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McGathon v. Petrovic

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 15, 2015

D PETROVIC, et al., Defendants.




Plaintiff, a California prisoner proceeding pro se, filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that officials at San Quentin State Prison inadequately investigated disciplinary charges against him. The Court reviewed the complaint and, after reconsideration, found that, when liberally construed, it states a cognizable claim for the violation of Plaintiff's right to due process. Defendants were served by the United States Marshal, and they have filed a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff filed an opposition, and Defendants have filed a reply brief. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.


In support of their motion, Defendants have submitted the records of the disciplinary proceedings and declarations by prison officials involved in those proceedings. Plaintiff has submitted similar documents, as well as his own declaration and a verified complaint.

On October 10, 2011, Defendant Sergeant Petrovic responded to a fight at San Quentin between Plaintiff and his cellmate Jeffrey Coley; when Petrovic arrived at their cell, he saw that Coley was bleeding "profusely" from his face and mouth. (Petrovic Decl. ¶¶ 3-4, Exh. A.) The other inmates in the area were lying on the ground or pointing at Plaintiff who was punching his fist into his hands. ( Id. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff was subdued by other officers, and he told Petrovic that he had attacked Coley because he "was stressed out but I'm sorry." ( Id. ) Coley was taken to the medical clinic where he told medical staff that he was hit with a lock, and he was treated for cuts around his mouth. (Arnold Decl. Exh. A. at 6.) Another officer confiscated the lock from Plaintiff. (Petrovic Decl. Exh. A.) Petrovic prepared a Rules Violation Report on a "CDC 115" form, also known as an "RVR" or a "115", charging Plaintiff with battery with a deadly weapon (a lock). ( Id. ¶ 5, Exh. A.) Petrovic subsequently received confidential information from an informant that Plaintiff had hit Coley with a lock; this informant had previously provided accurate information to prison officials. ( Id. ¶ 6.)

Plaintiff asserts that he did not hit Coley with a lock; rather, he felt threatened by Coley, there was a brief struggle, and he punched Coley in the face. (Opp. at 2.) He then went to the back wall of the cell, and Coley used one of Plaintiff's shirts and some toilet paper to staunch the bleeding from his nose. ( Id. ) Plaintiff denies punching his fist into his hands. ( Id. )

The day after the incident, Plaintiff was placed on administrative segregation and transferred to San Quentin's Secured Housing Unit ("SHU") pending further investigation and a hearing on the charges. (Erickson Decl. ¶ 5, Exh. B.) Plaintiff requested that the disciplinary hearing be postponed until the District Attorney decided whether to prosecute. (Dkt. No. 1 at 16.)[1] According to Plaintiff, the possibility that he would be prosecuted for what would be his third "strike" offense caused his blood pressure to "spike" to 147/98, and he continues to take high blood pressure medication. (Opp. at 4.) Plaintiff is a participant in the prison's Mental Health Services Delivery System at the CCMS level of care. (Petrovic Decl. Exh. A; Lee Decl. Exh. B.)

The District Attorney declined to prosecute Plaintiff, and Defendant Lieutenant Arnold held a disciplinary hearing on December 9, 2011. (Arnold Decl. Exh. A at 4, 9.) Plaintiff had received notice of the charges and hearing more than 24 hours earlier, and indicated that he was ready to proceed. ( Id. at 4-5.) Plaintiff was provided a staff assistant (Officer Phillips, who is not a defendant) and an investigator (Defendant Alvarez) to help him prepare for the hearing. ( Id. at 5-8.) On October 25, 2011 they met with Plaintiff before the hearing, to confirm that Plaintiff understood the charges, take his statement, and see if he needed assistance. ( Id.; Alvarez Decl. ¶¶ 4, 6.) At Plaintiff's request, Alvarez interviewed four inmates, but each stated that he had not witnessed the incident. (Alvarez Decl. ¶ 4, Exh. A at 7.) Alvarez relayed this information to Arnold (the hearing officer). ( Id. ) Plaintiff states that he told Alvarez that these witnesses could not have been elsewhere in the prison at the time of the incident, as they claimed, because there was a "lockdown" requiring them to be in their cell areas at the time.[2] (Opp. at 9-10.) Plaintiff further states that he handed Arnold an envelope with documents at the hearing, but Arnold did not review them.[3] (Opp. at 8.)

