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Gregory Lee Gray v. Robert Hernandez et al

April 12, 2012

GREGORY LEE GRAY,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
ROBERT HERNANDEZ ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jeffrey T. Miller District istrict Judge United States Judge

JM

ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT Docket No. 118

In June 2008, Plaintiff Gregory Lee Gray filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Sterling, Peterson, and Marrero arising from events that occurred at R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility. Several of the claims have been dismissed, and Defendants now move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim. For the reasons stated below, the motion is DENIED.1

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's first amended complaint ("FAC") alleges that in January 2007, Plaintiff filed a small claims suit against Defendant Marrero, Captain of Facility 3 Yard, and Defendants Sterling and Peterson, employees of the prison library (the "librarians"). Thereafter, Plaintiff

While the Magistrate Judge filed a thorough report and recommendation recommending the motion be granted, the court declines to accept its conclusion. made a written settlement offer to the librarians informing them that they had been sued for $1,666.20 for denying Plaintiff access to the law library. The offer stated that Plaintiff was "willing to Settle if you pay me the sum of $200 dollars, and 'no' Restitution is taken out of my Account." Defendants claim that they interpreted this as an extortion attempt and that they feared for their safety, so they filed Rules Violation Reports ("RVRs") against Plaintiff. Plaintiff was charged with extortion and placed in Administrative Segregation ("Ad Seg") by Defendant Marrero on June 18, 2007. He was found not guilty of the extortion charge, and then released from Ad Seg on August 22, 2007. Plaintiff was transferred to Mule Creek State Prison in October 2007, and shortly thereafter was transferred to High Desert State Prison. Based on his punishments, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit stating several causes of action. Defendants now move for summary judgment on Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim, the only cause of action that has survived Defendants' motions to dismiss.

II. LEGAL STANDARD AND DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

When a party moves for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(b), the motion should only be granted if "under the governing law, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the verdict." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986). The court should look to "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Id. at 251-52. "Where 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." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). "To rebut the motion for summary judgment successfully, the plaintiffs must point to some facts in the record that demonstrate a genuine issue of material fact and, with all reasonable inferences made in the plaintiff's favor, could convince a reasonable jury to find for the plaintiffs." Reese v. Jefferson School Dist. No. 14J, 208 F.3d 736, 738 (9th Cir. 2000).

At summary judgment, generally "a nonmoving party plaintiff has no obligation to produce anything until the moving party defendant has carried its initial burden of production." Nissan Fire & Marine Ins. Co., Ltd. v. Fritz Companies, Inc., 210 F.3d 1099, 1107 (9th Cir. 2000). In many cases, the moving party has not sufficiently demonstrated the lack of a triable issue, so no defense is required. Id. at 1105 (citing Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 161 (1970)). However, the moving party may also succeed by showing that the nonmoving party does not have sufficient evidence to carry the ultimate burden of persuasion at trial. Nissan at

B. Retaliation Claim

1. The Five-Factor Rhodes Test

The parties agree that district courts must analyze five elements when addressing a First Amendment retaliation claim, as explained in Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567 (9th Cir. 2005). The Rhodes court stated that [w]ithin the prison context, a viable claim of First Amendment retaliation entails five basic 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.

In McCollum v. Cal. Dept. of Corrections & Rehabilitation, 647 F.3d 870, 882 (9th Cir. 2011), the court explained that "[t]o raise a triable issue as to motive, [a plaintiff seeking to defeat summary judgment on a retaliation claim] must offer either direct evidence of retaliatory motive or at least one of three general types of circumstantial evidence." (internal quotation marks omitted). Circumstantial evidence of motive most often includes: (1) proximity in time between the speech and the retaliation; (2) "that the defendant ...


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