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J.R. Wilkerson A.K.A. Adonai M. El-Shaddai v. D.L. Runnels

March 10, 2011



Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In his amended complaint plaintiff asserts the following claims for relief based on two events which allegedly took place while he was incarcerated at High Desert State Prison (HDSP): (1) his reassignment from a 270E- design building to a 180E- design building, which he claims was an adverse placement in a "higher security" facility, and (2) being assaulted in a holding cell at the Correctional Treatment Center (CTC) by an inmate who was a member of a gang that was hostile toward plaintiff because plaintiff is African-American. Plaintiff has also claimed that prison officials obstructed his access to the prison grievance process in violation of his rights under the First Amendment.

The court screened the amended complaint as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and found that plaintiff's allegation of a First Amendment violation did not state a cognizable claim. (See Docket No. 18.) The court ordered service on defendants Runnels, Baker and McCulley as to plaintiff's remaining claims: (1) that plaintiff was denied notice and a hearing on his reassignment to the 180E- design facility, in violation of his rights to due process and equal protection (Claim 1); (2) that plaintiff's placement in an allegedly dangerous environment violated his rights under the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments (Claim 3); and (3) that plaintiff's placement in the holding cell with a member of a gang hostile toward plaintiff was deliberately indifferent to a substantial risk to plaintiff's safety, in violation of the Eighth Amendment (Claim 4).*fn1 Defendants now move for summary judgment in their favor as to all of plaintiff's claims.

I. Factual Background

The evidence presented to the court on summary judgment is as follows. Plaintiff is serving a sentence of life with the possibility of parole. At all times relevant to his complaint, plaintiff was a Level IV inmate and had a placement score of 254. Defendants' Undisputed Fact (DUF) 5 (Docket 38-2).

A. Plaintiff's Housing Assignments

When plaintiff arrived at HDSP, he and several other inmates were housed in a 180E-design facility on the prison's D-Yard because there were no beds available in the 270E-design facility on B-Yard. DUF 8. Approximately two months later, he was moved to the 270E- design facility, where he stayed for approximately one month, until he was reassigned again to the 180E-design facility on D-Yard. DUF 9-10. D-Yard is split into an upper and lower level. When plaintiff was reassigned to the 180E-design facility on D-Yard, he was placed on the upper level. DUF 10.

It is not disputed that the reason for moving plaintiff back to the 180E-design facility on D-Yard was to accommodate housing needs and was not disciplinary in nature. DUF 11. It is also undisputed that, while assigned to Upper D-Yard, plaintiff was able to participate in religious programs and received the same diet. DUF 14-15. The cells on Upper D-Yard are larger than the cells in the 270E-degree design on B-Yard. DUF 15. Plaintiff had a cell mate on both housing yards. Id.

Plaintiff alleges in his amended complaint that there was a "war" between gang-affiliated African-American inmates and the Northern Mexican prison gang on the Lower D-Yard. Amended Complaint ¶ 9. Lower D-Yard was on lockdown because of the hostilities, but Upper D-Yard, where plaintiff was housed, was not on lockdown. DUF 19-20. At all relevant times, there were no Northern Mexican gang members on Upper D-Yard. DUF 21.

There is only one CTC for all inmates at HDSP. DUF 23. B. Plaintiff's Assault in the CTC

On January 6, 2005, plaintiff was escorted to the CTC to receive new eyeglasses. DUF 24. He was placed in holding cell number 2 (Tank 2) at the CTC with other inmates from Upper D-Yard. DUF 27. Defendants Baker and McCulley, both correctional officers, were assigned to the CTC that day.

According to defendant Baker's affidavit, he briefly left the CTC to dispose of some trash. See Declaration of B. Baker in Support of Summary Judgment ¶ 4 (Docket No. 38-3). When he returned, he found an unattended inmate standing in the holding area. Id. at ¶ 5. Baker states it was the first time he had seen the inmate. Id. He also declares that he did not know the inmate, nor was he aware of the inmate's affiliation with the Northern Mexican prison gang. Id. Baker states he "asked the inmate what yard he was from. He told me he was from D-yard. He did not say anything else. The inmate did not appear to be affiliated with any gang. The inmate was not acting threatening or belligerent, and no words were spoken between him and the Plaintiff." Id. at ¶¶ 6-7.

Baker states that "[i]t was the practice to place inmates from the same yard in the same holding cell." Id. at ¶ 8. He opened the door to the holding cell where plaintiff sat, and, "[w]ithout any warning, the inmate took one step into the holding tank and struck Plaintiff (who was seated near the door) once on the side of the head. Because I was within arm's reach of the attacking inmate, I immediately subdued him, and there was no further assault." Id. at ¶¶ 8-9. Baker states that plaintiff had a red mark on the side of his head but appeared to have no serious injuries stemming from the attack. Id. at ¶ 10.

For his part, defendant McCulley submits an affidavit stating he also did not know the hostile inmate nor that the inmate was affiliated with the Northern Mexican gang. Declaration of C. McCulley in Support of Summary Judgment ¶ 4 (Docket No. 38-7). Defendant McCulley states he was not immediately present during the incident and did not see plaintiff get assaulted, nor did he instruct Baker to place the inmate in Tank 2 with plaintiff. Id. at ¶¶ 5-6, 9.

III. Plaintiff's Allegations

Plaintiff disputes Baker's and McCulley's accounts of how the ...

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