IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA
September 9, 2010
MELVIN JOSEPH SIMMONS, PLAINTIFF,
K. WILLIAMS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
Melvin Joseph Simmons, a prisoner proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In addition to filing a complaint, plaintiff has filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis and a motion to recuse the undersigned. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and is before the undersigned pursuant to plaintiff's consent. See E.D. Cal. Local Rules, Appx. A, at (k)(4).
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. 12. 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. Motion to Recuse
On July 28, 2010, plaintiff moved to recuse the undersigned from this action. Dckt. No. 23. A judge is required to disqualify himself if his impartiality might reasonably be questioned, 28 U.S.C. § 455(a), or if he has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party, 28 U.S.C. § 455(b)(1). The decision regarding disqualification is made by the judge whose impartiality is at issue. Bernard v. Coyne, 31 F.3d 842, 843 (9th Cir. 1994). The test for disqualification under section 455 is whether a reasonable person with knowledge of all the facts would conclude that the judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned. United States v. Winston, 613 F.2d 221, 222 (9th Cir. 1980). Evaluations of impartiality, bias or prejudice under section 455 are made using an objective standard. Id. Evaluated under this objective standard, plaintiff's motion fails to demonstrate personal bias or lack of impartiality. Plaintiff's motion is therefore denied.
III. 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).
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 Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides: Every person who, under color of [state law]... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution... shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress....
42 U.S.C. § 1983. An individual defendant is not liable on a civil rights claim unless the facts establish the defendant's personal involvement in the constitutional deprivation or a causal connection between the defendant's wrongful conduct and the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 646 (9th Cir. 1989); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743-44 (9th Cir. 1978)
The court has reviewed plaintiff's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and finds it does not state a cognizable claim. Plaintiff alleges as follows: On February 11, 2009, defendant Virga removed plaintiff's single-cell status, despite plaintiff's objections. Plaintiff was then housed in the general prison population with a cellmate. On February 25, 2009, plaintiff was the victim of an assault and battery during an attempted sexual assault by plaintiff's cellmate. Plaintiff reported the incident to defendant Williams, who instructed plaintiff to report the incident to officer Nonez. Thereafter, plaintiff was placed in administrative segregation without treatment for the unspecified injuries he suffered during the attempted sexual assault. On March 10, 2009, defendant Williams allegedly falsely charged plaintiff with battery on an inmate with a weapon. Defendant James is claimed to have approved the false report prepared by Williams.
On April 3, 2009, plaintiff was denied the right to attend the disciplinary hearing and defendant Walker denied plaintiff's administrative appeal. An exhibit to plaintiff's complaint suggests that plaintiff may have been assessed a loss of 360 days of credits as a result of the battery charges filed by Williams. Dckt. No. 1 at unnumbered page 21.
Plaintiff's allegations do not suggest that defendants acted with deliberate indifference to plaintiff's safety or medical needs. Nor has plaintiff provided sufficient facts to identify any retaliatory actions. Plaintiff may not impose liability on a defendant based on the processing of an inmate appeal. Further, while plaintiff may be able to state a cognizable due process claim with respect to his disciplinary hearing, that claim appears to be barred, as explained below. Thus, to proceed plaintiff must file an amended complaint.
The Eighth Amendment protects prisoners from inhumane methods of punishment and from inhumane conditions of confinement. Morgan v. Morgensen, 465 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2006). Extreme deprivations are required to make out a conditions of confinement claim, and only those deprivations denying the minimal civilized measure of life's necessities are sufficiently grave to form the basis of an Eighth Amendment violation. Hudson v. McMillian, 503 U.S. 1, 9 (1992). In order to state a claim for violation of the Eighth Amendment, the plaintiff must allege facts sufficient to support a claim that prison officials knew of and disregarded a substantial risk of serious harm to the plaintiff. E.g., Farmer v. Brennan, 511 U.S. 825, 847 (1994); Frost v. Agnos, 152 F.3d 1124, 1128 (9th Cir. 1998). To state a claim defendants provided constitutionally inadequate medical care in violation of the Eighth Amendment, plaintiff must allege acts or omissions evidencing identified defendants knew of and disregarded plaintiff's serious medical needs. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Farmer, 511 U.S. at 835-37. Neither defendant's negligence nor plaintiff's general disagreement with the treatment he received suffices to state a claim. Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106; Hutchinson v. United States, 838 F.2d 390, 394 (9th Cir. 1988); Jackson v. McIntosh, 90 F.3d 330, 331 (9th Cir. 1996).
