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Harris v. Rios

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 25, 2014

H.A. RIOS, et al., Defendants.


MICHAEL J. SENG, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff is a federal prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action filed pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics , 403 U.S. 388 (1971).

Pending before the Court are (1) a motion for summary judgment by Defendants Cobb, Estrada, Gonzaga, Valero, and Zaragoza, (2) Plaintiff's motion to strike portions of Defendants' motion, and (3) Plaintiff's motion to file a surreply to Defendants' motion.[1]


The action arose while Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Federal Correctional Institution - Atwater, California ("Atwater"). It proceeds on Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint against Defendants Gonzaga, Cobb, Zaragoza, Valero, and Estrada for confiscating and retaining Plaintiff's incoming and outgoing mail ("Mail Items") without providing notice of confiscation and a post-deprivation remedy (ECF No. 41, at 3-8). The Mail Items claimed to have been seized are described in the Second Amended Complaint as follows::

November 7, 2007 incoming mail items Express Mail #'s EB215054867US and EB734930888US,
May 25, 2008 outgoing Priority Mail envelope,
April 2009 incoming Priority Mail Item # 2008 1140 0000 6011 6651,
May 16, 2010 incoming Certified Mail item # 7008 1140 0000 8015 3898,
July 26, 2010 incoming Certified Mail item # 7010 0780 0001 8760 1388,
October 2010 outgoing Certified Mail package.

Defendants claim Plaintiff was suspected of using the mails to send and receive fraudulent financial documents. An investigation was initiated by the Atwater Office of Special Investigative Supervisor ("SIS"). Suspected fraudulent financial documents were seized from Plaintiff's mail as contraband (hereinafter the "Contraband Items", ECF No. 94-4, at Ex.'s 1-6g).

Plaintiff claims the Mail Items in issue in this action are not Contraband Items.


The filing of a surreply is unauthorized by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Local Rules. Plaintiff provides no justification for filing a surreply to Defendants' motion. The Court did not request or approve the surreply.

Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion to surreply (ECF No. 112) will be denied. The proposed surreply ("Proposed Notice" - ECF No. 113) will be stricken from the record without having been considered by the Court.


A. Legal Standard

"The Court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense, or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(f). Rule 12(f) is limited to striking from a pleading only those specific matters which are provided for in the rule. Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co. , 618 F.3d 970, 973-75 (9th Cir. 2010).

"A movant must show that the allegations are devoid of merit, unworthy of any consideration, and unduly prejudicial." Facility Wizard Software, Inc. v. Southeastern Technical Services, LLC , 647 F.Supp.2d 938, 942 (N.D. Ill. 2009). A motion to strike is generally disfavored. Heller Fin., Inc. v. Midwhey Powder Co. , 883 F.2d 1286, 1294 (7th Cir. 1989).

B. Arguments

1. Plaintiff

Plaintiff objects to Defendants' references in the summary judgment motion papers to his conviction, the terms "sovereign citizen" and "bill][s] of exchange", and to the Contraband Items. He argues they are impertinent, redundant and lack relevance.[2] He seeks to strike them from Defendants' motion pursuant to Rule 12(f).

2. Defendants

Defendants argue that Plaintiff's motion to strike is procedurally deficient because Rule 12(f) applies only to pleadings. They also argue that Plaintiff has provided no basis for the Court to use its inherent power to strike.

C. Discussion

Plaintiff may not use Rule 12(f) to attack Defendants' motion. Matters outside the pleadings are normally not considered on a motion to strike. Custom Foam Works, Inc. v. Hydrotech Systems, Ltd., 2010 WL 4386710, *1 (S.D. Ill. October 29, 2010) (motions to strike pursuant to Rule 12(f) are appropriate only to strike matters contained in the pleadings). Defendants' motion is not a pleading.

Even if the motion to strike were procedurally proper, it is not substantively so. Plaintiff has not demonstrated that evidence of his conviction is more prejudicial than probative. It may be probative insofar as it may reflect on his credibility. Fed.R.Evid. 403; Fed.R.Evid. 609.

The references to redemption theory, to the alleged fraudulent nature of financial documents, and to the documents themselves are relevant to the propriety of Defendants' confiscation of contraband. Fed. Rule Evid. 401. Plaintiff makes no meaningful legal or factual argument to the contrary.

Plaintiff has not shown the matter he wishes to strike is harmful and thus impertinent. Avon Pub Co v. American News Co. , 122 F.Supp. 660, 662 (D.C.N.Y. 1954) (the test for impertinence is whether the allegations are calculated to be harmful). He has not shown such matter is cumulative and redundant. Arias-Zeballos v. Tan , 2006 WL 3075528, *9 (D.C.N.Y., October 26, 2006) (a motion to strike must include with particularity the grounds therefore).

