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Jacoby Pope v. R. Garcia

April 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gregory G. Hollows United States Magistrate Judge



By order, filed on April 5, 2012, the court directed defendant Garcia, within fourteen days, to file a response to plaintiff's March 26, 2012 motion for a preliminary injunction asking the court to enjoin defendant Garcia and "all other persons acting in concert" with the defendant, including "supervisors, agents and employees ... from harassing, retaliating, removing from assignments, segregating and transferring plaintiff" while he is exercising his First Amendment right to pursue this civil rights action. See, motion for preliminary injunction, filed on March 26, 2012 (docket # 37, p. 2). Defendant Garcia filed a timely response on April 18, 2012 (docket # 45).

Underlying Complaint

This matter proceeds only as to defendant Garcia, who filed his answer on September 15, 2011. As to the four other named defendants, these parties were dismissed following the filing of their (unopposed) motion to dismiss, pursuant to the district judge's order, filed on December 20, 2011 (adopting the October 6, 2011, findings and recommendations of the undersigned).*fn1 The gravamen of plaintiff's complaint is that defendant Garcia's alleged interference with plaintiff's legal mail ultimately deprived him of his right of access to the courts to challenge his conviction, from which he is now procedurally barred. See Complaint. To the extent that plaintiff asserts in his pending motions that he has also made a claim of retaliation in his complaint, the court agrees with defendant that there is no such colorable claim framed within the complaint; while plaintiff made therein vague allegations of harassment by defendant Garcia, as well as by defendants who have since been dismissed, plaintiff himself explicitly framed and focused his claim as one wherein he "has been deprived of his right of meaningful access to the court... ." Complaint, p. 7. The claim against defendant Garcia is that he was an officer in the Institutional Gang Investigation (IGI) unit who brought plaintiff a mini VHS cassette, on May 29, 2009, that he told plaintiff he had retrieved from a legal box that had been mailed to plaintiff by an attorney named Paul Echols. Complaint, p. 4. Plaintiff told defendant Garcia he had violated his rights in opening and inspecting plaintiff's legal mail. Id. Plaintiff asked why defendant Garcia from IGI would deal with his legal mail which is regularly handled by a 3rd watch floor officer from to 2:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. and also asked Garcia why he and his colleagues from the IGI unit had been harassing him lately. Id. Defendant Garcia allegedly responded "It[']s fun and besides who's gonna stop me[,] you?" Id.

Defendant Garcia then forced plaintiff to sign a trust withdrawal for the VHS cassette to be sent back. Complaint, p. 4. Plaintiff contends that the attorney, Paul Echols, was hired by plaintiff's father to mail the legal box and when it was returned, his father was unable to afford having it mailed back again. Id., at 5. It is not entirely clear what was on the tape. Plaintiff at one point simply states that it "contained [his] interrogation" (id., at 4) by which the court infers that he means a police interrogation related to the criminal conviction for which he is currently serving a sentence. Plaintiff states that his inability to receive the box made it impossible for him to challenge his conviction adequately and that he is now procedurally barred from challenging his conviction in federal court. Id., at 5-6. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as punitive money damages. Id., at 7-8.

Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction Properly Construed as Motion for Protective Order Upon close review, the court construes plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief as a motion for a protective order, and therefore properly before the undersigned for disposition by order. Local Rule 302 of the Eastern District of California authorizes magistrate judges to handle all aspects of a prisoner's case short of jury trial. This rule reflects the contours of magistrate judge authority established by Congress. Pursuant to Section 636, Title 28, United States Code, magistrate judges may determine any pretrial matter unless it is "dispositive" to the action, see United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 673, 100 S. Ct. 2406 (1980), or seeks injunctive relief of the same character as that which may be finally granted by the action, see De Beers Consolidated Mines, Ltd. v. United States, 325 U.S. 212, 219-200, 65 S.Ct. 1130 (1945). See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A).

A proper motion for injunctive relief must relate to the allegations of the complaint and seek an outcome that may ultimately be available in the action. If there is no such relation, injunctive relief is not properly sought. "[T]he purpose and effect of the injunction is to provide security for performance of a future order which may be entered by the court." De Beers, at 219-220. "Thus, a party moving for a preliminary injunction must necessarily establish a relationship between the injury claimed in the party's motion and the conduct asserted in the complaint." Devose v. Herrington, 42 F.3d 470, 471 (8th Cir.1994) (affirming district court's order denying without hearing plaintiff's motion for preliminary injunction on the ground that it had "nothing to do with preserving the district court's decision-making power over the merits of [plaintiff's] 42 U.S.C. § 1983 lawsuit") (citation omitted); cf., State of New York v. United States Metals Refining Co., 771 F.2d 796, 801 (3rd Cir. 1985) (affirming district court's order granting preliminary injunction because relief requested was also available to the court pursuant to final judgment, making the distinction that "this is not a case where the preliminary injunction 'deals with a matter lying wholly outside the issues in the suit,' De Beers, 325 U.S. at 200 []"). Rule 65, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, governing requests for injunctive relief, underscores this relevance requirement, pursuant to provisions allowing the hearing on preliminary injunction to be accelerated into a trial on the merits, preserving the right to jury trial if otherwise appropriate, and making evidence received at the hearing on preliminary injunction admissible at trial. None of these provisions would make sense if disputes outside the complaint, and on which no trial will be had, could be considered as proceedings for injunctive relief.

