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Hunt v. Fields

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 1, 2014

MICHAEL A. HUNT, Plaintiff,
v.
D. FIELDS, Defendant.

ORDER

KIMBERLY J. MUELLER, District Judge.

On January 30, 2014, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff, finding defendant Fields had removed him from his job on the prison recycling crew in retaliation for his naming her as a defendant in a prior lawsuit, and awarding him $1000 in compensatory damages. ECF No. 120. The jury did not find plaintiff was entitled to punitive damages. Id.

On February 20, 2014, plaintiff filed a motion for judgment and injunctive relief, a motion for a judgment as a matter of law, and a motion for a new trial on punitive damages, ECF Nos. 123-125. Defendant has opposed plaintiff's motions for a new trial and for a judgment as a matter of law. ECF No. 126.

After considering the parties' arguments, the court DENIES the motions.

I. MOTION FOR DECLARATORY AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF (ECF No. 123)

Plaintiff asks the court to enter declaratory and injunctive relief as requested in the complaint. ECF No. 123 at 1; see also Complaint, ECF No. 1 at 9 (requesting a "declaratory judgment" and "Injunctive Relief as requested"). He argues that without the requested relief, there is nothing to stop defendant or those acting on her behalf from retaliating against him for this or any other lawsuit. He notes defendant's trial testimony that she had not received formal training about inmates' right of access to the courts and the evidence suggesting she would not be subject to discipline for impeding plaintiff's access to the courts. He concludes that the damage to his First Amendment rights is sufficient irreparable injury to justify the entry of an injunction.

A. Injunctive Relief

Injunctive relief is an extraordinary remedy that may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the moving party is entitled to such relief; it is never ordered as of right. Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 22 (2008). "To seek injunctive relief, a plaintiff must show that he is under threat of suffering injury in fact' that is concrete and particularized; the threat must be actual and imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical; it must be fairly traceable to the challenged action of the defendant; and it must be likely that a favorable judicial decision will prevent or redress the injury." Summers v. Earth Island Inst., 555 U.S. 488, 493 (2009).

Under federal law, past injury by itself does not establish standing. Lopez v. Candaele, 630 F.3d 775, 785 (9th Cir. 2010); Mayfield v. United States, 599 F.3d 964, 970 (9th Cir. 2010) ("Once a plaintiff has been wronged, he is entitled to injunctive relief only if he can show that he faces a real or immediate threat... that he will again be wronged in a similar way.'" (quoting City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 111 (1983))). Instead, the plaintiff must show "an injury that is actual or imminent, not conjectural or hypothetical. In the context of injunctive relief, the plaintiff must demonstrate a real or immediate threat of an irreparable injury.'" Hangarter v. Provident Life & Acc. Ins. Co. 373 F.3d 998, 1021 (9th Cir. 2004) (emphasis in original) (quoting Clark v. City of Lakewood, 259 F.3d 996, 1007 (9th Cir. 2001)). Neither speculation nor subjective apprehension about possible harm establishes standing. Mayfield, 599 F.3d at 970.

Plaintiff does not allege he is facing any imminent injury but only that without an injunction, there is nothing to stop Fields or those acting on her behalf from retaliating against him. Moreover, he has not alleged Fields acted in conformance with a policy nor shown a pattern of retaliatory acts. Cf. Gomez v. Vernon, 255 F.3d 1118, 1129 (9th Cir. 2001). His fear of future injury, even coupled with the past injury, is not a sufficient basis for injunctive relief.

B. Declaratory Relief

Under 28 U.S.C. ยง 2201, a court may "declare the rights and other legal relations" of the parties to an actual controversy. "The Declaratory Judgment Act gives the Court the authority to declare the rights and legal relations of interested parties, but not a duty to do so." Leadsinger, Inc. v. BMG Music Pub., 512 F.3d 522, 533 (9th Cir. 2008). When the relief sought "will neither serve a useful purpose in clarifying and settling the legal relations in issue nor terminate proceedings and afford relief from uncertainty and controversy faced by the parties, " a court need not grant declaratory relief. United States v. Washington, 759 F.2d 1353, 1357 (9th Cir. 1985).

Moreover, as with injunctive relief, a person seeking declaratory relief must "show a very significant possibility of future harm; it is insufficient for [him] to demonstrate only a past injury." San Diego Cnty Gun Rights Comm. v. Reno, 98 F.3d 1121, 1126 (9th Cir. 1996); Mayfield, 599 F.3d at 969 ("[A] plaintiff who has standing to seek damages for a past injury, or injunctive relief from an ongoing injury, does not necessarily have standing to seek prospective relief such as a declaratory judgment.").

Plaintiff has not shown that a declaratory judgment will "afford relief from uncertainty and controversy faced by the parties": the only controversy in this case was whether defendant had retaliated against plaintiff on a single occasion. Moreover, as noted ...


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