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Benyamini v. Vance

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 18, 2014

S. VANCE, et al., Defendants.


DALE A. DROZD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, a former state prisoner proceeding pro se, seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

I. Filing Fee or Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

Plaintiff has not paid the required filing fee of $350.00 or filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a) & 1915(a). Plaintiff will be granted thirty days to pay the filing fee in full or submit a properly completed application to proceed in forma pauperis.

II. Plaintiff's Complaint

Plaintiff's handwritten complaint is difficult to decipher because much of it is illegible. It appears, however, that plaintiff is attempting to allege that he was denied his right of access to the courts and was unconstitutionally retaliated against during the time period May 26, 2009 to July 2009, while he was incarcerated at California State Prison - Sacramento. In his complaint plaintiff names three defendants: Captain S. Vance, Lieutenant Roth and Sergeant K. Henderson.

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)). However, 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." Bell Atlantic , 550 U.S. at 555. In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint. See Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hosp. Trustees , 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976). The court must also construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor. See Jenkins v. McKeithen , 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969).

Here, the allegations in plaintiff's complaint are so vague and conclusory that the court is unable to determine whether the current action is frivolous or fails to state a claim for relief. The complaint does not contain a short and plain statement as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although the Federal Rules adopt a flexible pleading policy, a complaint must give fair notice to the defendants and must allege facts that support the elements of the claim plainly and succinctly. Jones v. Community Redev. Agency , 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). Plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts which defendants engaged in that support his claims. Id . Because plaintiff has failed to comply with the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), the complaint will be dismissed. The court will, however, grant leave to file an amended complaint.

III. Legal Standard Applicable to a Denial of Access to the Courts Claim

The Ninth Circuit has identified two types of access to court claims: "those involving prisoners' right to affirmative assistance and those involving prisoners' rights to litigate without active interference." Silva v. DeVittorio , 658 F.3d 1090, 1102 (9th Cir. 2011). As to a prisoner's right to affirmative assistance, the right of access to the courts requires prison officials to assist prisoners "in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law." Id . (quoting Bounds v. Smith , 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977)). As to a prisoner's right to litigate without active interference, the right of access to the courts "forbids states from erect[ing] barriers that impede the right of access of incarcerated persons" to file civil actions that have a "reasonable basis in law or fact." Id. at 1102 (quoting Snyder v. Nolen , 380 F.3d 279, 290 (7th Cir. 2004) & John L. v. Adams , 969 F.2d 228, 235 (6th Cir. 1992)). A prisoner asserting any denial of access to the courts claim must allege the anticipated or lost underlying cause of action as well an "actual injury, " - "that is actual prejudice with respect to contemplated or existing litigation, such as the inability to meet a filing deadline or to present a claim." Lewis v. Casey , 518 U.S. 343, 348 (1996). See also Christopher v. Harbury , 536 U.S. 403, 415 (2002); Nevada Dept. of Corrections v. Greene , 648 F.3d 1014, 1018 (9th Cir. 2011).

Therefore, if plaintiff elects to file an amended complaint, he must clarify in his allegations whether he is asserting a violation of his right to affirmative assistance or is instead alleging an active interference with his right of access to the courts. In any amended complaint he elects to file plaintiff should also provide the case name and docket number of the court case(s) that were allegedly dismissed as a result of the challenged actions and should explain what action each defendant engaged in that resulted in the dismissal of plaintiff's court case(s).

IV. Legal Standard Applicable to a Retaliation Claim

It is well-established that prison inmates have a constitutional right to be free from retaliation for engaging in activity protected by the First Amendment, including pursuing "civil rights litigation in the courts.'" Rhodes v. Robinson , 408 F.3d 559, 566 (9th Cir.2005) (quoting Schroeder v. McDonald , 55 F.3d 454, 461 (9th Cir.1995)). A prisoner's claim for unconstitutional retaliation has five elements. First, plaintiff must allege and show that he engaged in conduct protected by the First Amendment. See Watison v. Carter , 668 F.3d 1108, 1114 (9th Cir.2012). Second, a "plaintiff must claim that the defendant took adverse action against the plaintiff." Id . (citing Rhodes , 408 F.3d at 567). "The adverse action need not be an independent constitutional violation." Id . (citing Pratt v. Rowland , 65 F.3d 802, 806 (9th Cir.1995). Third, plaintiff must allege and show a causal connection between the protected conduct and the adverse action. Id . Fourth, the plaintiff must allege and prove either a chilling effect on the exercise of his or her First Amendment rights or some other harm. Id . Finally, the plaintiff must allege and establish that the ...

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