For the reasons stated, Plaintiff's motion to strike will be denied.


A. Legal Standard

Any party may move for summary judgment, and the Court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is 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); Washington Mutual Inc. v. U.S. , 636 F.3d 1207, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). Each party's position, whether it be that a fact is disputed or undisputed, must be supported by (1) citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including but not limited to depositions, documents, declarations, or discovery; or (2) showing that the materials cited do not establish the presence or absence of a genuine dispute or that the opposing party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). While the Court may consider other materials in the record not cited to by the parties, it is not required to do so. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(3); Carmen v. San Francisco Unified School Dist. , 237 F.3d 1026, 1031 (9th Cir. 2001).

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. 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 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. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); 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, Thrifty Oil Co. v. Bank of Am. Nat'l Trust & Sav. Ass'n , 322 F.3d 1039, 1046 (9th Cir. 2002), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Long v. County of Los Angeles , 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006). Summary judgment must 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." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).

B. Arguments

1. Defendants

Defendants' arguments are summarized as follows:

Plaintiff authored sham financial documents from his cell in pursuit of "sovereign citizen" and "redemption" theories he intended to use to extort monies and intimidate and harass federal employees involved in his criminal conviction. The Contraband Items were seized from Plaintiff's mail. Plaintiff admitted using the mails to transmit the Contraband Items.

Plaintiff's pleadings themselves allege interference with mailing of commercial and Uniform Commercial Code ("UCC") content of a type fully consistent with the Contraband Items confiscated. Plaintiff does not claim Defendants seized anything other than the Contraband Items. Plaintiff has no constitutional right to use the mails to commit financial fraud. Nor does he have any federally protected liberty or property interest in the Contraband Items

Plaintiff's opposition shows he received notices that the Contraband Items had been confiscated. He was provided the opportunity to, and did, grieve the confiscation.

Plaintiff has no constitutional right to engage in fraudulent activity through the mail. No reasonable official would have thought that preventing Plaintiff from engaging in such activity would be unlawful. Thus Defendants are immune from liability here.

2. Plaintiff

In response, Plaintiff argues essentially as follows:

Defendants' irrelevant and improper character evidence makes it unnecessary for him to file a responsive separate statement.

Given Defendants' discovery admission that the missing Mail Items were not among the Contraband Items they seized, there are questions of fact whether the Mail Items were contraband and also whether they were seized and retained without notice and post-deprivation remedy.

Plaintiff was not given notice he was being investigated for any institutional offense as required by BOP policy. This lack of notice shows the Mail Items were not seized as contraband as part of an investigation.

There is a dispute whether the violation was of his clearly established rights to send, receive and possess mail, thus defeating any qualified immunity, given Defendants' discovery admission that the missing Mail Items were not seized as contraband.


1. Plaintiff's Objections Overruled

Plaintiff's objections to the motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 104, at 1) simply restate his motion to strike and are overruled on the same grounds.

2. Mail Interference and Due Process Claims Remain in Dispute

Prisoners have "a First Amendment right to send and receive mail." Witherow v. Paff , 52 F.3d 264, 265 (9th Cir. 1995). However, there must be a "delicate balance" between prisoners' First Amendment rights and the discretion given to prison administrators to govern the order and security of the prison. Thornburgh v. Abbott , 490 U.S. 401, 407-408 (1989). A prison may adopt regulations or practices for incoming mail which impinge on a prisoner's First Amendment rights as long as the regulations are "reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Turner v. Safley , 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987). The Turner standard applies to regulations and practices concerning all correspondence between prisoners and to regulations concerning incoming mail received by prisoners from non-prisoners. Thornburgh , 490 U.S. at 413.

The Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment prohibits the United States from depriving any person of life, liberty, or property without "due process of law."[3] Dusenbery v. U.S. , 534 U.S. 161, 167, citing Mullane v. Central Hanover Bank & Trust Co. , 339 U.S. 306, 313 (1950). "[W]ithhold[ing] delivery of [inmate mail] must be accompanied by minimum procedural safeguards." Procunier v. Martinez , 416 U.S. 396, 417-18 (1974), overturned in part by Thornburgh , 490 U.S. at 413-14. The "minimum procedural safeguards" are: (1) notifying the inmate that the mail was seized; (2) allowing the inmate a reasonable opportunity to protest the decision; and (3) referring any complaints to a prison official other than the one who seized the mail. Id., at 418-19; Krug v. Lutz , 329 F.3d 692, 698 (9th Cir. 2003).

