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Pitts v. Cates

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 31, 2014

EDDIE L. PITTS, Plaintiff,
v.
M. CATES, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

CRAIG M. KELLISON, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This action has been removed to this court from the Solano County Superior Court. Pending before the court is plaintiff's objections to the removal (Doc. 11) and defendant's request for screening (Doc. 3).

Plaintiff objects to the removal of this action from state court on the grounds that he did not intend to raise federal claims, only state claims. He requests leave of court to amend his complaint in order to properly state his federal claims. To the extent plaintiff intended to only raise state law claims, his complaint belies that statement. Plaintiff clearly states in his complaint that both his federal and state Constitutional rights were violated. Therefore, this court does have jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1441.

The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). This screening is usually done upon the filing of a new action. Defendants have requested this screening upon removal. The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it: (1) is frivolous or malicious; (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Moreover, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that complaints contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This means that claims must be stated simply, concisely, and directly. See McHenry v. Renne , 84 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996) (referring to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e)(1)). These rules are satisfied if the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. See Kimes v. Stone , 84 F.3d 1121, 1129 (9th Cir. 1996). Because plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts by specific defendants which support the claims, vague and conclusory allegations fail to satisfy this standard. Additionally, it is impossible for the court to conduct the screening required by law when the allegations are vague and conclusory.

Plaintiff claims both his state and federal Constitutional rights have been violated by the defendants subjecting him to numerous lock-downs at California State Prison, Solano (CSP-Solano) based solely on his race. He claims he was never involved in any of the altercations which resulted in all black inmates being subjected to the lock-downs, he was not associated with any of the individuals involved in the altercations, some of which occurred prior to his arrival at CSP-Solano, nor has he ever been involved in any race-based altercations with other inmates. He states that the defendants, including Cates, Swarthout, Starke, Peterson, Cappel, Hardy, Author, Blackwell, and Freese, were all personally involved in the lock-down decisions. He further alleges that defendant Cates and Swarthout implemented the policies and procedures which resulted in plaintiff being subjected to these race-based lock-downs.

The complaint also alleges some difficulties plaintiff had with the inmate grievance process. None of the individuals alleged to be involved with the inmate grievance process appear to be named defendants. Rather, it appears that plaintiff is attempting to show that his administrative remedies have been exhausted to the best of his abilities, and that any failure thereof is due to the adverse actions of the individuals in charge of the grievance process.

However, to the extent that plaintiff is attempting to state a claim against these individuals, he is informed that 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). Because there is no right to any particular grievance process, it is impossible for due process to have been violated by ignoring or failing to properly process grievances. Numerous district courts in this circuit have reached the same conclusion. See Smith v. Calderon , 1999 WL 1051947 (N.D. Cal 1999) (finding that failure to properly process grievances did not violate any constitutional right); Cage v. Cambra , 1996 WL 506863 (N.D. Cal. 1996) (concluding that prison officials' failure to properly process and address grievances does not support constitutional claim); James v. U.S. Marshal's Service , 1995 WL 29580 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (dismissing complaint without leave to amend because failure to process a grievance did not implicate a protected liberty interest); Murray v. Marshall , 1994 WL 245967 (N.D. Cal. 1994) (concluding that prisoner's claim that grievance process failed to function properly failed to state a claim under § 1983). Prisoners do, however, retain a First Amendment right to petition the government through the prison grievance process. See Bradley v. Hall , 64 F.3d 1276, 1279 (9th Cir. 1995). Therefore, interference with the grievance process may, in certain circumstances, implicate the First Amendment. It does not appear that plaintiff is attempting to state a First Amendment claim, and as such, the court will not authorize service as to any of the individuals alleged to be involved in the grievance process.

Finally, plaintiff names Blackwell as a defendant in the caption of his complaint. However, no facts are alleged tying Blackwell to any of the claims. To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the plaintiff must allege an actual connection or link between the actions of the named defendants and the alleged deprivations. See Monell v. Dep't 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). 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). Rather, the plaintiff must set forth specific facts as to each individual defendant's causal role in the alleged constitutional deprivation. See Leer v. Murphy , 844 F.2d 628, 634 (9th Cir. 1988). As plaintiff fails to allege any facts regarding Blackwell's involvement, he fails to state a claim against this individual.

With the exception of any claim plaintiff may have against Blackwell and the inmate grievance process, the complaint appears to state a cognizable claim for relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). If the allegations are proven, plaintiff has a reasonable opportunity to prevail on the merits of this action. Because it is possible that the deficiencies identified in this order may be cured by amending the complaint, plaintiff is entitled to leave to amend. See Lopez v. Smith , 203 F.3d 1122, 1126, 1131 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Plaintiff is informed that, as a general rule, an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. See Ferdik v. Bonzelet , 963 F.2d 1258, 1262 (9th Cir. 1992). Therefore, if plaintiff amends the complaint, the court cannot refer to the prior pleading in order to make plaintiff's amended complaint complete. See Local Rule 220. An amended complaint must be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. See id.

If plaintiff chooses to amend the complaint, plaintiff must demonstrate how the conditions complained of have resulted in a deprivation of plaintiff's constitutional rights. See Ellis v. Cassidy , 625 F.2d 227 (9th Cir. 1980). The complaint must allege in specific terms how each named defendant is involved, and must set forth some affirmative link or connection between each defendant's actions and the claimed deprivation. See May v. Enomoto , 633 F.2d 164, 167 (9th Cir. 1980); Johnson v. Duffy , 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978).

However, plaintiff need not file an amended complaint in order to proceed in this action against defendants Cates, Swarthout, Starke, Peterson, Cappel, Hardy, Author, Blackwell, and Freese in regards to his claims resulting from the race-based lock-downs. Because the complaint appears to otherwise state cognizable claims, if no amended complaint is filed within the time allowed therefor, the court will issue findings and recommendations that defendant Blackwell be dismissed from this action, and that this action proceed as against the remaining defendants.

Finally, as this action was removed from state court, several of the defendants have appeared. However, it appears that service remains outstanding as to defendants Cates, Starke, and Freese. Plaintiff will be required to inform the court as to the status of service of these individual defendants. If plaintiff needs assistance in the service of these defendants, and he meets the in forma pauperis status, he may request the United States Marshal assist in serving the remaining defendants. He will, however, be required to submit the applicable application to proceed in forma pauperis, as well as the necessary service documents. Plaintiff is cautioned that continued failure to effect service may result in the dismissal of unserved defendants. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(m).

Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff may file an amended complaint within 30 days of the date of service of this order;

2. If plaintiff chooses not to file an amended complaint, this action will proceed against defendants Cates, Swarthout, Starke, Peterson, Cappel, Hardy, Author, Blackwell, and Freese;

3. If no amended complaint is filed within 30 days of the date of this order, defendants shall file a response to the complaint within 30 days thereafter;

4. If plaintiff chooses to file an amended complaint, the court will issue a separate order setting a response deadline for the defendants;

5. Within 30 days of the date of this order, plaintiff shall inform the court as to the status of service as to defendants Cates, Starke, and Freese;

6. If plaintiff needs assistance to complete service as to defendants Cates, Starke, and/or Freese, he may submit, within 30 days from the date of this order, an application to proceed in forma pauperis and request that the United States Marshal assist in completing service of process; and

7. The Clerk of the Court is directed to send plaintiff a form Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis By a Prisoner.


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