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Saavedra v. Kernan

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 24, 2016

SCOTT KERNAN, et al., Defendants.


         I. BACKGROUND

         Michael Anthony Saavedra ("Plaintiff") is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff filed the Complaint commencing this action on July 25, 2013. (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff subsequently filed a first amended complaint (ECF No. 15), which is now before this Court for screening.

         On August 12, 2013, Plaintiff consented to Magistrate Judge jurisdiction in this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), [1] and no other parties have made an appearance. (Doc. 4.) Therefore, pursuant to Appendix A(k)(4) of the Local Rules of the Eastern District of California, the undersigned shall conduct any and all proceedings in the case until such time as reassignment to a District Judge is required. Local Rule Appendix A(k)(3).


         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). "Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action or appeal . . . fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         "Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions, " none of which applies to section 1983 actions. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). Pursuant to Rule 8(a), 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). "Such a statement must simply give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512. However, "the liberal pleading standard . . . applies only to a plaintiff's factual allegations." Neitze v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989). "[A] liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled." Bruns v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin., 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting Ivey v. Bd. of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982)).


         Plaintiff claims that he was wrongfully retained in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) in solitary confinement for over a decade on the basis of coerced, erroneous, false, unreliable and unreasonable allegations of gang activity without Due Process of the law. He claims that he was not given sufficient notice of information to adequately prepare and present his views, did not have a meaningful opportunity to present any views to the critical decision maker, and was not given any meaningful periodic review.

         Specifically, on April 15, 2004, Plaintiff was placed in Administrative Segregation Confinement for confidential informant allegations of having a romantic relationship with a female prison guard. Two days later, he was asked to "debrief, " i.e., inform against the female guard and others. When he refused, the Internal Affairs Unit asked their courterpart at the Instituional Gang Investigators (IGI) to begin developing and approving a validation of Plaintiff as a prison gang associate of the "Mexican Mafia." Plaintiff was then validated as a gang member and given an indefinite SHU term beginning in January 2008. One month later, IGI generated a document claiming Plaintiff had alleged safety concerns with the Mexican Mafia based on an allegation that Plaintiff was in "bad standings" with the Mexican Mafia and was taken "off program." From 2008 until 2013, Plaintiff appeared for periodic 180-day reviews, which lasted less than 8 minutes and focused on whether Plaintiff was suicidal and whether Plaintiff was now willing to "debrief." The IGI reviews stated that Plaintiff's gang status classification would not be reviewed for 6 years unless he debriefed.

         Six years into the SHU term, Plaintiff was told that IGI was going to revalidate him based on second hand/hearsay allegations that Plaintiff owes an unidentified gang member a debt for unspecified reasons. There was also information from 2006 concerning a Pelican Bay inmate telling a sergeant that Plaintiff was the "shot-caller" in contact with an unnamed gang member. Plaintiff was given an opportunity to write down any comments. Plaintiff asked to have a personal interview with the decision maker. Prison officials responded that "this written response is your interview and is all you got coming." On November 12, 2010, Plaintiff was re-validated.

         Plaintiff claims that such conditions of confinement violated the Eighth Amendment. He alleges that Plaintiff is substantially deprived of human contact and interaction. He spends nights and days in a cell the size of a dog kennel. It is all concrete except for stainless steel sink/toilet. It is cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Exercise occurs in a fenced-in cage, which is dirty and unsanitary. His out door exercise is often cancelled for "shortage of guards" and other excuses. Plaintiff is prohibited from any phone calls absent a death of an immediate family member or a court-ordered attorney call. Visits with family are limited to one hour with no physical contact.

         Plaintiff was never charged with a CDC rule violation for any specific gang activity.

         Plaintiff also claims that he was given unsanitary food and inadequate cleaning supplies for basic sanitation. Due to the method of preparation, the food trays are stacked on dirty-unsanitized push carts, which are used for dirty, soiled laundry and trash. The food is always cold and contaminated by dust, flies, and mosquitoes. The staff supplying the food do not wear any hairnets, kitchen caps or other sanitary devices.

         Polainitff also lacked adequate cleaning supplies and safe living conditions. Plaintiff lacks soap, disinfectant, mop, broom, or extra towel.

         Following a hunger strike, certain prison officials met to discuss prisoner complaints about living conditions. But the conditions were not remedied.

         Plaintiff also brings a claim based on deliberate indifference to Plaintiff's mental health. Plaintiff alleges that the decade in solitary confinement resulted in major depression and sleep disorder. The mental health care was woefully inadequate. Although the prison was supposed to monitor prisoners suffering from mental health issues, this sometimes consisted of walking through the unit to slide a cross-word puzzle under the door. Although operational procedures require private consultations, many of these were missed for invalid reasons. Plaintiff sought various forms of treatment, including social skills training, education and work programs, but was denied.

