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Stanford Paul Bryant v. Matthew Cate

March 16, 2011

STANFORD PAUL BRYANT,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
MATTHEW CATE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sheila K. Oberto United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT, WITH LEAVE TO FILE AN AMENDED COMPLAINT

Plaintiff Stanford Paul Bryant ("Plaintiff") 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 ("CDCR") and is currently incarcerated at the California State Prison in Represa, California. However, the events described in Plaintiff's complaint took place while Plaintiff was incarcerated at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi, California ("CCI-Tehachapi"). Plaintiff is suing under Section 1983 for the violation of his constitutional right of access to the courts. Plaintiff names Matthew Cate (secretary of CDCR), S. Gonzalez (warden of CCI-Tehachapi), H. Stanford (senior librarian), N. Karlow (librarian), C. Baird (supervisor of academic instruction), and W. Tilley (supervisor of correctional education programs) as defendants. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Plaintiff's complaint fails to state any cognizable claims for relief. The Court will provide Plaintiff with leave to file an amended complaint which cures the deficiencies identified in this order.

I. 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 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).

In determining whether a complaint fails to state a claim, the Court uses the same pleading standard used 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. 544, 555 (2007)). "[A] complaint must contain 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] 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.'" Id. (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. Id. "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).

II. Background

Plaintiff alleges that his constitutional right of access to the courts was denied while he was incarcerated at CCI-Tehachapi. Plaintiff claims that his right of access to the courts was denied because he was not given sufficient access to the prison's law library.

Plaintiff alleges that prisoners must submit an "Inmate Request for Interview" form in order to request access to the law library. However, inmates do not know precisely when they will be given access to the library. Plaintiff alleges that he filed "Inmate Request for Interview" forms directed at Defendant Stanford because he was involved in several lawsuits. Plaintiff was given law library access for two hours on June 16, 2009, and received another two hours on June 24, 2009. However, Plaintiff did not receive any further access between June 24, 2009 and July 15, 2009. On July 5, 2009, Plaintiff filed a grievance to the warden because he was not given access to the law library. Plaintiff received one hour of library access on July 15, 2009. However, Plaintiff was handcuffed during the hour, restricting his hand movements.

On August 6, 2009, Plaintiff was interviewed by Defendants Baird and Karlow and was told that he would only receive two hours of library access a week, regardless of any court deadlines. Plaintiff was also informed that he would only receive access to the law library during his afternoon yard time. Plaintiff alleges that his yard time was unpredictable, which meant that his access to the library was sporadic and unpredictable. Plaintiff claims that he did not receive any access to the prison's law library between November 2009 and January 2010.

Plaintiff filed a grievance on December 30, 2009; however, the grievance was denied because prison officials treated the issues raised as duplicative of the issues raised in Plaintiff's July 5, 2009, grievance. Plaintiff attempted to resubmit the grievance, but received no response.

Plaintiff claims that Defendants Cate, Gonzales, Karlow, Stanford, Baird, and Tilley failed to implement adequate policies or regulations governing inmate access to the law library. Plaintiff claims that he suffered actual injury from the limited law library access when his state court civil law suit for medical malpractice was dismissed on January 15, 2010.

III. Discussion

Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 346 (1996); Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977); Bradley v. Hall, 64 F.3d 1276, 1279 (9th Cir. 1995) (discussing the right in the context of prison grievance procedures); Vandelft v. Moses, 31 F.3d 794, 796 (9th Cir. 1994); Ching v. Lewis, 895 F.2d 608, 609 (9th Cir. 1989) (per curiam). To establish a violation of the right of access to the courts, a prisoner must establish that he or she has suffered an actual injury, a jurisdictional requirement that flows from the standing doctrine and may not be waived. See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 349. An "actual injury" is "'actual prejudice with respect to contemplated or existing litigation, such as the inability to meet a filing deadline or to present a claim.'" Id. at 348. Prisoners do not have a right to a law library. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 350. Prisoners have a right of access to the courts and a law library is "merely 'one constitutionally acceptable method to assure meaningful access to the courts.'" Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351 (quoting Bounds, 430 U.S. at 830)). "[A]n inmate cannot establish relevant actual injury simply by establishing that his prison's law library or legal assistance program is subpar in some theoretical sense." Id. Thus, allegations that a prisoner was denied access to the law library is not sufficient to state a claim for interference with access to the courts. An access-to-courts claim centers around the actual injury a prisoner suffered with respect to contemplated or existing litigation, and not on the fact that the prisoner was denied time in the law library, or was removed from the law library prematurely.

The right of access to the courts does not require the State to enable prisoners to discover grievances and litigate effectively once in court. Id. at 354. Further, the right of access to the courts only pertains to attempts by inmates to pursue direct appeals from the convictions for which they were incarcerated, habeas petitions, and civil rights actions. Id. When raising an access to courts claim seeking relief for a lost opportunity to present a legal claim or relief from an unfavorable outcome in a prior legal claim, a plaintiff must show 1) the loss of a non-frivolous or arguable claim; 2) the defendant's acts ...


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