United States District Court, E.D. California
ANTHONY L. ROBINSON, Plaintiff,
GOVERNOR JERRY BROWN et al., Defendants.
ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
DALE A. DROZD, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter is before the court on a motion to dismiss brought on behalf of defendants Elia and Goeke. Plaintiff has filed an opposition to the motion, and defendants have filed a reply.
Plaintiff is proceeding on his original complaint against defendants Elia and Goeke. Therein, he alleges that he is a member of the House of Yahweh faith, and when he asked defendants Elia and Goeke for access to the chapel at California State Prison, Sacramento ("CSP-Sacramento") in 2009, they refused him such access. (Compl. at 1-12 & Exs.) At screening, the court determined that plaintiff's complaint appeared to state cognizable claims for relief against the defendants under the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"). (Doc. No. 13)
LEGAL STANDARD FOR A MOTION TO DISMISS PURSUANT TO RULE 12(b)(6)
A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the sufficiency of the complaint. North Star Int'l v. Arizona Corp. Comm'n , 720 F.2d 578, 581 (9th Cir. 1983). Dismissal of the complaint, or any claim within it, "can be based on the lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged under a cognizable legal theory." Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't , 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). See also Robertson v. Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. , 749 F.2d 530, 534 (9th Cir. 1984). 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 Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
In determining whether a pleading states a claim, the court accepts as true all material allegations in the complaint and construes those allegations, as well as the reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spalding , 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trustees of Rex Hosp. , 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976); Love v. United States , 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). In the context of a motion to dismiss, the court also resolves doubts in the plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen , 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). However, the court need not accept as true conclusory allegations, unreasonable inferences, or unwarranted deductions of fact. W. Mining Council v. Watt , 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981).
In general, pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). The court has an obligation to construe such pleadings liberally. Bretz v. Kelman , 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n.1 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc). The court's liberal interpretation of a pro se complaint, however, may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not pled. Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Alaska , 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982); see also Pena v. Gardner , 976 F.2d 469, 471 (9th Cir. 1992).
A defendant may bring a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) based on the doctrines of res judicata or collateral estoppel when the defense does not raise any disputed issues of fact. See Scott v. Kuhlmann , 746 F.2d 1377, 1378 (9th Cir. 1984).
In the pending motion to dismiss, defense counsel argues that the court should dismiss plaintiff's complaint because his claims concerning defendants' alleged denial of his requests for chapel access at CSP-Sacramento are barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel. Alternatively, defense counsel argues that plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief is barred by the statute of limitations and that plaintiff is not allowed to seek monetary relief under RLUIPA because defendants are immune. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss at 4-11.) Upon consideration of the parties' arguments, and for the reasons stated herein, the court agrees that this action is barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel.
I. Plaintiff's Prior Cause of Action
On March 29, 2002, plaintiff filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in which he claimed that defendant Matthew Cate, the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, violated his rights under the First Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause, and RLUIPA by denying him access to the prison chapel at Salinas Valley State Prison. See Robinson v. Delgado, 2-cv-01538 NJV (N.D. Cal.) ("Robinson I"). More than eight years later, on May 19, 2010, after a jury trial, the court entered judgment against plaintiff and for defendant Cate. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Exs. A-B & D.)
Although plaintiff's complaint in Robinson I concerned conditions of confinement at Salinas Valley State Prison, the record before the court demonstrates that plaintiff's counsel raised plaintiff's complaint about chapel access at CSP-Sacramento during the trial in Robinson I. At the beginning of trial of that case, the court instructed the jury that plaintiff was alleging that Matthew Cate "violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act by denying [plaintiff]... access to the prison chapel or other accommodations for group worship on the Sabbath or Saturday...." (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. D.) Plaintiff's counsel then gave an opening statement in which he explained that while most of the events in dispute occurred at Salinas Valley State Prison, the religious violations at issue had continued to take place at CSP-Sacramento. (Id.) In this regard, plaintiff's counsel made clear that since plaintiff's incarceration at CSP-Sacramento, he had not received access to a place of worship with other House of Yahweh inmates. (Id.)
In addition, testimony introduced in Robinson I addressed whether inmates who identified themselves as associated with House of Yahweh faith were provided access to the prison chapel at CSP-Sacramento. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. D.) For example, on direct examination plaintiff testified that he was not able to meet with House of Yahweh inmates at CSP-Sacramento and that he had filed an inmate appeal and requested access to the chapel at CSP-Sacramento, but that prison officials denied his request. (Id.)
Plaintiff's counsel also gave a closing argument in Robinson I in which he explained that since plaintiff's transfer to "CSP Sacramento in June of 2009, he has had no access at all to the chapel." (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. D.) Plaintiff's counsel argued to the jury that, "[w]hile every other faith group, faith groups, including Jehovah Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists and Christians and Buddhists and Muslims and Native Americans and Satan Worshipers have gotten chapel access, and Mr. Robinson and his House of Yahweh group cannot." (Id.) Meanwhile, counsel for defendants argued in closing in Robinson I that
if you find that the state must provide Saturday chapel and chapel on feast days for Mr. Robinson, it's an impermissible intrusion on matters of prison and public safety and disregards the discretion of prison officials in matters of prison security. It also ignores the rights of other ...