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Panah v. State of California Dept. of Corrections and Rehabilitation

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

March 19, 2015

HOOMAN PANAH, Plaintiff,



Plaintiff Hooman Panah, an inmate on death row at California's San Quentin State Prison, brings suit against various defendants, including the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"), Warden Kevin Chappelle, and several correctional officers.

On February 4, 2012, Plaintiff was stabbed by a fellow inmate, Barrett. Plaintiff alleges that the individual Defendants, all prison employees or officials, "conspired with inmate Barrett to murder Plaintiff, and have continued to conceal, and/or suppress, evidence of their conspiracy to unlawfully murder Plaintiff." Compl. ¶ 37.[1] Plaintiff also contends that the individual Defendants have attempted to interfere with and conceal the administrative appeals he has attempted to file with regard to this attack and other grievances. See Compl. ¶ 18. Plaintiff thus brings suit, alleging violations of the California Civil Code, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and for negligent training and supervision. Defendants jointly move for summary judgment, contending that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Defendants further move to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for a more definite statement.[2]

For the reasons below, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Court finds that Defendants have not established undisputed facts upon which the Court can determine as a matter of law that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, or that Plaintiff's failure to so exhaust should not be excused. However, having reviewed the language of the 602-administrative appeal that Plaintiff claims he attempted to file (hereinafter the "602-appeal"), the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to exhaust a number of the claims he now attempts to bring in this Complaint, and has further failed to exhaust against four of the individual Defendants: Warden Chappelle, Lieutenant Luna, Lieutenant Jackson, and Officer Hamilton. The Court therefore GRANTS summary judgment on behalf of those four Defendants.

With regard to the remaining three Defendants, CDCR and Officers Odum and Anderson, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Defendants' motion to dismiss, and DENIES Defendants' motion for a more definite statement. CDCR is DISMISSED with prejudice. As to Plaintiff's state law claims asserted in his first cause of action against Officers Odum and Anderson, the Court DENIES the motion to dismiss with regard to Plaintiff's Bane Act claim against Officer Odum, but GRANTS the motion to dismiss as to all other state law claims, with leave to amend. As to Plaintiff's second cause of action for violations of his Fourth and Eighth Amendment rights, also against Officers Odum and Anderson, the Court GRANTS the motion to dismiss, with leave to amend.


A. Plaintiff's Complaint

For purposes of the motion to dismiss or for a more definite statement, the Court treats Plaintiff's factual allegations in the Complaint as true.

Plaintiff is an inmate on death row at San Quentin State Prison. On February 4, 2014, he was attacked and stabbed by a fellow inmate, Barrett, while both were in the prison's exercise yard. Compl. ¶¶ 19-21. Barrett is a white supremacist and member of the Aryan Brotherhood. Compl. ¶¶ 4, 19. During the attack, Plaintiff ran from his attacker, and Barrett chased him around the yard. Compl. ¶ 20. This happened in view of the guard tower, where one of the individual Defendants, Officer Anderson, was stationed as a "gunner." Compl. ¶ 21. Anderson saw the attack but did not raise her gun or shoot Barrett. See id. At the time of the stabbing attack, Plaintiff alleges that Barrett had been improperly assigned to the general prison population, and should have instead been segregated in the Security Housing Unit ("SHU") program, because of his "lengthy prison record of assaulting/stabbing other inmates, possessing dangerous/deadly weapons, and... attempt[ing] to murder other inmates." Compl. ¶ 53.

The stabbing injured several of Plaintiff's internal organs, as well as caused him to require psychological therapy to deal with flashbacks. Compl. ¶¶ 19, 22. The injuries suffered by Plaintiff "suggest that the blade used in the attack was smooth, unlike that of common prison shanks, " Compl. ¶ 23, and Plaintiff contends that it would be "extremely difficult, if not nearly impossible, to bring such a weapon onto the yard without prison staff assistance." Compl. ¶ 24.

For approximately one year prior to the stabbing attack, Plaintiff alleges that he was "subjected to terrorist threats and harassments at the encouragement and behest of" another individual Defendant, Officer Odum. Compl. ¶ 19. Officer Odum placed clippings of different inmates and their cases on a wall in his office in the prison - the wall was named the "Wall of Shame." Compl. ¶ 26. Officer Odum included on that wall clippings about Plaintiff's case. Id.

