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Hampton v. Haynie

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 14, 2014

JAMES HAMPTON, Plaintiff,
v.
R. HAYNIE, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate 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 consented to proceed before the undersigned for all purposes. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

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).

Plaintiff alleges that on July 7, 2014, he was forced to take a cellmate and deliberately placed in a dangerous situation. (ECF No. 1 at 5.) Plaintiff alleges he informed defendants Sherburn, Dragash and Haynie that plaintiff and his cellmate were not getting along, but was told to "deal with it." (Id.) Plaintiff claims he told defendant Sherburn and Haynie that they were placing plaintiff's life in danger, and they responded, "so." Plaintiff alleges that defendant Haynie told defendant Sherburn to issue plaintiff a rules violation report for plaintiff's refusal to take a cellmate. (ECF No. 1 at 3.) Plaintiff claims that the rules violation report was falsified, and was subsequently dismissed. Plaintiff had another altercation with the same inmate two days later. Defendant Haynie put plaintiff in administrative segregation for safety, claiming that plaintiff "staged these fights." (ECF No. 1 at 3.) However, plaintiff's cellmate, Candler, was allowed to stay in the cell in which they had the altercation. Plaintiff contends that it takes two inmates to "stage a fight." (ECF No. 1 at 4.) Plaintiff claims that defendant Haynie knew plaintiff would write a grievance, and wrote the false rules violation report to cover placing plaintiff in danger. Plaintiff claims he lost his job, property, and was put in administrative segregation.

Plaintiff claims that defendants Burnett and Compton "are charged under deliberate indifference... to block plaintiff and grant immunity to [the other] defendants." (ECF No. 1 at 4.) Plaintiff claims both of these defendants had a chance to correct a wrong.

First, plaintiff appears to allege that defendants Burnett and Compton are liable based on their role in the inmate grievance process. However, prisoners have no stand-alone due process rights related to the administrative grievance process. See Mann v. Adams , 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988); see also Ramirez v. Galaza , 334 F.3d 850, 860 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding that there is no liberty interest entitling inmates to a specific grievance process), cert. denied, 541 U.S. 1063 (2004). Put another way, prison officials are not required under federal law to process inmate grievances in a specific way or to respond to them in a favorable manner. Because there is no right to any particular grievance process, plaintiff cannot state a cognizable civil rights claim for a violation of his due process rights based on allegations that prison officials ignored or failed to properly process grievances. See, e.g., Wright v. Shannon , 2010 WL 445203 at *5 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 2, 2010) (plaintiff's allegations that prison officials denied or ignored his inmate appeals failed to state a cognizable claim under the First Amendment); Towner v. Knowles , 2009 WL 4281999 at *2 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 20, 2009) (plaintiff's allegations that prison officials screened out his inmate appeals without any basis failed to indicate a deprivation of federal rights); Williams v. Cate , 2009 WL 3789597 at *6 (E.D. Cal. Nov. 10, 2009) ("Plaintiff has no protected liberty interest in the vindication of his administrative claims."). The altercations between plaintiff and his cellmate had taken place by the time plaintiff filed his grievance; thus, defendants Burnett and Compton could not have acted to prevent the altercations. Plaintiff should not renew his claims against defendants Burnett and Compton in any amended complaint.

Second, the falsification of disciplinary reports does not state a stand-alone constitutional claim. See, e.g., Lee v. Whitten, 2012 WL 4468420, *4 (E.D. Cal. 2012). Indeed, as set forth above, there is no constitutional right to a prison administrative appeal or grievance system, and a prisoner has no constitutionally guaranteed right not to be falsely or wrongly accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest. Sprouse v. Babcock , 870 F.2d 450, 452 (8th Cir. 1989) ("Sprouse's claims based on the falsity of the charges and the impropriety of Babcock's involvement in the grievance procedure, standing alone, do not state constitutional claims."); Freeman v. Rideout , 808 F.2d 949, 951 (2d Cir. 1986) ("The prison inmate has no constitutionally guaranteed immunity from being falsely or wrongly accused of conduct which may result in the deprivation of a protected liberty interest."). In sum, plaintiff's allegations of a false report and cover up, standing alone, do not state a cognizable constitutional claim. See, e.g., Higgins v. Medina, 2009 WL 3255268, *3 (E.D. Cal. 2009) (finding not cognizable plaintiff's due process claim arising from the falsification of reports and other documents relating to incident of excessive force because prisoners do not have an independent right, grounded in the Due Process Clause, to an accurate prison record).

Third, plaintiff makes vague references to retaliation. Under the First Amendment, prison officials may not retaliate against prisoners for initiating litigation or filing administrative grievances. Rhodes v. Robinson , 408 F.3d 559, 568 (9th Cir. 2005). 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 penological purpose. Id .; Barnett v. Centoni , 31 F.3d 813, 816 (9th Cir. 1994). Here, plaintiff failed to allege any facts supporting each element of a retaliation claim, as required by Rhodes. Moreover, it is not clear that plaintiff was engaged in protected conduct at the time of the alleged retaliatory act.

Fourth, it is unclear whether plaintiff may be able to state cognizable Eighth Amendment claims against the remaining defendants.

It is well established that a prison official's deliberate indifference to a substantial risk of serious harm to an inmate violates the cruel and unusual punishment clause of the Eighth Amendment. Farmer v. Brennan , 511 U.S. 825, 828-29 (1994); Helling v. McKinney , 509 U.S. 25, 31-32 (1993). "It is not, however, every injury suffered by one prisoner at the hands of another that translates into constitutional liability for prison officials responsible for the victim's safety." Farmer , 511 U.S. at 834. There are objective and subjective requirements which must be met to prevail on such an Eighth Amendment claim. First, for the objective requirement, "the inmate must show that he is incarcerated under conditions posing a substantial risk of serious harm." Id . Second, the prison official must have a sufficiently culpable state of mind. See id. Here the state of mind is one of deliberate indifference. See id. A prison official who knows of and disregards an excessive risk to an inmate's health or safety demonstrates deliberate indifference. See id. at 837. Thus, "the official must both be aware of facts from which the inference could be drawn that a substantial risk of serious harm ...


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