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Francis T. Williamson v. James A. Yates


February 15, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara A. McAuliffe United States Magistrate Judge



I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff Francis T. Williamson is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Currently before the Court is the complaint, filed January 3, 2011.

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 "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted," or that "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

In determining whether a complaint states a claim, the Court looks to the pleading standard 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, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955 (2007)).

II. Complaint Allegations

Plaintiff is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") and is housed at Pleasant Valley State Prison. This action is brought against Defendants James A. Yates, R. Fisher, Jr., D. Foreman, F. Douthat, L. Harton, G. Noel, and J. Morgan in their individual and official capacities for violations of due process and equal protection. Plaintiff alleges that any time he submits an inmate appeal that is sensitive or controversial it is deliberately lost or appeals coordinators refuse to process or ignore the receipt of the appeal.

For the reasons set forth below Plaintiff has failed to state a cognizable claim for relief. Plaintiff shall be given the opportunity to file an amended complaint curing the deficiencies described by the Court in this order. In the paragraphs that follow, the Court will provide Plaintiff with the legal standards that appear to apply to his claims. Plaintiff should carefully review the standards and amend only those claims that he believes, in good faith, are cognizable.

III. Discussion

A. Liability

Under section 1983, Plaintiff must demonstrate that each defendant personally 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). "[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.'" Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (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. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "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).

Plaintiff may not bring suit against Defendants in their official capacity. "The Eleventh Amendment bars suits for money damages in federal court against a state, its agencies, and state officials acting in their official capacities." Aholelei v. Dept. of Public Safety, 488 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2007). However, the Eleventh Amendment does not bar suits seeking damages from public officials acting in their personal capacities. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 30 (1991). "Personal-capacity suits . . . seek to impose individual liability upon a government officer for actions taken under color of state law." Id. at 25. Because each defendant is only liable for his own individual actions, Plaintiff cannot state a claim collectively against the defendants by setting forth the responsibilities of appeals officers in general.

Additionally, Plaintiff attempts to state a claim against Defendant Yates alleging that he has ultimate responsibility for the operations of the prison. Government officials may not be held liable for the actions of their subordinates under a theory of respondeat superior. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1948. Since a government official cannot be held liable under a theory of vicarious liability for section 1983 actions, Plaintiff must plead that the official has violated the Constitution through his own individual actions. Id. at 1948. Plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief under section 1983 because he has not linked any named defendant with some affirmative act or omission that demonstrates a violation of Plaintiff's federal rights.

B. Due Process

Plaintiff fails to state a due process claim based upon the failure to process his appeals. The Due Process Clause protects against the deprivation of liberty without due process of law. Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221, 125 S. Ct. 2384, 2393 (2005). In order to state a cause of action for a deprivation of due process, a plaintiff must first identify a liberty interest for which the protection is sought. Id. There is no liberty interest in a prison grievance procedure as it is a procedural right only. Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988); Buckley, 997 F.2d at 495 (8th Cir. 1993).

Additionally, Plaintiff does not have a constitutionally protected right to have his appeals accepted or processed. Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 860 (9th Cir. 2003); Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988). The prison grievance procedure does not confer any substantive rights upon inmates and actions in reviewing appeals cannot serve as a basis for liability under section 1983. Buckley v. Barlow, 997 F.2d 494, 495 (8th Cir. 1993).

C. Equal Protection

The Equal Protection Clause requires that all persons who are similarly situated should be treated alike. Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 686 (2001); City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). Plaintiff's complaint is devoid of any factual allegations that any defendant intentionally discriminated against him based on Plaintiff's membership in a protected class, Lee, 250 F.3d at 686; Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (1998), or that similarly situated individuals were intentionally treated differently without a rational relationship to a legitimate state purpose, Thornton v. City of St. Helens, 425 F.3d 1158, 1167 (2005); Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000). Accordingly, Plaintiff fails to state a cognizable claim.

D. Title 15

Section 1983 provides a cause of action where a state actor's "conduct deprived the claimant of some right, privilege, or immunity protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States." Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 632 (9th Cir. 1987) (quoting Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981), overruled on other grounds, Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328 (1986)). There is no independent cause of action for a violation of Title 15 regulations. "To the extent that the violation of a state law amounts to the deprivation of a state-created interest that reaches beyond that guaranteed by the federal Constitution, [s]section 1983 offers no redress." Sweaney v. Ada County, Idaho, 119 F.3d 1385, 1391 (9th Cir. 1997), quoting Lovell v. Poway Unified Sch. Dist., 90 F.3d 367, 370 (9th Cir. 1996). Nor is there any liability under § 1983 for violating prison policy. Cousins v. Lockyer, 568 F.3d 1063, 1070 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Gardner v. Howard, 109 F.3d 427, 430 (8th Cir. 1997)).

E. Exhibits

Plaintiff's complaint is six pages and he has included seventy-four pages of exhibits. If Plaintiff feels compelled to submit exhibits with his amended complaint, he may do so, but is reminded that such exhibits must be attached to the complaint and must be incorporated by reference. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 10(c). Thus, if Plaintiff attaches exhibits to any amended complaint that he might file, each exhibit must be specifically referenced. For example, Plaintiff must state "see Exhibit A" or something similar in order to direct the Court to the specific exhibit Plaintiff is referencing. Further, if the exhibit consists of more than one page, Plaintiff must reference the specific page of the exhibit (i.e. "See Exhibit A, page 3"). With regard to exhibits that are properly attached to any such amended complaint, Plaintiff is cautioned that it is the Court's duty to evaluate the factual allegations within a complaint, not to wade through exhibits, to determine whether cognizable claims are, or might be able to be stated.

Finally, for screening purposes, the Court must assume that Plaintiff's factual allegations are true. Therefore, it is generally unnecessary for Plaintiff to submit exhibits in support of the allegations in a complaint.

IV. Conclusion and Order

For the reasons stated, Plaintiff's complaint does not state a cognizable claim for relief for a violation of his constitutional rights. Plaintiff is granted leave to file an amended complaint within thirty days. 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 amended complaint. George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007) (no "buckshot" complaints).

Plaintiff's 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. "The inquiry into causation must be individualized and focus on the duties and responsibilities of each individual defendant whose acts or omissions are alleged to have caused a constitutional deprivation." Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 633 (9th Cir. 1988). 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 original 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. "All 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. The Clerk's Office shall send Plaintiff a civil rights complaint form;

2. Plaintiff's complaint, filed January 3, 2011, is dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under section 1983;

3. Within thirty (30) days from the date of service of this order, Plaintiff shall file an amended complaint; and

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



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