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Sharma v. Johnson

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 18, 2014

ERIN SHARMA, Plaintiff,
DEBORAH K. JOHNSON, et al. Defendants.


DALE A. DROZD, Magistrate Judge.


Plaintiff is a prisoner serving a life sentence of imprisonment imposed by the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida on two counts of criminal civil rights violations in connection with the death of Richard Delano. See United States v. Sharma, No. 6:09-cr-0001-PCF-GRJ-1 (M.D. Fla.). This court's docket lists the Central California Women's Facility (CCW) in Chowchilla as plaintiff's current place of incarceration.[1]

In October 2013, plaintiff filed a civil action in the Middle District of Florida, using that court's Civil Rights Complaint Form. (Doc. No. 1.) The complaint names three defendants: two officials with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons (BOP), both of whom are stationed in Sacramento, California, and the warden at CCW. On November 15, 2013, the federal district court in Florida transferred the case to this court. (Doc. No. 2.) Plaintiff has since consented to the magistrate judge's jurisdiction over this action, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

The complaint's primary concern appears to be the federal criminal case in which plaintiff was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Plaintiff alleges that during a "preliminary interview" with Agent S. A. Raby of the FBI and an unnamed Assistant U.S. Attorney, she was "coerced... into giving false statements and speaking without representation, " was not advised of her Miranda rights, and did not waive her rights "as indicated by the FBI interview report." (Complaint (Doc. No. 1) at 5.)

Plaintiff also makes allegations addressing some conditions of her confinement at CCW. Her complaint states that she is "being illegally denied contact with my daughter and family, " but it offers no detail as to why she believes denial of such contact is illegal. ( Id. at 6.) The complaint refers to "a court-ordered mandate to reduce [California's] prison population and end prison overcrowding" and alleges that an expected "influx of prisoners" will render the CCW facility "unmanagbly [sic] over crowded." (Id.) However, plaintiff does not describe any specific injury she has suffered as a result of alleged overcrowding at CCW. (Id.) In fact, the complaint includes no claim for damages or for any form of injunctive relief related to the alleged conditions of plaintiff's confinement at CCW. Instead, in terms of relief plaintiff asks for "immediate release under parol[e] for a period of 4 years" or, in the alternative, transfer to a facility in Florida to be closer to her family. ( Id. at 6-7.)


I. Screening requirement

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 where 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); Franklin , 745 F.2d at 1227.

When considering whether a complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted, the court must accept the allegations as true, Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Scheuer v. Rhodes , 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. See Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Still, to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, a pro se complaint must contain more than "naked assertions, " "labels and conclusions" or "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 555-57 (2007). In other words, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Furthermore, a claim upon which the court can grant relief must have facial plausibility. Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678. Attachments to a complaint are considered to be part of the complaint for purposes of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Hal Roach Studios v. Richard Feiner & Co. , 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir.1990).

II. Plaintiff's constitutional claims

The complaint's first claim for relief is based on the alleged non-admissibility of statements plaintiff made to federal investigators and prosecutors before she was charged with criminal civil rights violations in federal court in Florida. Plaintiff first made this argument in 2009, in a pre-trial motion she filed in her criminal case. There, she contended the Fifth and Sixth Amendments barred the introduction her statements into evidence at her trial. See United States, No. 6:09-CR-1-ORL-19GRJ, 2009 WL 152868 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 21, 2009). The federal district court where her case was pending heard the motion and denied it.

Any post-conviction decision overturning the trial judge's ruling on the admissibility of plaintiff's statements would imply the invalidity of her criminal conviction and sentence. Such a ruling is available only under 28 U.S.C. § 2255, which allows a federal inmate to "move the court which imposed the sentence to vacate, set aside or correct the sentence" if it was imposed in violation of the U.S. Constitution. "Generally, motions to contest the legality of a sentence must be filed under § 2255 in the sentencing court, while petitions that challenge the manner, location, or conditions of a sentence's execution must be brought pursuant to [28 U.S.C.] § 2241 in the custodial court." Hernandez v. Campbell , 204 F.3d 861, 864 (9th Cir. 2000) (emphasis added). See also Tripati v. Henman , 843 F.2d 1160, 1163 (9th Cir. 1988) (stating "a section 2255 motion may be brought only in the sentencing court") (emphasis added). This court is not authorized to review another district court's pre-trial rulings in a criminal case. Therefore plaintiff's claim that statements she made to federal investigators and prosecutors were improperly admitted into evidence against her in her federal criminal proceedings will be dismissed without prejudice to their being raised in the proper court.

As noted, the complaint also mentions overcrowding at CCW. Although an allegation of overcrowding could support a conditions-of-confinement claim cognizable in a civil rights action, this complaint alleges no injury to plaintiff as a result of overcrowding. The mere suggestion of ...

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