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Jeffrey Ray Coyle v. Vanessa Rivera

January 5, 2011

JEFFREY RAY COYLE,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
VANESSA RIVERA, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Marilyn L. Huff, District Judge United States District Court

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

On October 29, 2010, Defendants T. Catlett, H. Drake, G. Janda, and W. Price filed a motion to dismiss the Second Amended Complaint. (Doc. No. 24.) The Court, pursuant to its discretion under Local Rule 7.1(d)(1), determined this matter to be appropriate for resolution without oral argument and submitted it on the parties' papers. (Doc. No. 25.) On November 15, 2010, Plaintiff Jeffrey Ray Coyle filed his response in opposition to Defendants' motion. (Doc. No. 27.) To date, the Court has not received a reply in support of Defendants' motion to dismiss. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim, DENIES Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim, and DENIES Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment claim for inhumane conditions of confinement.

BACKGROUND

On December 2, 2009, Plaintiff Jeffrey Ray Coyle ("Plaintiff"), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against officials at Calipatria State Prison. (Doc. No. 1.) On August 31, 2010, Plaintiff filed his Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") against Defendants Rivera, Drake, Janda, Price, Catlett and Ochoa, alleging causes of action for: (1) retaliation in violation of First Amendment; (2) Eighth Amendment failure to protect claim; and (3) Eighth Amendment claim for inhumane conditions of confinement. (Doc. No. 22.) Plaintiff alleges he was housed in a general population unit of Calipatria State Prison from May 2002 to July 3, 2008. (Doc. No. 22 at 4.) Plaintiff alleges that on July 3, 2008, he was placed in administrative segregation in retaliation for Plaintiff filing grievances against prison officials. (Id. ¶ 4, 12.) Plaintiff alleges that he was confined to administrative segregation for seven months. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants failed to protect him by housing him with prisoners who were in administrative segregation for disciplinary reasons, which resulted in an inmate attacking Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 20-28.) Plaintiff also alleges that by placing Plaintiff in administrative segregation, Defendants deprived him of outdoor exercise for approximately four months. (Id. ¶¶ 24, 38.)

DISCUSSION

I. Legal Standard

To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Lazy

Y. Ranch v. Behrens, 546 F.3d 580, 588 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554. A complaint does not "suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554 (citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235--36 (3d ed. 2004)).

Generally, factual allegations asserted by pro se petitioners, "however inartfully pleaded," are held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Thus, complaints drafted by inmates proceeding pro se "must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers," as the Supreme Court has reaffirmed since Twombly. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, (2007) (per curiam); Hebbe v. Pliler, --- F.3d ----, 2010 WL 4673711 at *3 (9th Cir. Nov. 19, 2010). However, conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Epstein v. Wash. Energy Co., 83 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir.1996); see Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

II. First Amendment Claim for Retaliation

To sue prison officials for First Amendment retaliation under section 1983, Plaintiff must satisfy five elements: "(1) an assertion that a state actor took some adverse action against an inmate (2) because of (3) that prisoner's protected conduct, and that such action (4) chilled the inmate's exercise of his First Amendment rights, and (5) the action did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal." Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567--68 (9th Cir. 2005). Prisoners have a First Amendment right to petition the government through prison grievance procedures. Id. at 567. The Court evaluates a claim for retaliation in light of the deference that must be accorded to prison officials. Pratt v. Rowland, 65 F.3d 802, 806 (9th Cir. 1995). Plaintiff must establish a link between the exercise of his constitutional rights and the allegedly retaliatory action. Id. at 807. Plaintiff also "bears the burden of pleading . . . the absence of legitimate correctional goals for the conduct of which he complains." Id. at 806.

Plaintiff alleges that on April 24, 2008, Plaintiff filed a grievance against prison staff for misconduct and conspiracy. (SAC ¶ 13.) Plaintiff alleges that on July 3, 2008, Defendant Drake retaliated against Plaintiff by placing him in administrative segregation because Plaintiff filed a grievance against prison officials. (SAC ¶ 4.) The SAC alleges that although Defendant Drake claimed that the reason for placing Plaintiff in administrative segregation was based on confidential information regarding Plaintiff having a family member employed at the prison, Drake's actions did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal, because the confidential information was false. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.) Plaintiff also alleges that on July 10, 2008, the prison classification committee upheld the decision to place Plaintiff in administrative segregation. (Id. ¶ 12.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Ochoa, Price and Janda were part of the classification committee and had knowledge of the ongoing investigation related to the grievance filed by Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff alleges that he was confined to administrative segregation for seven months. (Id. ¶ 19.)

Defendants' motion to dismiss argues that Plaintiff fails to state a claim for retaliation, because Plaintiff fails to establish that his protected conduct was the motivating factor behind Defendants' conduct. (Doc. No. 24-1 at 5.) Defendants argue that Plaintiff was transferred to administrative segregation because the wife of Plaintiff's former brother-in-law became employed at the prison in June 2008. (Id.) Thus, Defendants argue that retaliation was not the motivating factor behind Defendant Drake's decision to place Plaintiff in administrative segregation. This argument is better suited to a motion for summary judgment. Here, Plaintiff has sufficiently alleged that he was placed in administrative segregation because of his protected conduct.

Defendants also argue that Plaintiff fails to allege that their actions had a chilling effect on him. (Id. at 6.) However, such an allegation is not required. "[A]t the pleading stage, we have never required a litigant, per impossible, to demonstrate a total chilling of his First Amendment rights to file grievances and to pursue civil rights litigation in order to perfect a retaliation claim." Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 568. The test for whether official conduct had a chilling effect is objective. "[T]he proper First Amendment inquiry asks 'whether an official's acts would chill or silence a person of ordinary firmness from future First Amendment activities.'" Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 568 (quoting Mendocino Envtl. Ctr. v. Mendocino Cnty, 192 F.3d 1283, 1300 (9th Cir.2000)). Consequently, a prisoner alleging a First Amendment retaliation claim "does not have to demonstrate that his speech was 'actually inhibited or suppressed.'" Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 569 (quoting Mendocino Envtl. Ctr., 192 F.3d at 1300). ...


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