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Thomas v. McComber

United States District Court, E.D. California

January 26, 2015

JASON LATRELL THOMAS, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFF McCOMBER, 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).

By order filed January 9, 2015, plaintiff was directed to submit his certified trust account statement. On January 21, 2015, plaintiff filed a request for extension of time to provide the statement. However, plaintiff noted that he is also pursuing a case in Thomas v. Guffey, Case No. 2:14-cv-0066 JAM KJN P (E.D. Cal.). In Guffey, plaintiff provided a certified copy of his trust account statement, and was granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Good cause appearing, the court takes judicial notice of plaintiff's filing in Guffey, and grants plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis in the instant action. Plaintiff is relieved of his obligation to provide the statement, and his request for extension of time is therefore moot.

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 See Jackson v. Arizona, 885 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1989), superseded by statute as stated in Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000) ("[A] judge may dismiss [in forma pauperis] claims which are based on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).

1. Class Action and Claims for Injunctive Relief

Plaintiff filed this matter as a class action, allegedly on behalf of himself and all inmates housed in the Psychiatric Security Housing Unit at the California State Prison, Sacramento ("CSP-SAC"). Plaintiff, however, is a non-lawyer proceeding without counsel. It is well established that a layperson cannot ordinarily represent the interests of a class. See McShane v. United States, 366 F.2d 286 (9th Cir. 1966). This rule becomes almost absolute when, as here, the putative class representative is incarcerated and proceeding pro se. Oxendine v. Williams, 509 F.2d 1405, 1407 (4th Cir. 1975). In direct terms, plaintiff cannot "fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class, " as required by Rule 23(a)(4) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See Martin v. Middendorf, 420 F.Supp. 779 (D.D.C. 1976). This action, therefore, will not be construed as a class action and instead is construed as an individual civil suit brought by plaintiff.

Moreover, plaintiff alone signed the complaint, and he provided no declarations by other inmates housed with him at CSP-SAC indicating that such inmates wished to participate in a class action. Also, it appears that the nature of plaintiff's claims involving the alleged class members pertain to rules, laws and policies governing the treatment of mentally-ill inmates housed at CSP-SAC under the Behavioral Incentive Program. In addition to monetary damages, plaintiff seeks injunctive relief suspending "the Behavioral Incentive Program and any rule, policy or procedure [used] to treat the mentally ill prisoner differently from other inmates in the same custody class." (ECF No. 1 at 10.) Such broad and systemic injunctive relief claims are barred by the pending class action, Coleman v. Schwarzenegger, No. 2:90-cv-0520 LKK JFM (E.D. Cal.). Thus, any such claims must be raised by counsel for the plaintiff class in Coleman.

For all of the above reasons, plaintiff's motion to appoint counsel to represent the class is denied.

In addition, plaintiff has now been transferred to Corcoran State Prison ("CSP-COR"). A preliminary injunction becomes moot if a prisoner is transferred. Andrews v. Cervantes, 493 F.3d 1047, 1053 n.5 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Johnson v. Moore, 948 F.2d 517, 510 (9th Cir. 1991) (per curiam)); Holt v. Stockman, 2012 WL 259938, *6 (E.D. Cal. Jan.25, 2012) (a prisoner's claim for injunctive relief is rendered moot when he is transferred from the institution whose employees he seeks to enjoin from harming him). Thus, plaintiff's injunctive relief claims based on factual allegations personal to him are moot.

2. Retaliation Claims

Plaintiff alleges that defendants Martinez, Crews, Blessing, and Dr. Franzen retaliated against plaintiff based on their efforts to get him to drop inmate appeals and court actions, or to stop filing grievances against them.

"Prisoners have a First Amendment right to file grievances against prison officials and to be free from retaliation for doing so." Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1114 (9th Cir. 2012) (citing Brodheim v. Cry, 584 F.3d 1262, 1269 (9th Cir. 2009)). A viable retaliation claim in the prison context has five 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, ...


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