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Armstrong v. Martinez

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 13, 2014

M. MARTINEZ, et al., Defendants.


GARY S. AUSTIN, Magistrate Judge.

I. Screening Requirement

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This proceeding was referred to this court by Local Rule 302 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

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). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action or appeal... fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

"Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions, " none of which applies to section 1983 actions. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A. , 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Pursuant to Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief...." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). "Such a statement must simply give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Swierkiewicz , 534 U.S. at 512. However, "the liberal pleading standard... applies only to a plaintiff's factual allegations." Neitze v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989). "[A] liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled." Bruns v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin. , 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Ivey v. Bd. of Regents , 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982)).

II. Plaintiff's Claims

Plaintiff, a former inmate, brings this action against Defendant correctional officials employed by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) at Pleasant Valley State Prison. The events that give rise to this lawsuit occurred while Plaintiff was an inmate in CDCR custody at Pleasant Valley. Plaintiff names as individual defendants Sergeant B. Davi and Correctional Officer M. Martinez.

Plaintiff's complaint consists of a rambling narrative, interspersed with legal argument and legal conclusions. It appears that Plaintiff is setting forth claims related to a disciplinary process. Plaintiff also refers to expressions of religious exercise and conditions of confinement. Plaintiff also refers to a retaliatory motive for the disciplinary charge. Plaintiff also complains about confiscation of a typewriter (he refers to the typewriter as an "ADA medical device").

Plaintiff alleges that on August 17, 2009, he was charged with a disciplinary violation. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that he was charged with urinating into a trash can. Plaintiff alleges that he was suffering from "diabetic urgency" at the time. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Martinez falsified the charge because Plaintiff is a Muslim. Plaintiff contends that he cannot be guilty of the charged offense, as Muslims do not expose their private parts for others to view.

Plaintiff also alleges that in March of 2009, he was subjected to unconstitutional conditions of confinement when he was moved into a cell that was extremely cold. Plaintiff alleges that as a result he suffered "severe painful chills."

Plaintiff alleges that on May 7, 2009, Defendant Martinez appeared at Plaintiff's cell and told Plaintiff "not to write him up." Martinez accused Plaintiff of helping another inmate file a lawsuit against his son. Plaintiff responded that he had no knowledge of any lawsuit filed against Defendant's son. Martinez told Plaintiff that "he would so something to cause plaintiff some real problems."

A. Disciplinary Process

Plaintiff's central allegation appears to be a fraudulent disciplinary process. Plaintiff alleges that he was convicted based upon false charges by Defendant Martinez. In Edwards v. Balisok , 520 U.S. 641, 644 (1997), the United States Supreme Court applied the doctrine articulated in Heck v. Humphrey , 512 U.S. 477, 487 (1994), to prison disciplinary hearings. In Heck, the Court held that a state prisoner's claim for damages for unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment is not cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 if a judgment in favor of plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence, unless the prisoner can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has previously been invalidated. 512 U.S. at 487. In applying the principle to the facts of Balisok, the Court held that a claim challenging the procedures used in a prison disciplinary hearing, even if such a claim seeks money damages and no injunctive relief, is not cognizable under § 1983 if the nature of the inmate's allegations are such that, if proven, would necessarily imply the invalidity of the result of the prison disciplinary hearing. 520 U.S. at 646. Because such a challenge, if successful, would invalidate the duration of the inmate's confinement, it is properly brought as a habeas corpus petition and not under § 1983. Heck , 512 U.S. at 487; Preiser v. Rodriguez , 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973).

Although the specific facts of Balisok involved allegations of deceit and bias on the part of a hearing officer, the Court's reasoning applies to any claim which, if proven, would have the effect of invalidating the result of a disciplinary hearing. The Ninth Circuit has recently applied the Balisok rule to a case in which a prisoner sought damages based on allegations that prison officials relied on false information to find him ineligible for parole. Butterfield v. Bail , 120 F.3d 1023 (9th Cir. 1997). Because the claim necessarily ...

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