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Walter Shane Langston v. Warden James Hartley

May 29, 2012

WALTER SHANE LANGSTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WARDEN JAMES HARTLEY, SGT. CRUZ, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel and in forma pauperis.

Plaintiff consented to proceed before the undersigned for all purposes. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

Pursuant to court order, plaintiff's amended complaint is now before the court. As set forth more fully below, plaintiff's amended complaint is dismissed, and plaintiff is granted leave to file a second amended complaint.

II. Screening Standards

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 fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(2).

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 fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1),(2).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.

Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous when it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989), superseded by statute as stated in Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000) ("a judge may dismiss [in forma pauperis] claims which are based on indisputably meritless legal theories or whose factual contentions are clearly baseless."); Franklin, 745 F.2d at 1227.

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, 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. However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement [of facts] need only 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp., 550 U.S. at 555) (citations and internal quotations marks omitted). In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, id., and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds, Davis v. Scherer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984).

III. Pleading Defects

Rather than use the court's form complaint, as plaintiff did in filing his original complaint, plaintiff handwrote the amended complaint. This resulted in a failure to include information critical to plaintiff's case.

First, plaintiff's filing begins with three pages initially labeled "Amendment Complaint," but without a caption. (Dkt. No. 15 at 1-3.) The third page is followed by what appears to be the first page of an amended complaint, with a caption, entitled "Amendment." (Dkt. No. 15 at 4.) Second, this filing is confusing because plaintiff used inconsistent page numbering. Plaintiff began paginating anew on the page containing a caption, but after the page marked "(5) five," plaintiff uses page "(1) one" on the following page. In addition, it appears plaintiff intended to include a page six, because the last sentence on page five is incomplete, and does not continue on the following page marked "(1) one."

Third, the amended complaint does not include a section identifying individuals as defendants. Page four identifies Warden James Hartley as a defendant in the caption, followed by "et al.," which suggests plaintiff intended to name other individuals as defendants. Liberally construed, it appears plaintiff intended to name Warden Hartley and Sgt. Cruz as defendants because these are the only two individuals identified by name in the filing. But the plural reference in the caption makes it difficult to confirm that plaintiff intended to sue Hartley and Cruz. Plaintiff is advised that he must clearly identify the individuals he intends to name as defendants.

Fourth, plaintiff does not articulate what relief he seeks; in the original complaint, plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages. (Dkt. No. 1 at 3.) As set forth more fully below, plaintiff is granted leave to file a second amended complaint. While plaintiff may append handwritten facts and claims to the court's complaint form, plaintiff should use the court's complaint form to ensure all necessary information is clearly provided.

IV. Plaintiff's Claims

A. Interference with Pending Criminal Proceedings Plaintiff renews his claim that defendants impeded plaintiff's access to the courts by failing to ensure plaintiff's legal materials were forwarded to plaintiff at the Sacramento County Jail after plaintiff's conviction was reversed, thus depriving plaintiff of his right of access to the courts, and to represent himself in criminal proceedings, in violation of the Sixth Amendment.

In People v. Langston, 2009 WL 245025 (Cal. App. 3 Dist. Aug. 10, 2009), the Court of Appeal found that plaintiff's 2008 criminal conviction must be reversed, and plaintiff be allowed to withdraw his plea inasmuch as the trial court promised plaintiff he could appeal issues that were not cognizable on appeal. Id., at *1 (Sacramento County Superior Court Case No. 07F09116).

At the time plaintiff's conviction was reversed, plaintiff was incarcerated at Avenal State Prison. In the amended complaint, plaintiff alleges the following. On November 13, 2009, defendant Hartley was notified by the Sacramento Superior Court that on November 20, 2009, the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department would transport plaintiff to the Sacramento County Jail for plaintiff's court proceedings. On November 19, 2009, plaintiff was directed by Sgt. Cruz to bring all of plaintiff's property to receiving and release as plaintiff was being transferred to the Sacramento County Jail. Plaintiff reported with his property to receiving and release on November 19, 2009, but was informed that he would be transferred on November 20, 2009. Plaintiff returned to receiving and release on November 20, 2009, apparently having left his property behind the day before. When plaintiff arrived, Sgt. Cruz informed plaintiff that his property was packed and taped, and would be stored until plaintiff returned from court.