         Plaintiff also brings a claim for violation of the First Amendment for retailation. Plaintiff alleges that multiple prison officers threatened him and intimated him in an attempt to stop him from complaining. For example, Defendant Beer told Plaintifff that he did "not like jail-house lawyers" and that if Plaintiff kept filing 602 complaints, he would move them and take all their property. Defendant Beer also told Plaintiff "if you start up again with all your crying and filing 602's, I'm going to move your a@# out of the building and take all of your property and make your life miserable, and no, I'm not going to approve you to assist anyone with legal work, so don't even both submitting anymore requests." Defendants denied Plaintiff's request to provide legal assistance to other inmates. Defendant Hayse also searched Plaintiff's cell and told Plaintiff "How do you like my cell searches?...Keep on complaining about things to the warden and next time I'll throw away all your legal crap and move you to one-left."

         Plaintiff next brings a claim for interference and breach of confidential attorney-client communications. Plaintiff received pro bono assistance of counsel in certain cases. In June of 2012, Defendants began a systematic and continuous pattern of opening and reviewing Plaintiff's confidential attorney-client and legal mailings without his consent. Defendants also returned certain legal mail without providing it to Plaintiff. Certain of the opened mail concerned correspondence regarding settlement strategy. At one point, Defendant Ortega told Plaintiff "I heard you like to sue IGI's and file a lot of complaints, so I have to read all of your mail and make sure you aren't trying to sue us."

         Plaintif also brings a claim for denial of right of access to the courts. Plaintiff alleges that defendant interfered with the internal prison grievance system by imposing substantial roadblocks to filing and pursuing a grievance.

         Finally, Plaintiff brings a claim for failure to train and supervise, alleging that the violations are part of a custom and practice at the prison.

         Plaintiff names approximately 26 individuals related to Corcoran State Prison.


         a. Legal Standards

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects prisoners from being deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). The procedural guarantees of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments' Due Process Clauses apply only when a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest is at stake. See Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 672-73 (1977); Bd. of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569 (1972); Jackson v. Carey, 353 F.3d 750, 755 (9th Cir. 2003); Neal v. Shimoda, 131 F.3d 818, 827 (9th Cir. 1997); Erickson v. United States, 67 F.3d 858, 861 (9th Cir. 1995); Schroeder v. McDonald, 55 F.3d 454, 462 (9th Cir. 1995); Tellis v. Godinez, 5 F.3d 1314, 1316 (9th Cir. 1993).

         Liberty interests can arise both from the Constitution and from state law. See Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005); Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 466 (1983). The Due Process Clause itself does not confer on inmates a liberty interest in avoiding "more adverse conditions of confinement." Id. The Due Process Clause itself does not confer on inmates a liberty interest in being confined in the general prison population instead of administrative segregation. See Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 466-68; see also May v. Baldwin, 109 F.3d 557, 565 (9th Cir. 1997) (convicted inmate's due process claim fails because he has no liberty interest in freedom from state action taken within sentence imposed and administrative segregation falls within the terms of confinement ordinarily contemplated by a sentence) (quotations omitted); Resnick v. Hayse, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000) (plaintiff's placement and retention in the SHU was within range of confinement normally expected by inmates in relation to ordinary incidents of prison life and, therefore, plaintiff had no protected liberty interest in being free from confinement in the SHU) (quotations omitted).

         With respect to liberty interests arising from state law, the existence of a liberty interest created by prison regulations is determined by focusing on the nature of the deprivation. Sandin, 515 U.S. at 481-84. Liberty interests created by prison regulations are limited to freedom from restraint which "imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Id. at 484; see also Myron v. Terhune, 476 F.3d 716, 718 (9th Cir. 2007); Jackson, 353 F.3d at 755; Serrano v. Francis, 345 F.3d 1071, 1078 (9th Cir. 2003); Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 860 (9th Cir. 2003). When conducting the Sandin inquiry, Courts should look to Eighth Amendment standards as well as the prisoners' conditions of confinement, the duration of the sanction, and whether the sanctions will affect the length of the prisoners' sentence. See Serrano, 345 F.3d at 1078; Ramirez, 334 F.3d at 861; Keenan v. Hall, 83 F.3d 1083, 1089 (9th Cir. 1996). The placement of an inmate in the SHU indeterminately may amount to a deprivation of a liberty interest of "real substance" within the meaning of Sandin. See Wilkinson, 545 U.S. at 224. The "atypicality" prong of the analysis requires not merely an empirical comparison, but turns on the importance of the right taken away from the prisoner. See Carlo v. City of Chino, 105 F.3d 493, 499 (9th Cir. 1997). A plaintiff must assert a "dramatic departure" from the standard conditions of confinement before due process concerns are implicated.Sandin, 515 U.S. at 485-86; see also Keenan, 83 F.3d at 1088-89. "Some conditions of confinement may establish an Eighth Amendment violation ‘in combination' when each would not do so alone." Chappell v. Mandeville 706 F.3d 1052, 1061 (9th Cir. 2013) (citing Wilson, 501 U.S. at 304).

