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Aguirre v. Gipson

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 22, 2015

CONNIE GIPSON, et al., Defendants.


DENNIS L. BECK, Magistrate Judge.

I. Background

Plaintiff Louis Juarez Aguirre ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR"). Plaintiff filed his original complaint on April 26, 2013, and is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On December 18, 2013, the Court screened the complaint and determined that Plaintiff failed to state a cognizable claim for relief. The complaint was dismissed with leave to file an amended complaint. On February 26, 2014, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint ("FAC").

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. Id. § 1915A(b)(1), (2).

A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief...." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Id.

II. Summary of First Amended Complaint

Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint is for the most part a reiteration of his original complaint. Plaintiff is incarcerated at California State Prison ("CSP") in Corcoran, California, where the events giving rise to this action occurred. Plaintiff names Connie Gipson (Warden), C. Rodriguez (Gang Investigator), and Craig Hennes, Joseph Hurswill, and Jarrod Foote (sheriff deputies at Ventura County Jail) as Defendants in this action.

Plaintiff alleges the following. On October 1, 2009, Plaintiff was placed in Administrative Segregation ("Ad-Seg") based on false, illegal, and unsubstantiated information received from Defendants Hennes, Hurswill, and Jarrod. On October 5, 2009, Defendant Rodriguez interviewed Plaintiff regarding the information being used to validate him as an associate of the Mexican Mafia. Defendant Rodriguez made the conclusion that Plaintiff's claims had no merit and did not warrant further investigation. On November 18, 2009, Plaintiff was validated as an associate of the Mexican Mafia based on the false, illegal, and unsubstantiated information received from the Ventura County Jail. On December 8, 2009, Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal challenging his validation as a gang member. Plaintiff contends that his rights were violated when defendants opened his mail for contraband outside his presence, in violation of the Ventura County Jail policy. Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies on June 28, 2010.

Plaintiff alleges violations of his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff requests compensatory damages and injunctive relief to expunge his file and for release from Ad-Seg.

III. Analysis

A. Due Process

The Due Process Clause protects Plaintiff against the deprivation of liberty without the procedural protections to which he is entitled under the law. Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221, 125 S.Ct. 2384 (2005). To state a claim, Plaintiff must first identify the interest at stake. Wilkinson, 545 U.S. at 221. Liberty interests may arise from the Due Process Clause or from state law. Id. The Due Process Clause itself does not confer on inmates a liberty interest in avoiding more adverse conditions of confinement, id. at 221-22 (citations and quotation marks omitted), and under state law, the existence of a liberty interest created by prison regulations is determined by focusing on the nature of the condition of confinement at issue, id. at 222-23 (citing Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 481-84, 115 S.Ct. 2293 (1995)) (quotation marks omitted). Liberty interests created by prison regulations are generally limited to freedom from restraint which imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life. Wilkinson, 545 U.S. at 221 (citing Sandin, 515 U.S. at 484) (quotation marks omitted); Myron v. Terhune, 476 F.3d 716, 718 (9th Cir. 2007). If a protected interest is identified, the inquiry then turns to what process is due. Wilkinson, 545 U.S. at 224.

The assignment of validated gang members and associates to the Security Housing Unit ("SHU") is an administrative measure rather than a disciplinary measure, and is "essentially a matter of administrative discretion." Bruce v. Ylst, 351 F.3d 1283, 1287 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Munoz v. Rowland, 104 F.3d 1096, 1098 (9th Cir. 1997)). As a result, prisoners are entitled to the minimal procedural protections of adequate notice, an opportunity to be heard, and periodic review. Bruce, 351 F.3d at 1287 (citing Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1100-01 (9th Cir. 1986), abrogated in part on other grounds by Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472, 115 S.Ct. 2293 (1995)). In addition to these minimal protections, there must be "some evidence" supporting the decision. Id. (citing Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454, 105 S.Ct. 2768 (1985)). Although discussed in the context of a disciplinary hearing, the Ninth Circuit has stated that under the Hill standard, the evidence should have some indicia of reliability. Cato v. Rushen, 824 F.2d 703, 705 (9th Cir. 1987).

Here, as the Court found with respect to the initial complaint, the Court finds that Plaintiff fails to state a due process claim in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Based on the exhibits Plaintiff provides with his complaint, Plaintiff received the minimal procedural protections required by due process. Plaintiff received notice and had the opportunity to be heard before he was validated as a gang member. CSP used three different types of evidence to validate Plaintiff, including gang tattoos or symbols, an incident report from the Ventura County Sheriff's Department, and mail communications from CSP. Pl's First Am. Compl. Exh. A; ECF No. 16 at ...

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