Accordingly, since matters appropriate for injunctive relief (and therefore expressly outside the dispositive authority of the magistrate judge) are limited to the merits of an action, see, e.g., Reynaga v. Camisa, 971 F.2d 414, 416 (9th Cir. 1992) (orders pursuant to § 636(b)(1)(A) may not include "motions for injunctive relief"), it follows that improper requests for injunctive relief, addressing matters extraneous to the complaint, may be addressed and finally determined by the magistrate judge. Such matters typically filed by plaintiff/prisoners attempt to have the court regulate every term and condition of their confinement simply because they are "in court," regardless of the relation of the currently challenged activity to the claims set forth in the complaint.

In this case, plaintiff asks the court to enjoin non-parties from obstructing his ability to prosecute this case. Although plaintiff seeks to implicate the only remaining defendant in this case, plaintiff is unable to show that any action on his part is even tangentially related to plaintiff's allegation in the underlying complaint that defendant Garcia interfered with his right of court access with respect to a potential court challenge to his commitment offense.

In moving for a protective order, plaintiff must make a good cause showing that without it, he would be significantly impeded from litigating this action. "For good cause to exist, the party seeking protection bears the burden of showing specific prejudice or harm will result if no protective order is granted." Phillips ex re. Estates of Byrd v. General Motors Corp., 307 F.3d 1206 1210-11 (9th Cir. 2002). The focus of the harm in protective order situations is harm to the ability to litigate, not irreparable harm to the plaintiff.


Motion Plaintiff contends in his motion that he has been subjected to a campaign of retaliatory conduct and harassment prior to and after the filing of his complaint, including being placed in administrative segregation (ad seg) on several occasions without a 115 serious rules violation report (RVR), resulting in plaintiff's being separated from his legal work at critical points during the discovery process. P.I. Motion (docket #37), p. 6. Specifically, plaintiff sets forth in his supporting declaration that on August 17, 2011, he was placed in ad seg pending investigation based on unreliable confidential information and without his legal property. Plaintiff's Declaration in Support of P.I. Motion (docket # 37), p. 9, ¶ 3. Plaintiff was released to B-facility from ad seg at the end of September 2011, without an RVR having been issued and only received his property back in mid-October 2011. Id. Plaintiff states that he was again placed in ad seg on November 4, 2011, without his legal property based once more on unreliable confidential information unrelated to the prior placement pending investigation and was later released on December 14, 2011, again without an RVR. Id., at ¶ 4. Plaintiff states that thereafter he was placed on a yard that was on lockdown due to a recent riot which had no movement when he was originally told he would be sent back to the yard he had been on previously. Id. Plaintiff states that while he was in ad seg, he "became aware of falsified documentation authored by a prison correctional officer" from defendant's current or prior unit which had been circulated through the entire institution in an effort to do plaintiff harm. Id., at ¶5. The court notes the vagueness of this accusation.

Plaintiff declares that upon receiving his property in January of 2012, he immediately mailed out interrogatories and [requests for] production of documents to defendant's counsel on January 5, 2012. Plaintiff's Dec. in Support of P.I. Motion, (docket # 37), ΒΆ 6. Plaintiff avers that he had the discovery requests ready for service on defendant prior to being placed in ad seg but that the "retaliatory acts of prison staff" by his placement in ad seg without his property prevented them from being filed (by which the court infers that he meant to say, served). Id. Plaintiff avers that on January 10, 2012, he received instructions on how to retain copies of his legal work, but when he sent out for copies of exhibits he intended to serve on defendant in response to his request for production of documents, the exhibits were lost. Id. Plaintiff filed a January 20, 2012, request for an extension of time to respond to defendant's production requests in this court because the exhibits had been lost and he was on lockdown. Id., at 7. The court here observes that plaintiff was generously granted a thirty-day extension of time by order, filed on January 31, 2012 (docket # 32), even though the deadline for conducting discovery was January 6, 2012, in accordance with the Discovery and Scheduling Order, filed on Sept. 23, 2011 (docket # 27). Plaintiff states that he has had a hard time getting a response to a grievance about the "mysteriously lost" exhibits because his grievance has been "continuously" screened out. Id. Plaintiff maintains that he was forced to refuse to lock up on February 2, 2012, so he could speak to the sergeant whom he had been requesting to see for several days, apparently because he had not yet received his lost documents and he was not being allowed to receive copies and because the first and third watch officers were not signing ...

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