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Robert Bardo v. M. Martel

February 27, 2012

ROBERT BARDO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
M. MARTEL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in a civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims that defendants Lockhart, Butcher, and Ramos ("defendants") violated plaintiff's rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments by confiscating plaintiff's incoming mail and personal property while he was confined to Mule Creek State Prison. Dckt. Nos. 1, 7. The matter is currently before the court on cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons stated below, the undersigned recommends that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied, and defendants' cross-motion for summary judgment be granted.

I. Background

The exhibits to plaintiff's complaint indicate that he is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. Dckt. No. 1 at 33.*fn1 This lawsuit involves plaintiff's possession of images of his murder victim. Plaintiff alleges that on February 24, 2009, defendant Lockhart, while working in the prison mailroom, confiscated two envelopes addressed to plaintiff that contained various internet printouts of Ms. Schaeffer. Id. at 7. Plaintiff also claims that on February 25, 2009, defendants Lockhart, Butcher and Ramos searched plaintiff's cell in retaliation for plaintiff filing a federal civil rights lawsuit. Id. According to plaintiff, defendants confiscated "non-contraband" property, including additional printouts of Ms. Schaeffer. Id. Plaintiff alleges defendants confiscated his property pursuant to California Code of Regulations, title 15, section 3270, which plaintiff contends is unconstitutionally overbroad and vague. Id. at 11.Plaintiff claims the defendants have violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Id. at 12.

II. Summary Judgment Standards

Summary judgment is appropriate when there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Summary judgment avoids unnecessary trials in cases in which the parties do not dispute the facts relevant to the determination of the issues in the case, or in which there is insufficient evidence for a jury to determine those facts in favor of the non-movant. Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 600 (1998); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-50 (1986); Nw. Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 18 F.3d 1468, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1994). At bottom, a summary judgment motion asks whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury.

The principal purpose of Rule 56 is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Cop. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Thus, the rule functions to "'pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) advisory committee's note on 1963 amendments). Procedurally, under summary judgment practice, the moving party bears the initial responsibility of presenting the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record, together with affidavits, if any, that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc). If the moving party meets its burden with a properly supported motion, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to present specific facts that show there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Anderson., 477 U.S. at 248; Auvil v. CBS "60 Minutes", 67 F.3d 816, 819 (9th Cir. 1995).

A clear focus on where the burden of proof lies as to the factual issue in question is crucial to summary judgment procedures. Depending on which party bears that burden, the party seeking summary judgment does not necessarily need to submit any evidence of its own. When the opposing party would have the burden of proof on a dispositive issue at trial, the moving party need not produce evidence which negates the opponent's claim. See e.g., Lujan v. National Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 885 (1990). Rather, the moving party need only point to matters which demonstrate the absence of a genuine material factual issue. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24 (1986). ("[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file.'"). Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See id. at 322. In such a circumstance, summary judgment must be granted, "so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied." Id. at 323.

To defeat summary judgment the opposing party must establish a genuine dispute as to a material issue of fact. This entails two requirements. First, the dispute must be over a fact(s) that is material, i.e., one that makes a difference in the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 ("Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment."). Whether a factual dispute is material is determined by the substantive law applicable for the claim in question. Id. If the opposing party is unable to produce evidence sufficient to establish a required element of its claim that party fails in opposing summary judgment. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

Second, the dispute must be genuine. In determining whether a factual dispute is genuine the court must again focus on which party bears the burden of proof on the factual issue in question. Where the party opposing summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial on the factual issue in dispute, that party must produce evidence sufficient to support its factual claim. Conclusory allegations, unsupported by evidence are insufficient to defeat the motion. Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir.1989). Rather, the opposing party must, by affidavit or as otherwise provided by Rule 56, designate specific facts that show there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; Devereaux, 263 F.3d at 1076. More significantly, to demonstrate a genuine factual dispute the evidence relied on by the opposing party must be such that a fair-minded jury "could return a verdict for [him] on the evidence presented." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 252. Absent any such evidence there simply is no reason for trial.

The court does not determine witness credibility. It believes the opposing party's evidence, and draws inferences most favorably for the opposing party. See id. at 249, 255; Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. Inferences, however, are not drawn out of "thin air," and the proponent must adduce evidence of a factual predicate from which to draw inferences. American Int'l Group, Inc. v. American Int'l Bank, 926 F.2d 829, 836 (9th Cir.1991) (Kozinski, J., dissenting) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322). If reasonable minds could differ on material facts at issue, summary judgment is inappropriate. See Warren v. City of Carlsbad, 58 F.3d 439, 441 (9th Cir. 1995). On the other hand,"[w]here the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted). In that case, the court must grant summary judgment.

Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Id. If the evidence presented and any reasonable inferences that might be drawn from it could not support a judgment in favor of the opposing party, there is no genuine issue. Celotex., 477 U.S. at 323. Thus, Rule 56 serves to screen cases lacking any genuine dispute over an issue that is determinative of the outcome of the case.

On October 19, 2010, the undersigned informed plaintiff of the requirements for opposing a motion pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 957 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc), cert. denied, 527 U.S. 1035 (1999), and Klingele v. Eikenberry, 849 F.2d 409 (9th Cir. 1988).

III. Standards Applicable to Plaintiff's First and Fourteenth Amendment Claims

A. Retaliation

To state a viable First Amendment retaliation claim, a prisoner must allege five elements: "(1) An assertion that a state actor took some adverse action against an inmate (2) because of (3) that prisoner's protected conduct, and that such action (4) chilled the inmate's exercise of his First Amendment rights, and (5) the action did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal." Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567-68 (9th Cir. 2005). Thus, to prevail on a retaliation claim, the prisoner "must show that the challenged action 'did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal.'" Brodheim v. Cry, 584 F.3d 1262, 1271 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 568). On summary judgment, "the plaintiff must demonstrate there is a triable issue of material fact on each element of his claim . . . ." Id. at 1269.

B. Confiscation of Mail/Property

Prisoners have a First Amendment right to send and receive mail. Witherow v. Paff, 52 F.3d 264, 265 (9th Cir. 1995) (per curiam). They also have a liberty interest in communication by mail that is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 418 (1974) overruled on other grounds by Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 413-14 (1989).

Regulations limiting prisoners' access to information and correspondence are valid only if they are reasonably related to legitimate penological interests. Thornburgh, 490 U.S. at 413 (citing Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)). "[C]onsiderable deference [is given] to the determinations of prison administrators who, in the interest of security, regulate the relations between prisoners and the outside world." Id. at 408. Four factors are relevant in determining whether a prison regulation impermissibly infringes on an inmate's constitutional rights: (1) whether there is a "valid, rational connection between the prison regulation and the legitimate governmental interest put forward to justify it"; (2) "whether there are alternative means of exercising the right that remain open to prison inmates"; (3) "the impact accommodation of the asserted constitutional right will have on guards and other inmates and on the allocation of prison resources generally"; and (4) the "absence of ready alternatives." Turner, 482 at 89-90 (internal quotations omitted).

A regulation may be "void for vagueness" if it fails to clearly define its prohibitions, and may be impermissibly "overbroad" if it prohibits constitutionally protected conduct. Grayned v. City of Rockford, 408 U.S. 104, 108, 114-115 (1972). Where an inmate claims that a prison regulation is impermissibly vague or overbroad, the regulation is analyzed under the test set forth in Turner. See Bahrampour v. Lampert, 356 F.3d 969, 975-76 (9th Cir. 2004).

To defeat summary judgment, the plaintiff "must demonstrate that the regulations are not reasonably related to legitimate penological interests, or that there is a genuine issue of material fact regarding the ...


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