Plaintiff states that, on February 19, 2012, fifteen days after his stabbing, he filed an Institutional Administrative Claim Form (a "CDCR 602-appeal form") regarding the attack. Compl. ¶ 4. Plaintiff alleges that the individual defendants have interfered with and concealed his administrative appeals filed "regarding the herein described violent assault and attempted murder, and other subsequently filed appeals regarding his health and safety within the institution." Compl. ¶ 18. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that "one or more of [the] individual Defendants conspired with Inmate Barrett to murder Plaintiff, and have continued to conceal, and/or suppress, evidence of their conspiracy to unlawfully murder Plaintiff." Compl. ¶ 37.

B. Defendants' Alleged Undisputed Facts in Support of Summary Judgment

Defendants contend that Plaintiff has not properly exhausted his internal prison administrative remedies, as required under California law and the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"). Under California law, an inmate must submit an Inmate/Parolee Appeal form, commonly known as a 602-appeal form, within thirty calendar days of the event or decision about which the grievance is being brought. See 15 Cal. Code Regs. ("CCR") § 3084.2; see also id. § 3084.8(b). The inmate must also identify the personnel against whom a complaint is being made, or, if the inmate does not have the requisite identifying information about a staff member, include "any other available information that would assist the appeals coordinator in making a reasonable attempt to identify" the staff member. Id. § 3084.2(a)(3). An inmate must submit a signed original appeal form and supporting documents to the appeals coordinator. Id. § 3084.2(b). To be considered properly exhausted, an appeal must be subjected to three levels of review. Id. § 3084.1(b). Appeals may be rejected or cancelled by the appeals coordinator for a number of reasons, outlined in Section 3084.6(b) and (c).

Defendants state that Panah has not attached a copy of a 602-appeal form to his Complaint, nor provided an appeal log number for the grievance he allegedly filed. See Defs.' Mot. for Summ. J., ECF 9 at 2.[3] Defendants include with their motion a declaration from M. Davis, who holds the position of Inmate Appeals Coordinator at San Quentin State Prison, in which Davis states that a 602-appeal filed at San Quentin is "screened to ensure that it complies with the applicable rules and regulations." Davis Decl., ECF 9-1 ¶ 6. If the appeal fails to comply, it is "rejected and the original 602-appeal form is returned to the inmate with an Inmate/Parolee Screening Form, " which explains to the inmate the reason that his appeal was rejected. Id. Whether an appeal is accepted or rejected, "every appeal that [the appeals] office receives is assigned a log number or is otherwise tracked." Id.

Davis states that all grievances, and CDCR's responses to those grievances, are tracked in a computerized system called the Inmate Appeals Tracking System, or IATS. See Davis Decl. ¶ 8. Davis claims that "[e]very inmate appeal-including appeals rejected for procedural deficiencies at the screening stage-is logged into IATS at every level of review." Id. San Quentin "keeps an electronic record of each inmate appeal that has proceeded through" the first two levels of review, as well as every appeal that has been screened for procedural deficiencies. Id. ¶ 9.

Davis states that she conducted a computerized IATS search for appeals submitted by Plaintiff concerning the allegations he has raised regarding the February 4 stabbing. See id. ¶ 10 Exh. A (a copy of Plaintiff's IATS Level I and Level II report). The computerized search reveals that San Quentin has logged nine appeals submitted by Plaintiff since January 2012, see id. ¶ 11, but that "no appeal was received related to the [] claims in Panah's Complaint. There is no record indicating that the appeals office ever received a 602-appeal that contained the language referenced in Panah's Complaint." Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff does not dispute that there is no logged 602-appeal; instead, he claims his 602-appeal was purposefully not processed by Defendants. See, e.g., Panah Decl. ¶¶ 2, 7.


A. Motion for Summary Judgment on the Failure to Exhaust

In this circuit, a defendant may raise an affirmative defense that a prisoner plaintiff has failed to properly exhaust available prison administrative remedies through a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. See Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1169 (9th Cir. 2014) (overruling Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1119 (9th Cir. 2003), which previously held that a defendant should allege failure to exhaust prison administrative remedies through an "unenumerated Rule 12(b) motion rather than a motion for summary judgment"). If the Court denies the motion for summary judgment on the question of exhaustion, "disputed factual questions relevant to exhaustion should be decided by the judge, in the same manner a judge rather than a jury decides disputed factual questions relevant to jurisdiction and venue." Id. at 1170-71.[4] If the district court determines that the prisoner has "exhausted available administrative remedies, that administrative remedies are not available, or that a prisoner's failure to exhaust available remedies should be excused, the case may proceed on the merits." Id. at 1171.