To prove retaliation, plaintiff must show that a state actor took some adverse action against him because of his protected conduct, and that such action chilled the inmate's exercise of his First Amendment rights and did not reasonably advance a legitimate penological purpose. See Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567-68 (9th Cir. 2005); Barnett v. Centoni, 31 F.3d 813, 815-16 (9th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). Plaintiff must show that the type of activity he was engaged in was protected by the First Amendment and that the protected conduct was a substantial or motivating factor for the alleged retaliatory acts. See Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 287 (1977); Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 567-68. Retaliation is not established simply by showing adverse activity by defendant after protected speech; rather, plaintiff must show a nexus between the two. See Huskey v. City of San Jose, 204 F.3d 893, 899 (9th Cir. 2000).
Plaintiff may not impose liability on defendants simply because they played a role in processing plaintiff's inmate appeals, as there are no constitutional requirements regarding how a grievance system is operated. See Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 860 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding that prisoner's claimed loss of a liberty interest in the processing of his appeals does not violate due process because prisoners lack a separate constitutional entitlement to a specific prison grievance system).
The Due Process Clause protects prisoners from being deprived of liberty without due process of law. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). In a disciplinary proceeding where a liberty interest is at stake, due process requires that minimum procedural requirements be met, including: (1) written notice of the charges; (2) at least 24 hours between the time the prisoner receives written notice and the time of the hearing, so that the prisoner may prepare his defense; (3) a written statement by the fact finders of the evidence they rely on and reasons for taking disciplinary action; (4) the right of the prisoner to call witnesses in his defense, when permitting him to do so would not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals; and (5) legal assistance to the prisoner where the prisoner is illiterate or the issues presented are legally complex. Wolff, 418 U.S. at 564-70. However, any due process claim arising out of the alleged disciplinary hearing may be barred, as it appears from the complaint that plaintiff was assessed 360 days of good time credit as a result of the hearing. Dckt. No. 1 at unnumbered page 21. Success on such a claim would necessarily imply that the forfeiture of credits was invalid. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994). 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); see also Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641 (1997); Heck, 512 U.S. 477. Where "success in a... [section] 1983 damages action would implicitly question the validity of conviction or duration of sentence, the litigant must first achieve favorable termination of his available state, or federal habeas, opportunities to challenge the underlying conviction or sentence." Muhammad v. Close, 540 U.S. 749, 751 (2004) (citing to Heck, 512 U.S. 477); Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 648 (1997) (applying Heck to a prison disciplinary hearing where good-time credits were affected). Because a loss of credits affects the duration of plaintiff's sentence, plaintiff's claim that he was denied due process at the hearing which appears to have resulted in the forfeiture of credits, would be barred until plaintiff invalidated the results of those proceedings.
As the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, it is dismissed with leave to amend. Any amended complaint must adhere to the following requirements:
It must be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. E.D. Cal. Local Rule 220; see Loux v. Rhay, 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Once plaintiff files an amended complaint, the original pleading is superseded.
It must show that the federal court has jurisdiction and that plaintiff's action is brought in the right place, that plaintiff is entitled to relief if plaintiff's allegations are true, and 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, 588 F.2d at 743 (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).
It must contain a caption including the name of the court and the names of all parties. Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a).
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). Plaintiff may join multiple claims if they are all against a single defendant. Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a). Unrelated claims against different defendants must be pursued in multiple lawsuits. "The controlling principle appears in Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a): 'A party asserting a claim... may join,  as independent or as alternate claims, as many claims... as the party has against an opposing party.' Thus multiple claims against a single party are fine, but Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2. Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits, not only to prevent the sort of morass [a multiple claim, multiple defendant] suit produce[s], but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees-for the Prison Litigation Reform Act limits to 3 the number of frivolous suits or appeals that any prisoner may file without prepayment of the required fees. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g)." George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2) (joinder of defendants not permitted unless both commonality and same transaction requirements are satisfied). Plaintiff may not change the nature of this suit by alleging new, unrelated claims in an amended complaint. George, 507 F.3d at 607 (no "buckshot" complaints).
The allegations must be short and plain, simple and direct and describe the relief plaintiff seeks. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a); Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002); Galbraith v. County of Santa Clara, 307 F.3d 1119, 1125 (9th Cir. 2002). 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 Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for violation of these instructions.
Plaintiff must sign the complaint. Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(a). By signing an amended complaint, plaintiff certifies he has made reasonable inquiry and has evidentiary support for his allegations and that 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). By signing an amended complaint plaintiff 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, the court hereby orders that:
1. Plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis, docket number 12, is granted.
2. Plaintiff's motion for recusal, docket number 23, is denied.
3. The complaint is dismissed with leave to amend within 30 days. The amended complaint must bear the docket number assigned to this case and be titled "First Amended Complaint." Failure to comply with this order will result in this action being dismissed. If plaintiff files an amended complaint stating a cognizable claim the court will proceed with service of process by the United States Marshal.
© 1992-2010 VersusLaw Inc.