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Rene Medina v. Kathleen Dickinson

January 23, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Allison Claire United States Magistrate Judge


Plaintiff, a state prisoner proceeding pro se on the basis of a second amended complaint (ECF No. 19) , seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged constitutional violations related to his placement in administrative segregation ("Ad Seg"). Pending before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment, re-noticed on June 27, 2012. See ECF Nos. 51-53, 56. Plaintiff opposes the motion. ECF Nos. 54, 58.

Plaintiff alleges that he was deprived of due process and subjected to cruel and unusual punishment by having been placed in Ad Seg from May 22, 2009 until March 10, 2010, on the basis of a false charge of overfamiliarity with staff. He contends that his retention in Ad Seg was improper because the original serious rules violation for which he was found guilty was dismissed after he was denied witnesses at the initial rules violation hearing. He further contends that he was denied due process by classification hearings that resulted in decisions to retain him in Ad Seg. Defendants move for summary judgment on the ground that plaintiff has failed to state a claim for relief and that he is not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Motion for Summary Judgment ("MSJ") at 4-13.*fn1 In addition, defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 13-15.

Legal Standards Under Rule 56

Summary judgment is appropriate when it is demonstrated that there exists "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a).

Under summary judgment practice, the moving party always bears the initial responsibility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying those portions of "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any," which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.

Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)). "[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the 'pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file.'" Id., at 324. Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See id. at 322. "[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Id., at 323. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should be granted, "so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied." Id.

If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56©; Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 n.11. The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, see Wool v. Tandem Computers, Inc., 818 F.2d 1433, 1436 (9th Cir. 1987).

In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that "the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 631. Thus, the "purpose of summary judgment is to 'pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e) advisory committee's note on 1963 amendments).

In resolving the summary judgment motion, the court examines the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The evidence of the opposing party is to be believed. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. All reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the facts placed before the court must be drawn in favor of the opposing party. See Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. Nevertheless, inferences are not drawn out of the air, and it is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 602 F. Supp. 1224, 1244-45 (E.D. Cal. 1985), aff'd, 810 F.2d 898, 902 (9th Cir. 1987). Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted).

In applying these rules, district courts must "construe liberally motion papers and pleadings filed by pro se inmates and . . . avoid applying summary judgment rules strictly." Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010).

Undisputed Facts

The parties do not dispute the pertinent historical facts. Both plaintiff and defendants rely on the documentation of the disciplinary proceeding from plaintiff's prison central file. What is really in dispute is the characterization of plaintiff's profession of personal feelings for a staff member as "overfamiliarity;" the propriety of treating such a declaration as a disciplinary offense; and whether plaintiff's removal from general population and retention for nine months in administrative segregation violated his constitutional rights. The facts are as follows:

Plaintiff Rene Medina is a state prisoner serving a life sentence in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) who was, at the times relevant for this action, housed at the California Medical Facility-Vacaville (CMF). At the relevant times defendant Clark was a vocational instructor at CMF; defendant Hurtado was a CMF facility captain; defendant Gonzales was an associate warden at CMF; and defendant Swarthout was chief deputy warden at CMF.

Plaintiff began taking defendant Clark's computer class in April of 2008. Medina Dep. 9: 8-18, ECF No. 53-2. On May 22, 2009, plaintiff approached defendant Clark's office, looking flushed. Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") at 3; CDC 128-B General Chrono dated May 22, 2009 ("5/22/09 Chrono"), ECF No. 19 at 21 (Exhibit to SAC) and ECF No. 52-1 (Exhibit to Defendants' Undisputed Facts ("DUF")) at 23.*fn2 Defendant Clark asked plaintiff if he was all right. Medina Dep.15:24-25 -16:1-8; 5/22/09 Chrono. According to defendant Clark, plaintiff stated that he couldn't even speak, left and then returned a short time later, stating that he had a lot of burdens and that it had been suggested that he speak with a psychiatric professional. 5/22/09 Chrono. After class was dismissed, plaintiff told defendant Clark he was in love with her. Plaintiff's Dep. 13:1-5; 19:9-11; 5/22/09 Chrono. Plaintiff admits that he spoke inappropriately. SAC at 6; Medina Dep. 19:12-14; 30:19-20; 31:9-11; 36:4-6.

Q. Did you consider what happened between you and Ms. Clark to be a misunderstanding?

A. No. I was inappropriate in my speech.

Plaintiff's Dep. 36:4-6.

Defendant Clark told plaintiff he could no longer take part in her class, then asked him to step out of her office and into the hallway. Plaintiff complied, then asked if his actions would prevent him from participating in graduation and would affect his C-file. Defendant Clark told him that they absolutely would. As they continued to walk together to the end of the hallway, plaintiff asked defendant Clark to reconsider her decision. 5/22/09 Chrono. Plaintiff then returned to his housing unit. Id.; Medina Dep. 19:25-20: 1-14. Defendant Clark documented the incident on a chrono and filed a rules violation report ("RVR") against plaintiff for overfamiliarity. 5/22/09 Chrono; RVR signed 5/26/09, ECF No. 19 at 21-22 and ECF No. 52-1 at 23-24.