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)). A court draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought. See, e.g., Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

In the context of prisoner administrative exhaustion, the defendant bears the burden of proving a failure to exhaust. See, e.g., Brown v. Valoff, 422 F.3d 926, 936 (9th Cir. 2005). The defendant must first show that an available administrative remedy existed, and that the prisoner failed to exhaust that remedy. See, e.g., Meredith v. Ada Cnty. Sheriff's Dep't, 2014 WL 4793931, at *5 (D. Idaho Sept. 25, 2014). The burden then shifts to the plaintiff to bring forth evidence "showing that there is something in his particular case that made the existing and generally available administrative remedies effectively unavailable to him." Albino, 747 F.3d 1162, 1173. Conclusory and speculative testimony, however, is insufficient to defeat summary judgment. See, e.g., Soremekum v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007). The district court "does not make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence, and is required to draw all inferences in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party." First P. Networks, Inc. v. Atl. Mut. Ins. Co., 891 F.Supp. 510, 513-14 (N.D. Cal. 1995).

B. Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) concerns what facts a plaintiff must plead on the face of his complaint. Under Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Any complaint that does not meet this requirement can be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). A "short and plain statement" demands that a plaintiff plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, " Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), which requires that "the plaintiff plead factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The Court must "accept factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party." Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 519, F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008). The Court, however, "need not accept as true allegations contradicted by judicially noticeable facts, " nor "assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations." Kane v. Chobani, Inc., 973 F.Supp.2d 1120, 1127 (N.D. Cal. 2014) (citing Fayer v. Vaughn, 649 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2011) (per curiam)).

C. Motion for a More Definite Statement

A motion for a more definite statement, brought pursuant to Rule 12(e), addresses pleadings that are "so vague or ambiguous that a party cannot reasonably be required to frame a responsive pleading." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e). Motions under Rule 12(e) are not appropriate when the complaint merely lacks detail, and should be denied "where the complaint is specific enough to apprise the defendant of the substance of the claim being asserted." QTL Corp. v. Kaplan, 1998 WL 303296, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 2, 1998); see also Famolare, Inc. v. Edison Bros. Stores, Inc., 525 F.Supp. 940, 949 (E.D. Cal. 1981) ("A motion for a more definite statement should not be granted unless the defendant cannot frame a responsive pleading.").


A. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Plaintiff's Alleged Failure to Exhaust Administrative Remedies

Under the Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA"), a prisoner must exhaust his administrative remedies within the prison system before the prisoner may bring a federal suit seeking redress for the same harm or harms. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. The Supreme Court has held that a prisoner must "properly exhaust" the prison's available administrative remedies, which means that the prisoner must comply with the prison's "deadlines and other critical procedural rules." Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 90-91, 93 (2006) ("We are persuaded that the PLRA exhaustion requirement requires proper exhaustion."). The Supreme Court has held that there is "no question that exhaustion is mandatory under the PLRA and that unexhausted claims cannot be brought in court." Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 211 (2007). A defendant must prove that a prisoner failed to exhaust each of his claims, however - if a prisoner has some claims that were properly exhausted and some that were not, those that were properly exhausted may go forward, while those not properly exhausted must be dismissed. See, e.g., id. at 220-24.

1. Whether Administrative Remedies Were "Effectively Unavailable" to Plaintiff

Plaintiff claims that he filed a 602-appeal on February 19, 2012, stating the following:

On February 4, 2012 I was stabbed & almost killed by Inmate Barrett, a known Aryan Brotherhood (AB) gang member. By staff actions and inactions: (1) Barrett was improperly Classified to my Group [sic] Yard #1 despite his 20 years history of being an AB member] who murdered his cellmate in Calipatria at behest of AB leader. He had many other attacks & weapons possessions. (2) C. O. Steve Odum provoked and instigated the attempts to murder me by posting my Iranian heritage & case on his "Wall of Shame, " maintained in his First Tier Office more than a year before supervisors Ordered it down due to numerous constant complaints. (3) Mandatory Unit Security Procedures, if followed would have kept the large steel knife from getting on the yard; (a) Inmates and their clothing are hand-searched before exiting the cell; (b) are under constant observation while cuffed behind their backs as they make their way to the Rapid-scan X-ray machine downstairs; (c) carried items go through the Rapidscan while they receive a body-scan by a handheld metal detector; (d) clothing roll is hand-ed back to them & they are escorted out the door to the yards under constant observation. If staff performed these mandatory tasks, no large steel knives can get on the yards. All inmates are mandated ...

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