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Vickers v. Hill

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 2, 2014

WARDEN RICK HILL et al., Defendants.


DALE A. DROZD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court is plaintiff's amended complaint.


The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 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. See 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.

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)). However, 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. In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hospital Trustees , 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and resolve all doubts in the plaintiff's favor. Jenkins v. McKeithen , 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969).

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 action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Servs. , 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode , 423 U.S. 362 (1976). "A person subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of § 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy , 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

Moreover, supervisory personnel are generally not liable under § 1983 for the actions of their employees under a theory of respondeat superior and, therefore, when a named defendant holds a supervisorial position, the causal link between him and the claimed constitutional violation must be specifically alleged. See Fayle v. Stapley , 607 F.2d 858, 862 (9th Cir. 1979); Mosher v. Saalfeld , 589 F.2d 438, 441 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations concerning the involvement of official personnel in civil rights violations are not sufficient. See Ivey v. Board of Regents , 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).


In his amended complaint, plaintiff has identified Folsom State prison officials Olstrom, Darnell, and Snyder as the defendants. Therein plaintiff alleges that defendant Snyder falsely stated in a rules violation report that plaintiff was in constructive possession of pornographic material even though prison officials had discovered the material belonged to plaintiff's fellow inmate, Durham. Plaintiff further alleges that prison officials conducted a hearing on the disciplinary charge brought against him for possession of pornographic material, but did not allow him to use Durham's declaration in his defense at that hearing. According to plaintiff, Durham admits in his declaration that he was the sole person in possession of the pornographic material. Plaintiff claims the defendants violated his right to due process and retaliated against him. (Am. Compl. at 3-4.)


The allegations of plaintiff's amended complaint remain so vague and conclusory that the court is unable to determine whether the current action is frivolous or fails to state a claim for relief. The amended complaint does not contain a short and plain statement as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Although the Federal Rules adopt a flexible pleading policy, a complaint must give fair notice to the defendants and must allege facts that support the elements of the claim plainly and succinctly. Jones v. Community Redev. Agency , 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). Plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts which defendants engaged in that support his claims. Id . Because plaintiff has failed to comply with the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2), the amended complaint must be dismissed. In the interest of justice, the court will grant plaintiff leave to file a second amended complaint.

If plaintiff chooses to file a second amended complaint, he must allege facts demonstrating how the conditions complained of resulted in a deprivation of plaintiff's federal constitutional or statutory rights. See Ellis v. Cassidy , 625 F.2d 227 (9th Cir. 1980). In addition, plaintiff must allege in specific terms how each named defendant was involved in the deprivation of plaintiff's rights. There can be no liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 unless there is some affirmative link or connection between a defendant's actions and the claimed deprivation. Rizzo v. Goode , 423 U.S. 362 (1976); May v. Enomoto , 633 F.2d 164, 167 (9th Cir. 1980); Johnson v. Duffy , 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). Vague and conclusory allegations of official participation in civil rights violations are not sufficient. Ivey v. Board of Regents , 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

As an initial matter, plaintiff is advised that his allegations that defendant Snyder issued a false rules violation report against him fails to state a cognizable claim for a due process violation. Judges of this court have previously held that a prisoner has no constitutional right to be free from a false prison disciplinary report in and of itself. See, e.g., Wheeler v. Hodges, No. 2:13-cv-2526 KJN P, 2014 WL 295047 at *6 n.3 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 24, 2014) ("A prisoner has no constitutionally guaranteed immunity from being wrongly or falsely accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest."); Millner v. Biter, No. 1:13-cv-2029 SAB (PC), 2014 WL 3778289 at *6 (E.D. Cal. July 31, 2014) (same); Lee v. Whitten No. 2:12-cv-2104 GEB KJN P, 2012 WL 4468420 at *4 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 25, 2012) (same).

There are two ways that allegations concerning false disciplinary action may give rise to a cognizable claim. First, plaintiff may be able to state a First Amendment claim if he alleges that the false disciplinary report was written in retaliation for his exercise of a constitutionally protected right. See Hines v. Gomez , 108 F.3d 265 (9th Cir. 1997). In plaintiff's amended complaint, he appears to be trying to assert such a retaliation claim. The court cannot, however, decipher the factual basis of his claim. The Ninth Circuit has made clear:

Within the prison context, a viable claim of First Amendment retaliation entails five basic elements: (1) An assertion that a state actor took some adverse action against an inmate (2) because of (3) that prisoner's protected conduct, and that such action (4) chilled the inmate's exercise of his First Amendment rights, and (5) the action did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal.

Id. at 567-68. See also Huskey v. City of San Jose , 204 F.3d 893, 899 (9th Cir. 2000) (a retaliation claim cannot rest on the logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, literally, "after this, therefore because of this."). In any second amended complaint plaintiff elects to file, he will need to allege facts clarifying which defendant(s) he believes retaliated against him, describe their alleged retaliatory conduct, and explain why he believes their conduct was motivated by, or because of, plaintiff's engagement in protected activities.

Second, plaintiff may be able to state a procedural due process claim if he alleges that he did not receive the proper procedural protections during his disciplinary hearing on the alleged false prison disciplinary charge. In plaintiff's amended complaint he appears to be trying to assert such a procedural due process claim. Again, however, the court cannot decipher the factual basis of plaintiff's claim. An inmate has a right to a hearing at which he may "call witnesses and present documentary evidence in his defense when permitting him to do so will not be unduly hazardous to institutional safety or correctional goals." Wolff v. McDonnell , 418 U.S. 539, 566 (1974). In any second amended complaint plaintiff elects to file, he will need to specify which defendant(s) did not allow him to present Durham's declaration, which purportedly would have exonerated plaintiff of the disciplinary charge.

Plaintiff is reminded that the court cannot refer to prior pleadings in order to make his second amended complaint complete. Local Rule 220 requires that an amended complaint be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. This is because, as a general rule, an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. See Loux v. Rhay , 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Once plaintiff files a second amended complaint, the prior pleading no longer serves any function in the case. Therefore, in a second amended complaint, as in an original complaint, each claim and the involvement of each defendant must be sufficiently alleged.


Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's amended complaint (Doc. No. 8) is dismissed;

2. Plaintiff is granted thirty days from the date of service of this order to file a second amended complaint that complies with the requirements of the Civil Rights Act, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Local Rules of Practice; the second amended complaint must bear the docket number assigned to this case and must be labeled "Second Amended Complaint"; failure to file a second amended complaint in accordance with this order will result in a recommendation that this action be dismissed without prejudice; and

3. The Clerk of the Court is directed to send plaintiff the court's form for filing a civil rights action.

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