Defendants seized contraband financial and UCC documents mailed by and to Plaintiff, i.e., the Contraband Items included with Defendants' motion. (ECF No. 94-4, at ¶ 7-8; UMFs 6, 7(a- l. ) They did so as part of a reasonable safety and security procedure consistent with institutional policy and prisoner rights.

However, there is no competent evidence that the Contraband Items were seized from Plaintiff's Mail Items. Defendants refer to allegations in Plaintiff's pleadings. (ECF No. 1, at 5-9 and ECF No. 41, at 3-8). There Plaintiff alleged his banking records, letters, UCC documents and confidential commercial information (ECF No. 1, at 34-35) were seized and held in the Atwater mail room ( Id., at 24) pending an investigation ( Id., at 28) and that he is being punished for educating himself on commercial law and the UCC. (ECF No. 41, at 8.)

Plaintiff does not dispute the Contraband Items are his (ECF No. 110, at 5) or that he sent and received them through the mails. (ECF No. 94-3). He does claim they were confiscated from his property bag upon his transfer out of Atwater rather than directly from his mail. (ECF No. 104, at 2; ECF No. 110, at 16-17.)

What Plaintiff does dispute, is that Mail Items EB215054867US and EB734930888US were confiscated by Defendants as contraband.[4] He offers Defendant Gonzaga's admissions that these items were not among items seized as contraband. (ECF No. 105, at 5, Ex. 3, Request No. 1.)

Plaintiff shows Mail items EB215054867US and EB734930888US were diverted to the SIS without notice to him (ECF No. 110, at 1; ECF No. 104, at 4-5, 11) and retained indefinitely. (ECF No. 94-3, at 11:9-17.) Defendants do not argue or show that Plaintiff was provided notice of confiscation of any items that were not contraband.

The Court finds Plaintiff's evidentiary showing sufficient to establish a factual dispute whether the Mail Items were non-contraband seized and retained by Defendants without notice and opportunity for post-deprivation relief in violation of his rights. See e.g., Antonette v. Skolnik , 748 F.Supp.2d 1201, 1211-12, (D. Nev. 2010) (pro se inmate allegations that prison officials deprived him of incoming mail without notice and post-deprivation remedy sufficient to state a § 1983 claim).

Defendants have not shown entitlement to judgment on the First and Fifth Amendment claims.

3. Qualified Immunity Remains in Dispute

Government officials enjoy qualified immunity from civil damages unless their conduct violates "clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald , 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982).

Qualified immunity protects "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Malley v. Briggs , 475 U.S. 335, 341(1986). Therefore, "[i]f the [defendant's] mistake as to what the law requires is reasonable... the [defendant] is entitled to the immunity defense." Saucier v. Katz , 533 U.S. 194, 205 (2001), overruled in part by Pearson v. Callahan , 555 U.S. 223, 227 (2009); Estate of Ford v. Ramirez-Palmer , 301 F.3d 1043, 1050 (9th Cir. 2002). "The principles of qualified immunity shield an officer from personal liability when an officer reasonably believes that his or her conduct complies with the law." Pearson , 555 U.S. at 244.

Where there are factual disputes as to the parties' conduct or motives, the case cannot be resolved at summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. Liston v. County of Riverside , 120 F.3d 965, 978 (9th Cir. 1997); Collins v. Jordan , 110 F.3d 1363, 1369 (9th Cir. 1997); Alexander v. City of San Francisco , 29 F.3d 1355, 1364 (9th Cir.1994); ACT UP!/Portland v. Bagley , 988 F.2d 868, 873 (9th Cir. 1993). Such is the case here, for the reasons discussed above.

Accordingly, Defendants' qualified immunity claim cannot be resolved on summary judgment.


Plaintiff's motion to file surreply is unsupported and the surreply filed is unauthorized. Plaintiff's motion to strike is procedurally and substantively deficient. Plaintiff's mail interference and due process claims remain in dispute. Qualified immunity cannot be resolved given the underlying factual dispute.

Accordingly, for the reasons stated, it is HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's motion to file surreply (ECF No. 112) is DENIED and the proposed surreply (ECF No. 113) shall be STRICKEN from the record,
2. Plaintiff's motion to strike portions of Defendants' summary judgment motion (ECF No. 103) is DENIED,
3. Defendants' summary judgment motion (ECF No. 94) is DENIED, and
4. The case shall remain open.


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