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Luis Valenzuela Rodriguez v. Arnold Schwarzenegger

October 4, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Alfred T. Goodwin United States Circuit Judge



On March 11, 2010, the court granted plaintiff's motion to file a fourth amended complaint.*fn1 Plaintiff has since filed two amended complaints, a supplement to the complaint, and moved to dismiss portions of his complaint.*fn2 Defendants have also moved the court to screen plaintiff's fourth amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.*fn3

I. Procedural and Factual Background

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiff Luis Valenzuela Rodriguez, a state prisoner appearing pro se, first filed this action on November 26, 2007. While finding some colorable civil-rights claims within the initial complaint, the magistrate judge first assigned to this matter dismissed without prejudice many additional claims alleged because the pleading was insufficiently detailed.*fn4 In granting leave to amend, the order identified multiple deficiencies with the complaint, principally noting that "plaintiff conflates his colorable claims regarding the alleged deprivation of First Amendment religious exercise rights with murkier claims going back to the year 2000."*fn5

After Rodriguez filed a far more lengthy amended complaint, the magistrate judge dismissed it in its entirety for failing to provide a clear statement of the claims as required under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.*fn6 Noting that plaintiff again combined his colorable claims with largely unrelated allegations, the magistrate judge noted that "plaintiff presents the kind of 'mishmash of a complaint' that has been roundly repudiated."*fn7 The order again detailed multiple deficiencies in the complaint that would have to be corrected for all of plaintiff's alleged claims to survive screening.

After the matter was transferred, this court found that Rodriguez's third amended complaint*fn8 stated colorable claims that certain defendants had deprived plaintiff of his constitutional right to the free exercise of his Native American religion.*fn9 Although the court ordered service of this complaint, Rodriguez moved to file yet another amended complaint, naming additional defendants and claims beyond those screened by this court. As noted, after the court granted this motion,*fn10 Rodriguez filed two amended complaints, a supplement to the complaint, and then moved to dismiss portions of his amended complaint.

B. The Operative Complaint

In granting plaintiff leave to file a fourth amended complaint, the court instructed that any amended complaint should be drafted in accordance with the description provided in plaintiff's motion for leave.*fn11 Based on plaintiff's filed "Response"*fn12 to the court's order, the amended complaint filed on May 5, 2010 did not comply with the court's instructions in granting leave to amend under Rule 15(a)(2). The court therefore strikes the May 5 complaint (Docket No. 66) for failure to comply with this court's order.

Plaintiff filed a further amended complaint on July 12, 2010 (Docket No. 69), which his "Response" indicates is his best effort comply with the court's instructions regarding the deficiencies in his prior pleadings. Accordingly, the court now views this July 12 pleading as the operative fourth amended complaint in this matter ("FAC"). Nonetheless, plaintiff subsequently submitted additional pages that he had mistakenly left out of the submitted complaint.*fn13 The court granted plaintiff's motion to supplement and now deems these pages part of the FAC.*fn14

C. Plaintiff's Factual Allegations

Rodriguez is a state prisoner currently detained at Kern Valley State Prison ("KVSP"), to which he was transferred after being detained at Mule Creek State Prison ("MCSP") from 2000 to 2008. The FAC largely focuses on events that occurred during his incarceration at MCSP. Rodriguez alleges that various defendants prevented his practice of his Native American religion at MCSP by restricting and preventing his access to tobacco used in religious ceremonies. He contends that this conduct resulted from the implementation of California Penal Code § 5030.1, which restricts the possession and use of tobacco products by California state inmates but requires regulations to include an exemption for "departmentally approved religious ceremonies." Cal. Penal Code § 5030.1(a).

Rodriguez contends that regulations protecting the use of tobacco for religious ceremonies were not properly drafted or implemented at MCSP. As a result, he contends that the tobacco he used for religious ceremonies was seized in June 2005 and that he was disciplined for possessing it.*fn15 Although Rodriguez states that he later succeeded through an administrative appeal to be allowed access to tobacco for religious ceremonies, he contends that he was unconstitutionally denied all access to the religious use of tobacco until 2007.*fn16

Despite the creation of an approved process for prisoners to obtain tobacco in 2007, Rodriguez contends that various defendants at MCSP retaliated against him for complaining about the denial of this access and his filing of multiple administrative appeals on the issue. Rodriguez also alleges that in October 2005, certain officers and cadets desecrated the area used for Native American religious ceremonies by digging it up and breaking certain religious artifacts.*fn17 He alleges that after a group appeal was filed, prison staff retaliated against the Native Americans at MCSP by drastically restricting access to all their religious ceremonies.*fn18

Rodriguez also alleges that prison officials refused to name a native American spiritual advisor and unfairly limited access to various religious artifacts. He further alleges that certain prison guards conspired with other inmates to file false complaints against him. He contends that he was unfairly punished because of these false complaints and eventually transferred to KVSP.

Rodriguez also alleges that MCSP staff violated his rights by repeatedly limiting his access to his legal files, hindering his ability to file petitions, administrative appeals, and federal claims. Further, he alleges that prison officials failed to protect him from a violent attack from another prisoner that occurred on April 11, 2008 at MCSP and restricted his ability to pursue an administrative complaint regarding the attack.

Once at KVSP, Rodriguez alleges that prison officials continued to restrict his ability to practice his Native American religion and to restrict his access to his legal files. He also alleges that he lost his "single-cell status" and designation as an "enhanced out-patient" without due process. Finally, Rodriguez alleges that on February 11, 2009 he was "feeling suicidal and having heart and chest pains," but that prison staff were deliberately indifferent to his physical and psychological condition and delayed his receipt of medical attention.*fn19 He further claims that he did not receive proper medical care and that prison staff did not follow instructions from his doctors regarding his medical care.

II. Discussion

A. Voluntary Dismissal ...

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