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Lena v. San Quentin State Prison

United States District Court, N.D. California

December 2, 2014

SAN QUENTIN STATE PRISON, et al., Defendants.

ORDER OF DISMISSAL Re: Dkt. Nos. 11, 15

JAMES DONATO, District Judge.

Plaintiff, a state prisoner, filed a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The original complaint was dismissed with leave to amend and plaintiff has filed an amended complaint.



Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review, the Court must identify any cognizable claims, and dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. at 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Although a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations, ... a plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.... Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint must proffer "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. The United States Supreme Court has explained the "plausible on its face" standard of Twombly: "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).


Plaintiff states that his legal materials have been confiscated by prison officials. Allegations of destruction or confiscation of legal documents may state a claim for denial of access to the courts. See Morello v. James, 810 F.2d 344, 346-348 (2d Cir. 1987). The state is constitutionally required to provide affirmative assistance to pro se litigants, see Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977), and cannot satisfy this obligation by providing a prisoner access to the legal resources necessary to prepare his case and then deprive him of his work product, see Morello v. James, 810 F.2d at 346-48. A plaintiff must allege an "actual injury" to court access, however, which consists of a specific "instance in which an inmate was actually denied access to the courts." Sands v. Lewis, 886 F.2d 1166, 1171 (9th Cir. 1989). Only if an actual injury is alleged does a plaintiff state a claim for which relief can be granted. See id.; see, e.g., Jenkins v. McMickens, 618 F.Supp. 1472, 1474-75 (S.D.N.Y. 1985) (complaint alleging certain documents pertaining to pending trial confiscated and not returned to conclusory to support claim of denial of access to court).

Plaintiff has submitted a 128 page amended complaint that names as defendants several prison officials, prosecutors, appointed defense attorneys at trial and on appeal, superior court judges and a judge of the California Court of Appeal. He alleges that the defendants were engaged in a vast conspiracy to illegally convict him in Marin County after he was extradited from Canada following an illegally obtained conviction in that country. He states that defendants confiscated 23 boxes of his legal materials that contained his appeal and trial evidence regarding his Marin County and Canadian convictions. The original complaint was dismissed with leave to amend so plaintiff could describe how he was denied access to the courts and what legal injury he suffered. Plaintiff has failed to cure these deficiencies in his amended complaint.

Plaintiff presents many conclusory allegations that the boxes of legal materials that were taken contained important evidence that he was framed in Canada and in Marin County. These allegations are insufficient under Iqbal. Simply stating that he has evidence showing that jurors and the judge were biased, or that DNA evidence was falsified, without credibly describing the evidence, is not enough. That the trial judge denied many of his motions does not support his allegations of bias and a conspiracy. Moreover, plaintiff spends a great deal of time describing his illegal Canadian conviction and the evidence pertaining to that case, but it is not clear how that relates to his Marin County conviction. Plaintiff's allegations fail to state a claim because he has not sufficiently described a denial of access to the courts that resulted in an actual injury due to the confiscation of his legal materials.


1. The complaint is DISMISSED with prejudice for failure ...

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