After plaintiff had returned to his unit, staff arrived and told him that he was being placed in administrative segregation. Medina Dep. at 22:25-23:11. At approximately 5:30 p.m., Lieutenant Mirich served plaintiff with an administrative segregation placement notice. Notice dated 5/22/09, ECF No. 52-1 at 11. The notice stated that plaintiff was being placed on Ad Seg status for telling defendant Clark he was "'completely, totally in love' with her" and that his "presence in the general population at CMF was deemed a threat to the safety and security of the institution and to staff." The notice also states that plaintiff would remain on Ad Seg status "pending the adjudication of a Rules Violation Report (RVR) for Attempted Over Familiarity with staff and/or ICC/Administrative review for a possible transfer due to staff safety concerns." Id.

On May 26, 2009, plaintiff appeared before the Institutional Classification Committee (ICC) for his initial administrative segregation review before defendants Swarthout, Gonzalez and Hurtado. SAC at 8, 10; CDC Form 128-G dated 5/26/09, ECF No. 52-1 at 12. Noting the specific reasons for plaintiff's Ad Seg placement, the committee elected to retain plaintiff in Ad Seg pending adjudication of the disciplinary violation. Plaintiff was granted walk-alone yard and non-contact visitation and the committee stated in its chrono that plaintiff was in agreement with the committee's actions. Id.

On May 28, 2009, defendant Clark submitted another general chrono for plaintiff's file stating that she felt threatened by plaintiff's "actions and statements of overfamiliarity," and requesting that he be retained in Ad Seg and transferred to another institution. SAC, pp. 4-5; Medina Dep. at 33:9 - 34: 23; CDC Form128-B dated 5/28/09, ECF No. 19 at 52 and ECF No. 52-1 at 32. On June 10, 2009, the Classification Services Representative (CSR) approved a sixty-day extension in plaintiff's Ad Seg placement pending adjudication of the rules violation. CDC Form 128-G dated 6/10/09, ECF No. 52-1 at 13. On June 28, 2009, plaintiff filed a grievance claiming that defendant Hurtado had violated his right to due process by failing to interview him before placing him in Ad Seg. Grievance No. #CMFM-09-1683, ECF 52-1 at 37. The appeal was reviewed and partially granted at the second level by defendant Gonzalez, but later denied at the Director's level of review. ECF No. 52-1 at 38, 44-49.

The hearing on plaintiff's disciplinary violation began on July 1, 2009, but was postponed by the senior hearing officer until July 6, 2009, pending the availability of a witness. ECF No. 52-1 at 24, 26. On July 6, 2009, plaintiff waived the attendance of various witnesses, including defendant Clark, stipulating to the testimony of the other witnesses. ECF No. 52-1 at 26. Plaintiff entered a "not guilty" plea, stating "I wasn't disrespectful or even attempt to become over familiar." Id. Plaintiff submitted a written statement to defendant Clark, and a copy of his graduation speech. ECF No. 52-1 at 25-26; Medina Dep. 36:17-38:4, 25-39:2; 43:12-44:15. Plaintiff was "found guilty of a Division 'F' offense for violation of CCR Title 15 Section 3005(a);" he was "warned and counseled" with regard to his behavior in the future. ECF No. 52-1 at 27.

On July 22, 2009, defendant Clark submitted another general chrono after receiving an envelope from plaintiff containing a document entitled, "Mr. Medina's speech for the Graduation Ceremony, May 6, 2009." CDC Form 128-B dated 7/22/09, ECF No. 52-1 at 33. The document contained a handwritten note that stated, "[i]n essence, this is what I was trying to express. I thought you should know. . .." Id. Plaintiff later sent Clark a copy of a grievance against her. Medina Dep. 43:15-44:15.

On August 5, 2009, plaintiff appeared before the ICC for a subsequent Ad Seg review, attended by defendants Swarthout and Hurtado among others. CDC Form 128-G dated 8/5/09, ECF No. 52-1 at 35. The committee noted that the disciplinary violation had been adjudicated and that plaintiff had been found guilty of the charge of overfamiliarity. Id. It was also noted that plaintiff had not been assessed any credit forfeiture because of due process violations and further that the offense did not warrant a SHU (security housing unit) assessment.

Id. Nevertheless, the ICC elected to retain plaintiff in Ad Seg based on "staff safety concerns," an apparent reference to the May 28, 2009 chrono in which defendant Clark expressed her feeling of being threatened by plaintiff. Id. The ICC recommended plaintiff's adverse transfer, chose to retain plaintiff in Ad Seg pending the transfer and referred the matter to CSR. Id. Plaintiff, who "actively participated" in the hearing, "did not agree" with the committee's actions. Id.

On September 1, 2009, plaintiff appeared at an ICC hearing on his Ad Seg placement and was again retained in Ad Seg based on safety concerns. CDC Form 128-G dated 9/01/09, ECF No. 52-1 at 14. It was noted that plaintiff stated his due process rights had been violated at his RVR hearing because he had not been allowed to present evidence at the hearing. It was further noted that upon transfer plaintiff was eligible for medium-A custody with a work/program group of A2-B. Id.

On September 11, 2009, the CSR approved plaintiff's transfer to another institution, noting that he was to be transferred by October 3, 2009. CDC Form 128-G dated 9/11/09, ECF No. 52-3 at 15. If the transfer did not occur by that date, the case would have to ...

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