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Eric Wick v. Angelea

January 14, 2013



Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The case was referred to the undersigned by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint "is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted," or "seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." Id. § 1915A(b).

After reviewing plaintiff's original complaint pursuant to § 1915A, the court directed the U.S. Marshal to serve defendants Angelea, Prosper, Monroe, Gutierrez, Mejia, Hirai, Grannis, McClelland, and Peck. Dckt. No. 9. After defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim, plaintiff requested leave to file an amended complaint. The court granted plaintiff's request and denied the motions to dismiss as moot. Dckt. No. 54. Thereafter, plaintiff filed an amended complaint. As discussed below, the court found that the amended complaint stated a retaliation claim against defendants Angelea, Monroe, Mejia, and Grannis, and dismissed the remaining claims and defendants with leave to amend for failure to state a claim.

Dckt. No. 65. Now before the court for screening is plaintiff's second amended complaint, which supercedes all previously filed complaints. Dckt. No. 67. In dismissing plaintiff's first amended complaint with leave to amend, the court informed plaintiff of the following:

The amended complaint names the following nine defendants: Angelea, Prosper, Monroe, Gutierrez, Mejia, Hirai, Grannis, McClelland, and Peck. The complaint, 40 pages in length excluding the 150 pages of exhibits, is unnecessarily long and repetitive. The relevant factual allegations against each of the defendants -- as opposed to the many naked and speculative assertions -- are summarized below.

The amended complaint alleges that Angelea compiled a "hit list" of inmates to transfer out of the California Correctional Center (CCC) because the inmates filed administrative appeals or were otherwise disliked by prison staff. Dckt. No. 55, ¶¶ 19, 34; see also ¶¶ 43, 53, 56 (alleging Angelea and Grannis were involved in a prior lawsuit plaintiff was litigating). Plaintiff claims he was notified that he was to appear before the classification committee to determine whether he would be transferred. Id. ¶ 21.

Plaintiff claims the classification committee included defendants Angelea and Monroe, but that Angelea was the sole decision-maker, and elected to transfer plaintiff because he filed administrative appeals. Id. ¶¶ 22, 57. However, plaintiff alleges defendant Monroe facilitated the retaliatory transfer by making false statements in a form 128-G that Monroe improperly prepared in advance of the hearing. Id. ¶¶ 21, 24, 28, 44, 57. Plaintiff claims further that defendant Mejia was supposed to independently review the procedures to prevent an arbitrary transfer, but instead endorsed the false 128-G to help ensure that the retaliatory transfer was successful. Id. ¶¶ 25, 28, 45, 57. As a result, plaintiff claims he was transferred to California State Prison, Solano (CSP-Solano). Id. ¶ 32.

Plaintiff alleges defendant Grannis thwarted the administrative appeals process to prevent plaintiff from being transferred back to CCC from CSPSolano. Id. ¶¶ 34, 47, 54. Additionally, plaintiff alleges that at his next annual classification committee meeting, defendant Peck told plaintiff he would not be transferred back to CCC because he had issues with staff there. Id. ¶¶ 35-37, 48.

Plaintiff claims defendants Gutierrez, Prosper, Hirai, Grannis, and McClelland were all made aware of the retaliation and had "oversight responsibility." Id. ¶ 57. More specifically, plaintiff alleges that Gutierrez lied to plaintiff's parents by falsely informing them that plaintiff's property would be returned to CCC. Id. ¶¶ 31, 32, 46. He alleges that Prosper wrote a letter to plaintiff's parents that did not clarify the issue of plaintiff's retaliatory transfer and contained false statements. Id. ¶¶ 38-39, 49. He also alleges that Hirai wrote a letter that contained false statements about whether plaintiff's transfer was lawful and did not deny that there was a "hit list." Id. ¶¶ 40, 50. Based on these allegations, plaintiff "presumes," that Gutierrez, Hirai, and Prosper coordinated efforts "to cover the arbitrary action up." Id. ¶ 46. Additionally, plaintiff alleges that it was McClelland's job to investigate illegal CDCR activity, and that he conducted only a limited inquiry and made false statements about plaintiff's transfer. Id. ¶¶ 41, 51.

The amended complaint identifies the following claims for relief: (1) "Retaliation for Exercise of First Amendment Rights;" (2) "Conspiracy to Deprive Persons of Due Process and Equal Protection;" (3) "Having Knowledge of and Failing to Stop Civil Rights Violations;" and (4) "Obstruction of Justice" pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2).

Although plaintiff alleges that defendants violated several of his federally protected rights, the nature of plaintiff's allegations demonstrate a retaliation claim against some of the defendants, at best. Liberally construed, the amended complaint states a cognizable retaliation claim against defendants Angelea, Monroe, Mejia, and Grannis. Although plaintiff purports to bring additional claims for relief, the allegations fail to state a claim under the relevant legal standards, discussed below. Thus, the remaining claims and defendants are dismissed with leave to amend for failure to state a claim.

In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege:

(1) the violation of a federal constitutional or statutory right; and (2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Jones v. Williams, 297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002). Thus, plaintiff's general claim that defendants knew of and failed to stop unspecified "civil rights violations," is not viable, as it superfluous to and subsumed by plaintiff's allegations regarding substantive causes of action. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271, (1994) ("Section 1983 'is not itself a source of substantive rights,' but merely provides 'a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'") (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144, n.3 (1979)). Moreover, mere allegations that any defendant made statements which later proved to be false, do not contain sufficient factual matter to plausibly demonstrate that any defendant violated a federally protected right. An individual defendant is not liable on a civil rights claim unless the facts establish the defendant's personal involvement in the constitutional deprivation or a causal connection between the defendant's wrongful conduct and the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 646 (9th Cir. 1989); Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743-44 (9th Cir. 1978). That is, plaintiff may not sue any official on the theory that the official is liable for the unconstitutional conduct of his or her subordinates. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1948 (2009). Because respondeat superior liability is inapplicable to § 1983 suits, "a plaintiff must plead that each Government- official defendant, through the official's own individual actions, has violated the Constitution." Id. It is plaintiff's responsibility to allege facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949; Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).

Plaintiff claims defendants retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. To state a retaliation claim, plaintiff must allege that a state actor took some adverse action against him because of his protected conduct, and that such action chilled the exercise of his First Amendment rights and did not reasonably advance a legitimate penological purpose. Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567-68 (9th Cir. 2005); Barnett v. Centoni, 31 F.3d 813, 815-16 (9th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). A "legitimate penological purpose" is not reasonably advanced where that purpose is abused "as a cover or a ruse to silence and punish" an inmate for his protected conduct. Bruce v. Ylst, 351 F.3d 1283, 1289-90 (9th Cir. 2003); see id. ("[P]rison officials may not defeat a retaliation claim on summary judgment simply by articulating a general justification for a neutral process, when there is a genuine issue of material fact as to whether the action was taken in retaliation for the exercise of a constitutional right."); Rizzo v. Dawson, 778 F.2d 527, 532 (9th Cir. 1985) ("[P]laintiff has alleged that Stocker's actions were retaliatory and were arbitrary and capricious. He has thereby sufficiently alleged that the retaliatory acts were not a reasonable exercise of prison authority and that they did not serve any ...

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