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Hernandez v. Lozano

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 19, 2014

J.D. LOZANO, et al., Defendants.


DALE A. DROZD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

I. In Forma Pauperis Application

Plaintiff has submitted a declaration that makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will be granted.

Plaintiff is required to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a), 1915(b)(1). By this order, plaintiff will be assessed an initial partial filing fee in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). By separate order, the court will direct the appropriate agency to collect the initial partial filing fee from plaintiff's trust account and forward it to the Clerk of the Court. Thereafter, plaintiff will be obligated for monthly payments of twenty percent of the preceding month's income credited to plaintiff's prison trust account. These payments will be forwarded by the appropriate agency to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in plaintiff's account exceeds $10.00, until the filing fee is paid in full. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

II. Screening Requirement

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).

A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy , 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). The court may, therefore, dismiss a claim as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke , 490 U.S. at 327. The critical inquiry is whether a constitutional claim, however inartfully pleaded, has an arguable legal and factual basis. See Jackson v. Arizona , 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989); Franklin , 745 F.2d at 1227.

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).

III. Plaintiff's Complaint

In his complaint plaintiff alleges as follows. Defendant Soria improperly charged plaintiff with a prison rules violation for an infraction that defendant Soria did not observe and that, thereafter, defendants Lozano, Guzman and Cano participated in a cover-up of that fraudulent rules violation charge. (ECF No. 1 at 3-4.) Plaintiff claims that his due process rights were violated at the prison disciplinary hearing on the rule violation charge and that he has lost good time credits as a result of the rules violation conviction. (Id.) Plaintiff has attached several exhibits to his complaint including a copy of the rules violation charge in question. That rules violation charge (log no. S1-11-05-0382) was issued on June 3, 2011, and charged plaintiff with the attempted murder of inmate Rodriguez. Plaintiff was found guilty of that disciplinary charge and assessed 360 days loss of worktime credits for a Division A-1 offense and was referred to the Unit Classification Committee for a SHU term assessment. (ECF No. 1 at 14.)

In terms of relief, plaintiff seeks $100, 000 in monetary damages, an "injunction to halt the so-called Code of Silence[]", and the removal of the fraudulent prison rules violation conviction from his record. ( Id. at 3.)

IV. Analysis

A civil rights action is the proper mechanism for a prisoner seeking to challenge the conditions of his confinement. Badea v. Cox , 931 F.2d 573, 574 (9th Cir.1991). In contrast, habeas corpus proceedings are the proper mechanism for a prisoner seeking to challenge the fact or duration of his confinement. Preiser v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 475, 484 (1973). Here, plaintiff is challenging a prison disciplinary conviction, which resulted in his forfeiture of 360 days of time credits. Plaintiff's success in this action would necessarily call into question the validity of his prison disciplinary proceeding and implicate the duration of his confinement. Accordingly, a writ of habeas corpus is plaintiff's sole remedy in federal court which may be pursued only after exhausting all of his constitutional claims by first presenting them to the state's highest court. See, e.g., Wilkinson v. Dotson , 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005) ("a state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation) - no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit (state conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings) - if success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration.") (emphasis in original); Edwards v. Balisok , 520 U.S. 641, 648 (1997) (dismissing a § 1983 action seeking declaratory relief and money damages because a successful challenge to the procedures used in a prison disciplinary hearing would necessarily imply the invalidity of the punishment imposed); Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477, 486-87 (1994) (holding that a state prisoner may not recover damages under § 1983 for allegedly unconstitutional imprisonment, or for any other harm caused by "actions whose unlawfulness would render the imprisonment invalid, " unless he can prove that the conviction or other basis for confinement has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such a determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus).

For these reasons, the undersigned will recommend that this civil rights action be dismissed without prejudice so that plaintiff may first seek habeas relief with respect to the prison disciplinary conviction at issue.

V. Conclusion

In accordance with the above, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's request for leave to proceed in forma pauperis is granted; and

2. Plaintiff is obligated to pay the statutory filing fee of $350.00 for this action. Plaintiff is assessed an initial partial filing fee in accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). All fees shall be collected and paid in accordance with this court's order to the Director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation filed concurrently herewith.

Also, IT IS HEREBY RECOMMENDED that this civil rights action be dismissed without prejudice as barred by the holdings of Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477 (1994) and Edwards v. Balisok , 520 U.S. 641 (1997).

These findings and recommendations are submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l). Within fourteen days after being served with these findings and recommendations, plaintiff may file written objections with the court and serve a copy on all parties. Such a document should be captioned "Objections to Magistrate Judge's Findings and Recommendations." Plaintiff is advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to appeal the District Court's order. Martinez v. Ylst , 951 F.2d 1153 (9th Cir. 1991).

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