At the hearing, plaintiff stated, "I never hit him with a weapon, he pushed me and I protected myself." (Arnold Decl. ¶ 8, Exh. A at 5.) Arnold found Plaintiff guilty of violating prison rules by committing battery on an inmate with a deadly weapon (a lock) based on Petrovic's rules violation report, an incident report, Coley's statement to medical staff, Coley's injuries, Plaintiff's statements to Petrovic and at the hearing, and Alvarez's report. ( Id. Exh. A at 5-7.) Plaintiff was assessed a forfeiture of 360 days of good time credits, verbally reprimanded, and referred for assessment whether he should serve a term in the SHU. ( Id. at 6.)

Plaintiff appealed the disciplinary findings, and on January 26, 2012, Defendant Associate Warden Foss vacated them and ordered a new RVR and hearing because there was confidential information that was not considered at the hearing. (Decl. Foss ¶ 4, Exh. A.)[4] A new RVR was prepared the same day, and a second disciplinary hearing was held on February 25, 2012, by Lieutenant Larkins (not a defendant). (Lee Decl. Exh. B at 10-13.) Plaintiff was again given notice of the charges more than 24 hours prior, and at the hearing he confirmed that he was prepared to proceed. ( Id. at 10-11.) Plaintiff was provided with a new staff assistant, Officer France, as well as Defendant Alvarez as an investigator, and they met with Plaintiff prior to the hearing to review the charges, take his statement and offer assistance. ( Id. at 10-11, 17, 20; Alvarez Decl. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff requested that Alvarez interview Coley and another inmate, Mainor. (Alvarez Decl. Exh. B at 9.) Coley said that Plaintiff hit him with a finger through the lock and the body of the lock inside his clenched fist, and Mainor reported Coley saying that he did not understand why Plaintiff had hit him with a weapon. ( Id. ) France was present at the hearing as well. Plaintiff admitted punching Coley, but in self-defense and not with a lock. ( Id. at 6.) Larkins found Plaintiff guilty of battery with a deadly weapon (a lock) based upon the RVR by Petrovic, the statements from Coley, Mainor and Plaintiff to Alvarez and Petrovic, Plaintiff's statement at the hearing, Coley's injuries and statements to medical staff, and the confidential information provided to Petrovic. ( Id. at 6-8.) Plaintiff was again assessed a forfeiture of 360 days of time credits and referred to other prison officials to assess whether he should be placed in the SHU. ( Id. at 8.)

On March 15, 2012, Coley retracted his story by telling Officer France that Plaintiff had never hit him with a lock. (Dkt. 1.2 at 20; see also Lee Decl. Exh. B at 9.) Plaintiff states that he gave this retraction to Foss "around March 2012, " and to Defendant Warden Chappell "around April 2012." (Dkt. 1 at 3; see also Opp. at 13.) On March 26, 2012, Plaintiff included Coley's retraction in his in his administrative appeal of his second disciplinary hearing. (Opp. at 10; Lee Decl. Exh. A.) Defendant Lieutenant Lee, who reviewed the appeal at the second level of review (the first level was bypassed), interviewed Plaintiff and told him he would investigate the charges. (Lee Decl. Exh. B.) Plaintiff states that he informed Lee about Coley's retraction. (Opp. at 11.) Lee denied the appeal on April 27, 2012. (Lee Decl. Exh. B.) Plaintiff appealed the decision to the third level of review. Petitioner's staff assistant was thereafter changed from France to Correctional Officer Valdez. (Opp. at 11.)

On June 27, 2012, Coley indicated in writing that he no longer considered Plaintiff an enemy. (Briggs Decl. Exh. D at 35.) On August 15, 2012, Plaintiff was transferred from the San Quentin SHU to California State Prison, Solano ("Solano"). (Cervantes Decl. ¶ 6.) On November 16, 2012, plaintiff's appeal was granted at the third level of review. (Dkt. No. 1.1 at 31-33.) The reasons for granting the appeal were that Larkins did not adequately address the reliability of confidential information, Larkins did not indicate whether a staff assistant (in addition to the investigator Alvarez) had been present during the witness interviews, Plaintiff did not have at least 24 hours of preparation time with the staff assistant, the witnesses Mainor and Coley were not present at the hearing despite Plaintiff's requests, and there was an incorrect date in the re-issued RVR. ( Id. at 31-32.) That RVR was therefore vacated, and ordered reissued and reheard for a third time. ( Id. at 32-33.)

After a new RVR was issued, a third disciplinary hearing was held at Solano by Lieutenant Richardson (who is not a party) on January 31, 2013. (Dkt. No. 1.2 at 15-21.) At the hearing, Richardson found Plaintiff guilty of the lesser-included offense of fighting with another inmate, and no credit loss or SHU term was assessed. ( Id. at 21.) Plaintiff agreed with this decision. ( Id. at 57-58.) He was ...

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