Plaintiff objected, noting that plaintiff's conviction had been reversed, and that plaintiff was now a pretrial detainee transferring into the custody of the Sacramento County Jail. Sgt. Cruz countered that plaintiff was only "out to court," and that plaintiff was confused about not being a ward of the Department of Corrections. Plaintiff explained his need for his legal materials due to his pending civil cases, as well as for defending himself in the re-opened criminal case. Despite plaintiff's protestations, plaintiff was transferred without his legal materials.

Plaintiff also appealed to the Sacramento County transport officer, who attempted, unsuccessfully, to retrieve plaintiff's legal materials from Avenal receiving and release. The officer suggested plaintiff ask the court to appoint counsel to assist in obtaining return of the legal materials.

On November 23, 2009, plaintiff informed the Sacramento County Superior Court judge that plaintiff's legal materials were withheld by Avenal personnel, and that without them, plaintiff could not mount an effective defense. On this ground, the superior court allowed plaintiff to withdraw his Faretta*fn1 motion, and appointed counsel. On November 30, 2009, plaintiff advised appointed defense counsel that plaintiff intended to represent himself in the criminal proceedings, but that "until he received his legal materials, plaintiff would need counsel's representation [to help obtain] the legal materials from Avenal State Prison." (Dkt. No. 15 at 7.) Plaintiff alleges defense counsel wrote a letter to defendant Hartley, instructing him to send plaintiff's legal materials to plaintiff in the Sacramento County Jail, or to defense counsel's law office. However, plaintiff did not receive his legal materials, and defendant Hartley did not comply with defense counsel's request. Plaintiff provides a list of documents he needed from his legal materials to defend himself in the criminal prosecution, which included copies of the preliminary hearing transcript from the first hearing, and research he had performed to support a motion to suppress evidence in the pending criminal proceedings. (Dkt. No. 15 at 2- 3.)

It appears that following trial of the charges in 07F09116 in March and April of 2010, plaintiff was sentenced on May 21, 2010.*fn2 Plaintiff was returned to Avenal State Prison on June 10, 2010. (Dkt. No. 1 at 7.)

i. Legal Standards

Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350 (1996); Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977). In Sands v. Lewis, 886 F.2d 1166 (1989), the Ninth Circuit divided such cases into two categories: (1) Those which assert inadequate law libraries or alternative sources of legal knowledge sufficient to prepare a suit, and (2) all others (id. at 1171), including interference claims. As to the second category, the court required proof of "actual injury" to state a claim. Id. The court did not require actual injury for the first category, id., but that part of the holding was overruled by Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350-55 (1996).*fn3 In short, whether a prisoner's claim is that a prison law library is inadequate, or that his access to the law library is inadequate, or that official action somehow blocked or interfered with his access to the court, he must allege "actual injury."

In the interference line of cases, the Supreme Court has "held that the First Amendment right to petition the government includes the right to file other civil actions in court that have a reasonable basis in law or fact." Snyder [v. Nolen, 380 F.3d 279, 290 (7th Cir. 2004)] [internal citations omitted]. This right does not require prison officials to provide affirmative assistance in the preparation of legal papers, but rather forbids states from "erect[ing] barriers that impede the right of access of incarcerated persons." John L. [v. Adams, 969 F.2d 228, 235 (6th Cir. 1992); Snyder, 380 F.3d at 291 ("The right of access to the courts is the right of an individual, whether free or incarcerated, to obtain access to the courts without undue interference"). Thus, aside from their affirmative right to the tools necessary to challenge their sentences or conditions of confinement, prisoners also have a right, protected by the First Amendment right ...


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