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Jerry Cobb v. Kathy Mendoza-Powers

April 5, 2012


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


Plaintiff Jerry Cobb 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 First Amended Complaint, filed March 6, 2012, and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, filed March 19, 2012.*fn1 (ECF Nos. 33, 37.)

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 "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)).

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).

II. Complaint Allegations

Plaintiff is in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") and is incarcerated at Folsom State Prison. Plaintiff brings this action against Defendants Jeanne Woodford, Kathy Mendoza-Powers, J. Reynolds, and J. Chastagner alleging violations of his right to religious freedom under the First Amendment, cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment, due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, and cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the California Constitution. Plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment, injunctive relief, and monetary damages.

Plaintiff states that on April 4, 2003, he took a vow not to comb or shave his hair as a symbol of his relationship with God. At the time Plaintiff made this vow, the CDCR was enforcing a grooming policy providing no exemptions for prisoners with religious beliefs. After the prison grooming policy was found to be unconstitutional in Warsoldier,*fn2 on November 15, 2005, Defendant Mendoza-Powers continued to enforce the policy. Defendant Mendoza-Powers authorized a lieutenant under her command to generate a memo notifying staff and inmates that the grooming policy would continue to be enforced at Avenal State Prison, where Plaintiff was incarcerated.

On December 16, 2005, Defendant Reynolds told Plaintiff to cut his hair or he would receive a disciplinary violation. Plaintiff refused to comply. On December 20, 2005, Defendant Reynolds issued Plaintiff a counseling chrono, the first step in the disciplinary process. Defendant Chastagner issued a rule violation report on December 26, 2005. On January 3, 2006, Plaintiff was found guilty of a rule violation for failing to cut his hair. Plaintiff was required to perform forty hours extra duty, which consisted of washing toilets, scrubbing floors, washing walls and tables. While performing these duties, Plaintiff was denied access to chapel services, recreational activities, phone calls, etc.

Around January 19, 2006, Defendant Mendoza-Powers was notified regarding the unconstitutional grooming policy and called a meeting to discuss revisions to the grooming policy. Plaintiff filed an inmate appeal, which was reviewed by Defendant Mendoza-Powers at the second level of review and denied on January 26, 2006. On February 3, 2006, Plaintiff filed an appeal regarding the rule violation and punishment.

Around March 20, 2006, Plaintiff's appeal was submitted to the third level of review and denied by Defendant Woodford. Plaintiff believes that the disciplinary documentation is periodically reviewed by prison officials to determine his housing and placement and will have negative consequences for Plaintiff as long as it is in his central file.

For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint states a claim against Defendants Mendoza-Powers, Reynolds, and Chastagner for violations of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, ...

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