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Kawan Williams, et al v. W J Price

August 30, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Janis L. Sammartino United States District Judge


Presently before the Court is Defendants L. McEwen, G. Janda, and D. Foston's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint ("FAC"), (Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 19), which Defendant W. J. Price joins, (Notice of Joinder, ECF No. 20). Also before the Court are Plaintiff Kawan Williams's ("Williams") Motion to Deny Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, which the Court construes as a response in opposition, (Resp. in Opp'n. ECF No. 28), and Defendants' reply in support, (Reply in Supp., ECF No. 29). The Court has determined that Defendants' motion is suitable for disposition on the papers without oral argument and that no Report and Recommendation from Magistrate Judge Karen S. Crawford is necessary. See CivLR 7.1.d.1, 72.3.e. Having considered the parties' arguments and the law, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' motion


Williams is a prisoner at Calipatria State Prison, where the events giving rise to this lawsuit took place in the Fall of 2009. Williams alleges that prison officials cancelled the Friday Islamic "Jumu'a" services for six weeks, in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and his First Amendment right to practice his religion. (FAC 3, ECF No. 5) In response to a group inmate grievance, prison officials informed Williams and others that the reason the religious services were cancelled was to accommodate for court-ordered trainings that took place at that time. According to Williams, the decision to "train during the only three hours afforded muslims [sic] inmates . . . for religious practice out of 168 hours available to them a week" for six weeks straight constituted a violation of his rights. (Id.)

Following the denial of his inmate appeals, Williams filed a complaint in this Court on February 16, 2011, (Compl., ECF No. 1), and filed the operative FAC on July 7, 2011, (FAC, ECF No. 5). Then, in January 2012, Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) permits a party to raise by motion the defense that the complaint "fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief can be granted," generally referred to as a motion to dismiss. The Court evaluates whether a complaint states a cognizable legal theory and sufficient facts in light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), which requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Although Rule 8 "does not require 'detailed factual allegations,' . . . it [does] demand[] more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). In other words, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). "Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of 'further factual enhancement.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A claim is facially plausible when the facts pled "allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). That is not to say that the claim must be probable, but there must be "more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. Facts "'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability" fall short of a plausible entitlement to relief. Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). Further, the Court need not accept as true "legal conclusions" contained in the complaint. Id. This review requires context-specific analysis involving the Court's "judicial experience and common sense." Id. at 679 (citation omitted). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not 'show[n]'-'that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Id. Moreover, "for a complaint to be dismissed because the allegations give rise to an affirmative defense[,] the defense clearly must appear on the face of the pleading." McCalden v. Ca. Library Ass'n, 955 F.2d 1214, 1219 (9th Cir. 1990) (internal quotations omitted).

Relevant here, the Court has a duty to liberally construe a pro se's pleadings, see KarimPanahi v. L.A. Police Dep't, 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988), which is "particularly important in civil rights cases," Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992). In giving liberal interpretation to a pro se civil rights complaint, however, a court may not "supply essential elements of the claim that was not initially pled." Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

Where a motion to dismiss is granted, "leave to amend should be granted 'unless the court determines that the allegation of other facts consistent with the challenged pleading could not possibly cure the deficiency.'" DeSoto v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 957 F.2d 655, 658 (9th Cir. 1992) (quoting Schreiber Distrib. Co. v. Serv-Well Furniture Co., 806 F.2d 1393, 1401 (9th Cir. 1986)). In other words, where leave to amend would be futile, the Court may deny leave to amend. See Desoto, 957 F.2d at 658; Schreiber, 806 F.2d at 1401.


Williams brings this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action, asserting violations of (1) his Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Rights, and (2) his First Amendment Freedom of Religion. (See generally FAC, ECF No. 5) Defendants move to dismiss both claims, asserting that Williams has failed to state a claim as to his equal protection claim, and has failed to plead that any of the Defendants personally participated in any alleged constitutional violation, or, alternatively, that Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. (See generally Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 19)

1. Failure to Allege Sufficient Facts to Support Equal Protection Claim

Defendants assert Williams "admits that the Jumu'a services were cancelled in order to complete court-ordered training," and therefore his equal protection claim must fail because Williams had not alleged that "Defendants had an intent or purpose to discriminate against inmates of the Islamic faith." (Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 4) The "Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment commands that no State shall 'deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,' which is essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike." City of Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Center, Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 439 (1985). An equal protection claim may be established by showing that defendants intentionally discriminated against a plaintiff based on his membership in a protected class, Comm. Concerning Cmty. Improvement v. City of Modesto, 583 F.3d 690, 702--03 (9th Cir. 2009); Serrano v. Francis, 345 F.3d 1071, 1082 (9th Cir. 2003), or that similarly ...

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