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Bernard C. Hughes v. Robert Bruner

November 9, 2012



I. Procedural History

Plaintiff Bernard Hughes ("Plaintiff"), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on January 21, 2011. Doc. 1. On April 22, 2011, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim and gave Plaintiff leave to amend. Doc. 13. On May 12, 2011, Plaintiff filed the first amended complaint. Doc. 15. On July 18, 2012, the Court issued Findings and Recommendations which recommended dismissing the action for failure to state a due process claim. Doc. 16. On August 31, 2012, Plaintiff filed objections which argued that the facts in his complaint demonstrate that he successfully states a First Amendment retaliation claim. Doc. 17.

II. Rule 60 Order

Given that Plaintiff argues that his amended complaint states a retaliation claim and the Court has yet to screen Plaintiff's claim in light of the First Amendment retaliation legal standard, pursuant to Rule 60(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure,*fn1 the Court will vacate its original findings and recommendation and re-screen Plaintiff's complaint. Doc. 16.

III. Screening

A. Screening Standard

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). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

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). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007)). "[P]laintiffs [now] face a higher burden of pleadings facts . . ," Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft, 580 F.3d 949, 977 (9th Cir. 2009), and while a plaintiff's allegations are taken as true, courts "are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences," Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

To state a viable claim for relief, Plaintiff must set forth 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). The mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id.

IV. Plaintiff's Claim

Plaintiff brings this civil suit against Sergeant Robert Bruner, an employee at the Mariposa County Detention Facility and Lieutenant Susan Brent ("Defendants"). Doc. 15 at 4. At some time prior to the argument, Plaintiff wrote a note to Defendant Bruner to dispute a minor rule. Doc. 15 a 4. On December 28, 2009, Defendant Bruner and Plaintiff had an argument over the note that Plaintiff wrote. Doc. 15 at 4. Presumably, as a result of the argument, Defendant Bruner submitted a false report stating that Plaintiff threatened Defendant Bruner at the Mariposa County Adult Detention Facility. Doc. 15 at 4. Plaintiff went through the disciplinary process and was found guilty based upon the report and statement of Defendant Bruner. Doc. 15 at 4. As a result of a guilty finding from the disciplinary hearing, Plaintiff was placed in disciplinary isolation as punishment. Doc. 15 at 4.

Plaintiff then filed a "Citizen's Complaint" to redress Defendant Bruner's falsification of the report and upon investigation a sherif deputy found that Defendant Bruner had made false allegations. Doc. 15 at 5. According to his complaint, Plaintiff suffered multiple days of disciplinary isolation, loss of visits and loss of phone calls because the results of the investigation were given to Plaintiff on July 27, 2010, which was not in time to prevent implementation of punishment as a result of the prior disciplinary decision. Doc. 1 at 5; Doc. 15 at 5.

A. Due Process

A prisoner does not have a "constitutionally guaranteed immunity from being falsely or wrongly accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest." Sprouse v. Babcock, 870 F. 2d 450, 452 (8th Cir.1989). Rather, the Fourteenth Amendment provides that a prisoner "has a right not to be deprived of a protected liberty interest without due process of law." Id. As long as a prisoner is afforded procedural due process in the disciplinary hearing, allegations of a fabricated charge fail to state a claim under ยง 1983. See Sprouse, 870 F. 2d at 452; Freeman v. Rideout, 808 F.2d 949, 951 (2d Cir.1986); Hanrahan v. Lane, 747 F.2d 1137, 1140-41 (7th Cir.1984). Moreover, the fact that a prisoner may have been ...

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