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Almeida v. Ducart

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 27, 2016

CARLOS H. ALMEIDA, Plaintiff,
v.
CLARK E. DUCART, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER OF SERVICE

          JAMES DONATO United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, a state prisoner, has filed a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

         DISCUSSION

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal courts must engage in a preliminary screening of cases in which prisoners seek redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review, the Court must identify any cognizable claims, and dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. Id. at 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Although a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations, . . . a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. . . . Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint must proffer "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. The United States Supreme Court has explained the "plausible on its face" standard of Twombly: "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege that: (1) a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         LEGAL CLAIMS

         Plaintiff alleges that he was improperly validated as a gang member and placed in the Secure Housing Unit ("SHU") and improperly retained there. He argues this violated due process, the Eighth Amendment, equal protection, and related state laws.

         Due Process

         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). 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.

         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 v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472, 481-84 (1995). 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. 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. 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 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, a prisoner 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). 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. 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 ...


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