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Womack v. Grannis

October 22, 2010



I. Procedural History

Plaintiff Daniel Womack is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and is housed at the California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility and State Prison ("SATF") in Corcoran, California. Plaintiff filed a complaint on July 17, 2009, alleging a violation of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. An order dismissing the complaint, with leave to amend within thirty days, was issued on December 17, 2009. Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on January 11, 2010. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the Plaintiff has failed to state a cognizable claim.

II. Screening Requirement

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 "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted," or that "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C § 1915(e)(2)(B).

In determining whether a complaint states a claim, the Court looks to the pleading standard under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Under Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). "[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007)). "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "[A] complaint [that] pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability . . . 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Further, although a court must accept as true all factual allegations contained in a complaint, a court need not accept a plaintiff's legal conclusions as true. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949. "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

III. Amended Complaint

Plaintiff and several other inmates were accused of having participated in a work stoppage at SATF and were charged with a rule violation. (Doc. 8, Amend. Comp., ¶ 13.) On April 22, 2008, a rule violation hearing took place. (Id., ¶ 14.) Prior to conducting the hearings, the hearing officer, Defendant Baires, explained the process to the inmates. Plaintiff alleges that during this explanation, and prior to any evidence being presented, Defendant Baires told the inmates that he was going to find them guilty. Defendant Baires then went on to describe the punishment they would receive.(Id., ¶ 15.)

The hearings for all of the other inmates were conducted. (Id., ¶ 17.) Each hearing was brief, the time it took to read the charges, take the plea, and deliver the judgment. (Id., ¶ 18.) Defendant Baires found no mitigating factors in sentencing the inmates. (Id., ¶ 31.) Plaintiff, the last inmate to be heard, pled not guilty and objected to Defendant Baires presiding over the hearings due to bias, which he alleged was exhibited by the statement made by Defendant Baires prior to the hearing that he would find the inmates guilty. (Id., ¶ 20.) Defendant Baires proceeded to conduct the hearing, which lasted approximately thirty minutes. (Id., ¶ 22.) Plaintiff called witnesses during his defense. (Id., ¶ 33.) At the conclusion of the hearing, Plaintiff was found guilty and judgment was imposed. (Id., ¶¶ 24-25.) Defendant Baires found no aggravating factors in sentencing Plaintiff. (Id., ¶ 33.)

Judgment was for Plaintiff to be removed from his job assignment and placed into work/privilege ("w/p") group C. This designation required Plaintiff to dispose of personal property by mailing it to a willing recipient, donating it or destroying it. (Id., ¶ 25.) Plaintiff was only allowed out of his cell on weekdays for two meals and one and one half hours of recreation. (Id., ¶ 26.) He also lost good time credit. (Id., ¶ 30.) Plaintiff alleges that the inmates who pled guilty were not placed in C status and were permitted to select their punishment from a list provided by Baires. (Id., ¶ 26.) Additionally, many of the other inmates who pled guilty to the rule violation were given job assignments within a few days. Several of the inmates were given assignments at the Prison Industry Authority where they earn the highest wage available to inmates at SATF. (Id., ¶¶ 28-29.) On March 17, 2008, Defendant Grannis denied Plaintiff's appeal. (Id., ¶ 40.)

On May 30, 2008, Plaintiff appeared before the Unit Classification Committee ("UCC"), chaired by Defendant Lais, for a review of Plaintiff's program. (Id., ¶ 44.) The UCC removed Plaintiff from his assignment, established w/p group A2B, and removed his gate-pass. (Id., ¶ 45.) Plaintiff objected to the decision of the UCC alleging that he was being punished more severely than similarly situated inmates. (Id., ¶ 46.) Defendant Lais told Plaintiff that the other inmates appeared before a UCC chaired by different prison officials and it was Defendant Lais' policy to proscribe the maximum allowable punishment for rule violations. (Id., ¶ 50.)

On June 4, 2008, Plaintiff filed an appeal challenging the disciplinary proceedings, claiming there was a "great disparity in dispositions and punishments imposed upon the several inmates found guilty of the same infraction in the same incident." (Id., ¶ 35.) On July 13, 2008, Plaintiff filed an appeal complaining about the alleged unequal treatment. (Id., ¶ 52.) Defendant Gomez denied Plaintiff's first level appeal on July 22, 2008. (Id., ¶ 36.) On September 22, 2008, Defendant Hall denied Plaintiff's second level appeal. (Id., ¶ 53.) On March 16, 2009, Defendant Grannis denied Plaintiff's director's level appeal. (Id., ¶ 57.) On June 9, 2009, Plaintiff attended a UCC to conduct an annual program review. (Id., ¶ 61.) At that hearing Plaintiff's good conduct credits were restored. (Id., ¶ 62.)

Plaintiff alleges that as a result of being found guilty at the disciplinary hearing, the decision by the UCC, and the denials of his appeals, he was 1) assessed a loss of thirty days credit; 2) placed into C status for ninety days; 3) removed from his job assignment; 4) "placed into 'w/p group A2B' for thirteen months;" 5) confined to his cell for all but approximately two hours on weekdays; and 6) denied all employment and many recreational program activities that were available to other inmates that were "found guilty of the same rule violation for the same incident." (Id., ¶ 63.)

Plaintiff brings suit against Defendants Baires, Grannis, Gomez, Hall, and Lais in their official and individual capacities, for violations of his due process and equal protection rights, alleging he was treated more harshly than the ...

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