that the confiscation of his money by defendants violated his right to due process. The United States Supreme Court has held that "an unauthorized intentional deprivation of property by a state employee does not constitute a violation of the procedural requirements of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment if a meaningful post-deprivation remedy for the loss is available." Hudson v. Palmer, 468 U.S. 517, 533 (1984). Thus, where the state provides a meaningful post-deprivation remedy, only authorized, intentional deprivations constitute actionable violations of the Due Process Clause. An authorized deprivation is one carried out pursuant to established state procedures, regulations, or statutes.

Piatt v. McDougall, 773 F.2d 1032, 1036 (9th Cir. 1985); see also Knudson v. City of Ellensburg, 832 F.2d 1142, 1149 (9th Cir. 1987).

Plaintiff has alleged an intentional and authorized taking of his money. Accordingly, he has stated a colorable claim against defendants Felker, Gower, Quezada, Phillips and Grannis.

While plaintiff alleges that defendant Wheeler falsely charged him with bringing drugs into the prison, he does not claim that defendant Wheeler was involved in the taking of his money. An "inmate has no constitutionally guaranteed immunity from being falsely or wrongly accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest." Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 951 (2d Cir.1986). An inmate who has been falsely accused can state a constitutional claim if the filing of the false report was done in retaliation for the exercise of his constitutional rights, see Hines v. Gomez, 108 F.3d 265, 267 (9th Cir.1997), or the inmate is not afforded the procedural due process safeguards required by Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539 (1974).

Plaintiff does not allege that defendant Wheeler was motivated by retaliation when he charged him with conspiring to bring drugs into the prison. In addition, because the charges were later dismissed plaintiff received all process he was due. Accordingly, plaintiff has not stated a colorable claim against defendant Wheeler based on his making allegedly false charges against him.

As for defendant Deputy District Attorney Burns, the United States Supreme Court explained in Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 424 (1976), "a prosecutor enjoys absolute immunity from § 1983 suits for damages when he acts within the scope of his prosecutorial duties." The "[f]iling charges and initiating prosecution are functions that are integral to a prosecutor's work." Mishler v. Clift, 191 F.3d 998, 1008 (9th Cir. 1999). Prosecutors have immunity for their decisions about whether to prosecute a case. Botello v. Gammick, 413 F.3d 971, 976 (9th Cir. 2005).

Plaintiff's claim against defendant Burns is based on defendant Burns' involvement in the court action to seize the money from plaintiff's bank account. Because defendant Burns' involvement in the seizure was within the scope of his prosecutorial duties, he is entitled to absolute immunity.

For the reasons stated above, the court finds that the complaint does not state a cognizable claim against defendants Burns and Wheeler. The claims against those defendants are hereby dismissed with leave to amend.

Plaintiff may proceed forthwith to serve defendants Felker, Gower, Quezada, Phillips and Grannis and pursue his claims against only those defendants, or he may delay serving any defendant and attempt to state a cognizable claim against defendants Burns and Wheeler. If plaintiff elects to attempt to amend his complaint to state a cognizable claim against defendants Burns and Wheeler, he has thirty days in which to do so. He is not obligated to amend his complaint.

If plaintiff elects to proceed forthwith against defendants Felker, Gower, Quezada, Phillips and Grannis, against whom he has stated a potentially cognizable claim for relief, then within thirty days he must return materials for service of process enclosed herewith. In this event the court will construe plaintiff's election as consent to dismissal of all claims against defendants Burns and Wheeler without prejudice.

Any amended complaint must show the federal court has jurisdiction, the action is brought in the right place, and plaintiff is entitled to relief if plaintiff's allegations are true. It must contain a request for particular relief. Plaintiff must identify as a defendant only persons who personally participated in a substantial way in depriving plaintiff of a federal constitutional right. Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978) (a person subjects another to the deprivation of a constitutional right if he does an act, participates in another's act or omits to perform an act he is legally required to do that causes the alleged deprivation). If plaintiff contends he was the victim of a conspiracy, he must identify the participants and allege their agreement to deprive him of a specific federal constitutional right.

In an amended complaint, the allegations must be set forth in numbered paragraphs. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b). Plaintiff may join multiple claims if they are all against a single defendant. Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a). If plaintiff has more than one claim based upon separate transactions or occurrences, the claims must be set forth in separate paragraphs. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(b).

The federal rules contemplate brevity. See Galbraith v. County 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. Plaintiff must not include any preambles, introductions, argument, speeches, explanations, stories, griping, vouching, evidence, attempts to negate possible defenses, summaries, and the like. McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177-78 (9th Cir. 1996) (affirming dismissal of § 1983 complaint for violation of Rule 8 after warning); see 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. 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.

An amended complaint must be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. Local Rule 15-220; see Loux v. Rhay, 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Once plaintiff files an amended complaint, the original pleading is superseded.

By signing an amended complaint, plaintiff certifies he has made reasonable inquiry and has evidentiary support for his allegations, and for violation of this rule the court may impose sanctions sufficient to deter repetition by plaintiff or others. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11.

A prisoner may bring no § 1983 action until he has exhausted such administrative remedies as are available to him. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). The requirement is mandatory. Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001). California prisoners or parolees may appeal "any departmental decision, action, condition, or policy which they can demonstrate as having an adverse effect upon their welfare." Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, §§ 3084.1, et seq. An appeal must be presented on a CDC form 602 that asks simply that the prisoner "describe the problem" and "action requested." Therefore, this court ordinarily will review only claims against prison officials within the scope of the problem reported in a CDC form 602 or an interview or claims that were or should have been uncovered in the review promised by the department. Plaintiff is further admonished that by signing an amended complaint he certifies his claims are warranted by existing law, including the law that he exhaust administrative remedies, and that for violation of this rule plaintiff risks dismissal of his entire action.

Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's request for leave to proceed in forma pauperisis granted.

2. Plaintiff is obligated to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. Plaintiff is assessed an initial partial filing fee in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). All fees shall be collected and paid in accordance with this court's order to the Director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation filed concurrently herewith.

3. Claims against defendants Wheeler and Burns are dismissed with leave to amend. Within thirty days of service of this order, plaintiff may amend his complaint to attempt to state cognizable claims against these defendants. Plaintiff is not obliged to amend his complaint.

4. The allegations in the pleading are sufficient at least to state potentially cognizable claims against defendants Felker, Gower, Quezada, Phillips and Grannis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. With this order the Clerk of the Court shall provide to plaintiff a blank summons, a copy of the complaint filed May 24, 2010, 5 USM-285 forms and instructions for service of process on defendants Felker, Gower, Quezada, Phillips and Grannis. Within thirty days of service of this order plaintiff may return the attached Notice of Submission of Documents with the completed summons, the completed USM-285 forms, and 6 copies of the endorsed May 24, 2010 complaint. The court will transmit them to the United States Marshal for service of process pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 4. Defendants Felker, Gower, Quezada, Phillips and Grannis will be required to respond to plaintiff's allegations within the deadlines stated in Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a)(1). In this event, the court will construe plaintiff's election to proceed forthwith as consent to an order dismissing his defective claims against defendants Wheeler and Burns without prejudice.

5. Failure to comply with this order will result in a recommendation that this action be dismissed.

NOTICE OF SUBMISSION OF DOCUMENTS

Plaintiff hereby submits the following documents in compliance with the court's order filed in July 2010:

1 completed summons form completed forms USM-285 copies of the Complaint

_____ Plaintiff consents to the dismissal of defendants Wheeler and Burns without prejudice.

OR _____ Plaintiff opts to file a first amended complaint and delay service of process.

Dated:

Plaintiff

20100709

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