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Ronald Foster v. A. Lynn

February 21, 2012

RONALD FOSTER,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
A. LYNN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff, a State prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, challenging a prison disciplinary proceeding. Pending before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 25) and motion for judicial notice (Doc. 26). Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion to dismiss, and defendants have filed a reply.

I. Background

This action proceeds on plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. 11). Plaintiff is challenging the procedures used for the restoration of good-time credits pursuant to the California Code of Regulations, Title 15, § 3327. Plaintiff argues that due process requires a committee hearing before an application to restore good-time credits is denied. There is also some indication that plaintiff is challenging the denial of his application for credit restoration.

II. Motion to Dismiss

Defendants bring this motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on several grounds. Defendants argue this action is not ripe for adjudication; is barred by the applicable statute of limitations; is barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel; and that the amended complaint otherwise fails to state a claim for denial of due process.

In considering a motion to dismiss, the court must accept all allegations of material fact in the complaint as true. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). The court must also construe the alleged facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974); see also Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hosp. Trustees, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976); Barnett v. Centoni, 31 F.3d 813, 816 (9th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). All ambiguities or doubts must also be resolved in the plaintiff's favor. See Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). However, legally conclusory statements, not supported by actual factual allegations, need not be accepted. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949-50 (2009). In addition, pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). "The issue is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984).

Rule 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" in order to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. Corp v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, in order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;" it must contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 555-56. The complaint must contain "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "Where a complaint pleads facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility for entitlement to relief." Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the court generally may not consider materials outside the complaint and pleadings. See Cooper v. Pickett, 137 F.3d 616, 622 (9th Cir. 1998); Branch v. Tunnell, 14 F.3d 449, 453 (9th Cir. 1994). The court may, however, consider: (1) documents whose contents are alleged in or attached to the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, see Branch, 14 F.3d at 454; (2) documents whose authenticity is not in question, and upon which the complaint necessarily relies, but which are not attached to the complaint, see Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688 (9th Cir. 2001); and (3) documents and materials of which the court may take judicial notice, see Barron v. Reich, 13 F.3d 1370, 1377 (9th Cir. 1994).

A. Ripeness

Defendants' first argument is that this case is not ripe for adjudication until such time as plaintiff invalidates his release date in a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The basis for this argument is that if plaintiff were to prevail in this action, it would necessarily impact his release date.

Plaintiff contends that his complaint does not challenge the fact or duration of his imprisonment, but is only challenging the constitutionality of a prison regulation, which he argues violates his right to due process of law. He therefore claims a favorable ruling would only provide plaintiff with the opportunity to apply for the restoration of lost credits, not the immediate restoration thereof.

Where a § 1983 action seeking monetary damages or declaratory relief alleges constitutional violations which would necessarily imply the invalidity of the prisoner's underlying conviction or sentence, or the result of a prison disciplinary hearing resulting in imposition of a sanction affecting the overall length of confinement, such a claim is not cognizable under § 1983 unless the conviction or sentence has first been invalidated on appeal, by habeas petition, or through some similar proceeding. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 483-84 (1994) (concluding that § 1983 claim not cognizable because allegations were akin to malicious prosecution action which includes as an element a finding that the criminal proceeding was concluded in plaintiff's favor); Butterfield v. Bail, 120 F.3d 1023, 1024-25 (9th Cir. 1997) (concluding that § 1983 claim not cognizable because allegations of procedural defects were an attempt to challenge substantive result in parole hearing); cf. Neal v. Shimoda, 131 F.3d 818, 824 (9th Cir. 1997) (concluding that § 1983 claim was cognizable because challenge was to conditions for parole eligibility and not to any particular parole determination). In particular, where the claim involves loss of good-time credits as a result of an adverse prison disciplinary finding, the claim is not cognizable. See Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 646 (1987) (holding that § 1983 claim not cognizable because allegations of procedural defects and a biased hearing officer implied the invalidity of the underlying prison disciplinary sanction of loss of good-time credits); Blueford v. Prunty, 108 F.3d 251, 255 (9th Cir. 1997); cf. Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 858 (9th. Cir. 2003) (holding that the favorable termination rule of Heck and Edwards does not apply to challenges to prison disciplinary hearings where the administrative sanction imposed does not affect the overall length of confinement and, thus, does not go to the heart of habeas). If a § 1983 complaint states claims which sound in habeas, the court should not convert the complaint into a habeas petition. See id.; Trimble, 49 F.3d at 586. Rather, such claims must be dismissed without prejudice and the complaint should proceed on any remaining cognizable § 1983 claims. See Balisok, 520 U.S. at 649; Heck, 512 U.S. at 487; Trimble, 49 F.3d at 585.

However, where a prisoner is challenging procedures, and a favorable ruling would not necessary result in an inmate's immediate release or shorter stay in prison, it is possible to proceed in a § 1983 action. See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74 (2005) (concluding that ยง 1983 action seeking changes in procedures for determining when an inmate is eligible for parole consideration not barred because changed procedures would ...


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