United States District Court, E.D. California
KENDALL J. NEWMAN, Magistrate Judge.
Plaintiff is a civil detainee presently housed at Coalinga State Hospital, proceeding pro se with a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint on December 8, 2014, alleging that defendants retaliated against plaintiff based on the exercise of his free speech rights by, inter alia, denying grievances as well as denying his mother visitation, and also appears to challenge the constitutionality of the jail's administrative grievance procedure.
However, on January 6, 2015, and January 21, 2015, plaintiff's mother, Sylvia Arceo, filed amended complaints signed solely by Sylvia Arceo, alleging that San Joaquin Jail staff denied her visitation with her son, Anthony Arceo. Sylvia Arceo is not a plaintiff in this action, and was not granted permission to file amended complaints herein. Moreover, in plaintiff's second amended complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendants retaliated against plaintiff in various ways, including the alleged deprivation of visitation with his mother. Although Sylvia Arceo claims her son is helping her file her amended complaints, it is unclear whether plaintiff intended for his mother to pursue her claims in this action, or her own action. In any event, this action may proceed only on one operative complaint. Thus, Ms. Arceo's third and fourth amended complaints are stricken from the record, and the court now screens plaintiff's second amended complaint.
1. Grievance Process
First, 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); Walker v. Vazquez, 2009 WL 5088788 at *6-7 (E.D. Cal. Dec.17, 2009) (plaintiff's allegations that prison officials failed to timely process his inmate appeals failed to a state cognizable under the Fourteenth 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."). Because plaintiff has no constitutional right to a particular grievance process, his attempt to challenge the constitutionality of such process fails to state a cognizable claim.
2. Alleged Denial of Visitation
Second, the alleged temporary denial of visitation claim is unavailing as to plaintiff or his mother.
"[F]reedom of association is among the rights least compatible with incarceration." Overton v. Bazzetta, 539 U.S. 126, 131 (2003). Some curtailment must be expected in the prison context. Id.; Gerber v. Hickman, 291 F.3d 617, 621 (9th Cir. 2002) (loss of intimate association part and parcel with confinement). Spouses and family members of prisoners do not have rights or privileges to visitation distinct from those of the inmate to which they are married or related. Hill v. Washington State Dep't of Corrections, 628 F.Supp.2d 1250, 1263 (W.D. Wash. 2009); Harris v. Murray, 761 F.Supp. 409, 412 (E.D. Va.1990). "Such incarcerated persons... maintain no right to simple physical association - with their parents or with anyone else - grounded in the first amendment. Thorne v. Jones, 765 F.2d 1270, 1273-75 (5th Cir. 1985) (holding prisoner had no absolute right to visits from his parents).
Prison regulations that curtail the right to freedom of association by restricting family visiting privileges are not necessarily unconstitutional. Dunn v. Castro, 621 F.3d 1196, 1201 (9th Cir. 2010) (right to freedom of association is limited in prison, thus, imposition of prison regulation preventing inmate from visitation with his children permissible); Overton, 539 U.S. at 129-32 (despite how severely the prison regulations at issue restricted the prisoners' right to receive visits from family, they were still constitutional); Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576, 586, 589 (1984) ("[T]he Constitution does not require that pretrial detainees be allowed contact visits when responsible, experienced administrators have determined, in their sound discretion, that such visits will jeopardize the security of the facility."); Gerber, 291 F.3d at 621(right of intimate association is necessarily abridged in the prison setting); Samford v. Dretke, 562 F.3d 674, 682 (5th Cir. 2009) (per curiam) (holding the removal of prisoner's sons from the approved visitors list did not violate his constitutional rights).
A court need not determine the extent to which freedom of association survives incarceration if the regulation at issue bears a rational relationship to legitimate penological interests. See Overton, 539 U.S. at 132. Great deference must be shown to prison administrators "in the adoption and execution of policies and practices that in their judgment are needed to preserve internal order and discipline and to maintain institutional security." Hill, 628 F.Supp.2d at 1263; Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 547 (1979). The courts must not become unnecessarily involved in prison administration. Id.; see also Procunier v. Martinez, 416 U.S. 396, 405 (1974), overruled in part on other grounds, Thornburgh v. Abbott, 490 U.S. 401, 413-14 (1989). Prison officials must have the ability to anticipate security problems and address such problems as needed. Martinez, 416 U.S. at 405. Prison security decisions are "peculiarly within the province and professional expertise of corrections officials, and, in the absence of substantial evidence in the record to indicate that prison officials have exaggerated their response to these considerations, courts should ordinarily defer to their expert judgment in such matters." Pell v. Procunier, 417 U.S. 817, 827 (1974).
The Due Process Clause protects prisoners from the deprivation of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Thompson, 490 U.S. at 460. But individuals claiming a protected interest must have a legitimate claim to it, either from the Due Process clause itself, or through state laws. Thompson, 490 U.S. at 460. However, the "denial of prison access to a particular visitor is well within the terms of confinement ordinarily contemplated by a prison sentence, ' and therefore is not independently protected by the Due Process Clause." Thompson, 490 U.S. at 460, quoting Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 468 (1983). Moreover, federal and state laws have not created a protected interest in visitation. See Barnett v. Centoni, 31 F.3d 813, 817 (9th Cir. 1994) (per curiam) (holding that prisoners have no constitutional right to contact visitation); Thompson, 490 U.S. at 461; Egberto v. McDaniel, 2011 WL 1233358, *9 (D. Nev. Mar. 28, 2011) ("law is clear that inmates do not have a right to visitation under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment") (citing Thompson, 490 U.S. at 461.)
Moreover, in Dunn, the Ninth Circuit found that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity where the prisoner was temporarily subjected to an 18 month suspension of visitation privileges with his three minor children. Id., 621 F.3d at 1204. The Ninth Circuit found that the right of a prisoner to receive visits from his children was not clearly established:
In Block v. Rutherford, the Court held "that the Constitution does not require that detainees be allowed contact visits when responsible, experienced administrators have determined, in their sound discretion, that such visits will jeopardize the security of the facility." 468 U.S. 576, 589, 104 S.Ct. 3227, 82 L.Ed.2d 438 (1984). [Footnote omitted.] In Kentucky Department of Corrections v. Thompson, the Supreme Court held "[t]he denial of prison access to a particular visitor is well within the terms of confinement ordinarily contemplated by a prison sentence, and therefore is not independently protected by the Due Process Clause." 490 U.S. 454, 461, 109 S.Ct. 1904, 104 L.Ed.2d 506 (1989) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
In Overton v. Bazzetta, the Court considered a substantive due process claim challenging various prison regulations restricting prisoners' rights to receive visits from family members. 539 U.S. 126, 129-30, 123 S.Ct. 2162, 156 L.Ed.2d 162 (2003). The Court's own hesitation in articulating the existence and nature of an inmate's right to receive visits from family members while in prison is instructive. The Court acknowledged that " outside the prison context, there is some discussion in our cases of a right to maintain certain familial relationships, including association among members of an immediate family and association between grandchildren and grandparents." Id. at 131, 123 S.Ct. 2162 (emphasis added). The Court, however, declined to "attempt to explore or define the asserted right of association at any length or determine the extent to which it survives incarceration." Id. at 132, 123 S.Ct. 2162. At the same time, the Court observed that "[a]n inmate does not retain rights inconsistent with proper incarceration, " and that "freedom of association is among the rights least compatible with incarceration." Id. at 131, 123 S.Ct. 2162 (emphasis added). ...