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Brian Keith Stafford v. James Hartley


February 7, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge


Screening Order

I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff Brian Keith Stafford ("Plaintiff"), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on November 20, 2009. Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's amended complaint, filed on December 10, 2009.*fn1 *fn2

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).

"Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

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). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice," Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, __, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007)), and courts "are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences," Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949.

Under section 1983, Plaintiff must demonstrate that each defendantpersonally participated in the deprivation of his rights. Jones v. Williams, 297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002). This requires the presentation of factual allegations sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50; Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). The mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949-50; Moss, 572 F.3d at 969.

II. Plaintiff's Claims

A. Allegations

Plaintiff, an inmate incarcerated at Avenal State Prison, is attempting to pursue claims arising from the policy or regulation allowing appeals coordinators to screen out inmate appeals if they are not filed within fifteen days of the event being appealed, and the policy or rule precluding inmates serving life sentences from holding certain jobs. Plaintiff contends that he is being discriminated against by the "underground policy" pertaining to inmates with life terms and employment, and that the policy or rule violates sections 3004 and 3022 of Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations.*fn3

Plaintiff names Warden James Hartley; Appeals Coordinators N. Lopez, H. R. Allison, andJ. Hill; Lieutenant Estrada; and Associate Warden R. Ndoh as defendants, and Plaintiff is seeking damages and injunctive relief.

B. Rejection of Inmate Appeal

The refusal to process Plaintiff's inmate appeal on the ground that it was untimely provides no basis for the imposition of liability under section 1983. Inmates have no entitlement to a grievance procedure and therefore, the decision to screen out Plaintiff's appeal does not violate any federally protected right. Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 860 (9th Cir. 2003); Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988); Massey v. Helman, 259 F.3d 641, 647 (7th Cir. 2001). The deficiencies in this claim are not curable and it is dismissed, with prejudice.

C. Discrimination

Section 3004(c), entitled "Rights and Respect of Others," prohibits, in relevant part, discrimination based on "race, religion, nationality, sex, political belief, age, or physical or mental handicap," and section 3022, entitled "Equality of Inmates," provides that no inmate or group of inmates will be given or be permitted to assume control over other inmates." Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15 §§ 3004(c), 3022 (West 2010). Violations of state regulations are not sufficient to support a claim under section 1983, Nurre v. Whitehead, 580 F.3d 1087, 1092 (9th Cir. 2009); Sweaney v. Ada County, Idaho, 119 F.3d 1385, 1391 (9th Cir. 1997), but regardless, neither regulation prohibits a rule or policy disallowing inmates serving life sentences from working in certain jobs, despite Plaintiff's assertion to the contrary. To the extent Plaintiff is trying to base a discrimination claim on Title 15 regulations, the claim is dismissed, with prejudice.

Plaintiff does not have a right to a job or program opportunities in prison. Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472, 484, 115 S.Ct. 2293 (1995); Vignolo v. Miller, 120 F.3d 1075, 1077 (9th Cir. 1997); Rizzo v. Dawson, 778 F.2d 527, 531 (9th Cir. 1995). However, Plaintiff does have a constitutional right to be free from unlawful discrimination. With respect to the type of discrimination at issue here, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment may be invoked only where similarly situated individuals are being intentionally treated differently without a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose. Engquist v. Oregon Department of Agriculture, 553 U.S. 591, 601-02,128 S.Ct. 2146 (2008); Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564, 120 S.Ct. 1073 (2000); Lazy Y Ranch Ltd. v. Behrens, 546 F.3d 580, 592 (9th Cir. 2008); North Pacifica LLC v. City of Pacifica, 526 F.3d 478, 486 (9th Cir. 2008).

Inmates serving life sentences are not similarly situated to inmates serving non-life terms, and Plaintiff does not allege otherwise. Further, the complaint is devoid of any allegations suggesting that prison officials lack a legitimate governmental purpose in distinguishing between groups of inmates based on their commitment terms when it comes to prison employment opportunities. For these reasons, Plaintiff's equal protection claim fails. The Court will provide Plaintiff one opportunity to amend this claim, to the extent the deficiencies are, in good faith, curable.

III. Conclusion and Order

Plaintiff's amended complaint fails to state any claims under section 1983. The Court will grant Plaintiff an opportunity to file a second amended complaint, limited to curing the deficiencies in his equal protection claim. Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448-49 (9th Cir. 1987). Plaintiff may not change the nature of this suit by adding new, unrelated claims in his second amended complaint. George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007).

Plaintiff's second amended complaint should be brief, Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), but must state what each named defendant did that led to the deprivation of Plaintiff's constitutional or other federal rights, Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1948-49. Although accepted as true, the "[f]actual allegations must be [sufficient] to raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . ." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted).

Finally, an amended complaint supercedes the prior complaint, Forsyth v. Humana, Inc., 114 F.3d 1467, 1474 (9th Cir. 1997); King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987), and must be "complete in itself without reference to the prior or superceded pleading," Local Rule 220. Therefore, "[a]ll causes of action alleged in an original complaint which are not alleged in an amended complaint are waived." King, 814 F.2d at 567 (citing to London v. Coopers & Lybrand, 644 F.2d 811, 814 (9th Cir. 1981)); accord Forsyth, 114 F.3d at 1474.

Based on the foregoing, it is HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's claim based on the failure to process his inmate appeal is dismissed, with prejudice, for failure to state a claim;

2. Plaintiff's claim arising from the violation of state regulations is dismissed, with prejudice, for failure to state a claim;

3. Plaintiff's amended complaint, filed December 10, 2009, is dismissed for failure to state a claim;

4. The Clerk's Office shall send Plaintiff a civil rights complaint form; 5. Within thirty (30) days from the date of service of this order, Plaintiff shall file a second amended complaint, limited to curing his deficient equal protection claim; and

6. If Plaintiff fails to file a second amended complaint in compliance with this order, this action will be dismissed, with prejudice, for failure to state a claim.


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