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Brown v. Whitten

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 5, 2014

MICHAEL K. BROWN, Plaintiff,
v.
WHITTEN, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

KENDALL J. NEWMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel. 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).

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 to make monthly payments of twenty percent of the preceding month's income credited to plaintiff's 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).

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 when 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), superseded by statute as stated in Lopez v. Smith , 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000) ("a judge may dismiss [in forma pauperis] claims which are based on indisputably meritless legal theories or whose factual contentions are clearly baseless."); 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)). 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. However, "[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement [of facts] need only give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (quoting Bell Atlantic , 550 U.S. at 555, citations and internal quotations marks omitted). In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Erickson , 551 U.S. at 93, and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes , 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds, Davis v. Scherer , 468 U.S. 183 (1984).

Named as defendants are Acting Warden Singh, Appeals Coordinator Sinkovich, Acting Warden Duffy, Correctional Officer Whitten and Correctional Lieutenant Aguila. Plaintiff alleges that on December 22, 2011, he was transferred from the California Medical Facility ("CMF") to the Deuel Vocational Institution ("DVI"). Plaintiff alleges that prior to his transfer, defendant Whitten illegally confiscated some of plaintiff's personal property. Plaintiff alleges that if an inmate had more than three appliances, defendant Whitten would illegally confiscate them without giving a receipt or an opportunity to send the excess appliances home. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Whitten did not comply with the regulations for processing property contained in the Operations Manual for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR").

The United States Supreme Court has held that "an unauthorized intentional deprivation of property by a state employee does not constitute a violation of the procedural requirements of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment if a meaningful postdeprivation remedy for the loss is available." Hudson v. Palmer , 468 U.S. 517, 533 (1984). Thus, where the state provides a meaningful postdeprivation remedy, only authorized, intentional deprivations constitute actionable violations of the Due Process Clause. An authorized deprivation is one carried out pursuant to established state procedures, regulations, or statutes. Piatt v. McDougall , 773 F.2d 1032, 1036 (9th Cir. 1985); see also Knudson v. City of Ellensburg , 832 F.2d 1142, 1149 (9th Cir. 1987).

In the instant case, plaintiff has not alleged any facts which suggest that the alleged confiscation of his property by defendant Whitten was authorized. Plaintiff's claim that defendant Whitten illegally took his property and did not follow regulations indicates that the alleged confiscation was not authorized. In other words, plaintiff's property was not, for example, confiscated pursuant to a policy.

The California Tort Claims Act provides an adequate post-deprivation state remedy for the random and unauthorized taking of property. Barnett v. Centoni , 31 F.3d 813, 816-17 (9th Cir. 1994). Thus, plaintiff has an adequate post-deprivation remedy and his claims relating to the alleged confiscation of his property are not cognizable in this action and must be dismissed.[1]

The complaint also contains no allegations against the other defendants, i.e., Singh, Sinkovich, Duffy and Aguila.

The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides as follows:

Every person who, under color of [state law]... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States... to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution... shall be liable to the party injured in an ...

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