         To determine if the Plaintiff's removal to solitary confinement constitutes an "atypical and significant hardship, " the Court examines: (1) the extent of difference between segregation and general population; (2) the duration and intensity of the conditions confinement; and (3) whether the sanction extends the length of the prisoner's sentence. Cepero, 2015 WL 1308690 at *14; see also Sandin, 515 U.S. at 486-87. "Typically, administrative segregation in and of itself does not implicate a protected liberty interest." Serrano v. Francis, 345 F.3d 1071, 1078 (9th Cir.2003). Furthermore, "the decision to hold an inmate in administrative segregation imposes few procedural burdens on prison officials." Cepero, 2015 WL 1308690 at *14. A prison official provides adequate due process by "holding an informal, non-adversarial evidentiary hearing within a reasonable time after administrative segregation begins." Id.

         The assignment of validated gang members to the SHU is an administrative measure rather than a disciplinary measure, and is "essentially a matter of administrative segregation." Bruce v. Ylst, 351 F.3d 1283, 1287 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting Munoz v. Rowland, 104 F.3d 1096, 1098 (9th Cir. 1997)). As such, Plaintiff is entitled to the minimal procedural protections set forth in Toussaint, such as notice, an opportunity to be heard, and periodic review. Bruce, 351 F.3d at 1287 (citing Toussaint, 801 F.2d at 1100). Due process also requires that there be an evidentiary basis for the prison officials' decision to place an inmate in segregation for administrative reasons. Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985); Toussaint, 801 F.2d at 1104-05. This standard is met if there is ‘some evidence‘ from which the conclusion of the administrative tribunal could be deduced. Id. at 1105. The standard is only "minimally stringent" and the relevant inquiry is whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the prison decision-makers. Cato v. Rushen, 824 F.2d 703, 705 (9th Cir. 1987). The "some evidence" standard applies to an inmate's placement in the SHU for gang affiliation. See Bruce, 351 F.3d at 1287-88.

         When a prisoner is placed in administrative segregation, prison officials must, within a reasonable time after the prisoner's placement, conduct an informal, non-adversary review of the evidence justifying the decision to segregate the prisoner. See Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 476, abrogated in part on other grounds by Sandin, 515 U.S. 472 (1995); Mendoza v. Blodgett, 960 F.2d 1425, 1430 (9th Cir. 1992), abrogated in part on other grounds by Sandin, 515 U.S. 472; Toussaint, 801 F.2d at 1100, abrogated in part on other grounds by Sandin, 515 U.S. 472. The Supreme Court has stated that five days is a reasonable time for the post-placement review. See Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 477. Before the review, the prisoner must receive some notice of the charges and be given an opportunity to respond to the charges. See Id. at 476; Mendoza, 960 F.2d at 1430-31; Toussaint, 801 F.2d at 1100. The prisoner, however, is not entitled to "detailed written notice of charges, representation of counsel or counsel-substitute, an opportunity to present witnesses, or a written decision describing the reasons for placing the prisoner in administrative segregation." Toussaint, 801 F.2d at 1100-01 (citations omitted). After the prisoner has been placed in administrative segregation, prison officials must periodically review the initial placement. See Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 477 n.9; Toussaint, 801 F.2d at 1101. Annual review of the placement is insufficient. See Toussaint, 801 F.2d at 1101.

         "Liability under [§] 1983 arises only upon a showing of personal participation by the defendant. A supervisor is only liable for the constitutional violations of...subordinates if the supervisor participated in or directed the violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them. There is no respondeat superior liability under [§] 1983." Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989) (citations omitted). Plaintiff must demonstrate that each defendant, through his or her own individual actions, violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 676; Corales v. Bennett, 567 F.3d 554, 570 (9th Cir. 2009).

         b. Application to Plaintiff's Allegations

         Based on Plaintiff's allegations, including the long length of solitary confinement, the Court finds that Plaintiff's detention was a "dramatic departure" from the standard conditions of confinement, and therefore Plaintiff had a liberty interest in avoiding his detention. Thus, Plaintiff was entitled to due process.

         The Court finds that Plaintiff has stated a claim for violation of due process regarding his solitary confinement. The Court notes that, according to the law cited above, judicial review of a prison's decision is narrow and deferential. It is not clear on the face of the complaint whether the prison's evidence, even as described by Plaintiff, would be considered satisfactory based on this the lenient standard. Nevertheless, taken as a whole, Plaintiff has stated a case demonstrating little if any evidence of gang membership, little or no meaningful review, little or no opportunity to be heard. Given the ...

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