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Soto v. Warden of Salinas Valley State Prison

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 1, 2016

JOSHUA S. SOTO, Plaintiff,



         Plaintiff, a state prisoner at Salinas Valley State Prison ("SVSP"), filed a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court found the complaint stated cognizable claims under the Eighth Amendment for excessive force and deliberate indifference to inmate safety, and a conspiracy claim.[1] (ECF No. 7 at 10.) Defendants Bittner, Hernandez, Peffley, and Stevenson filed a motion for summary judgment on the grounds that Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies. (ECF No. 23.) Defendant Correa filed a separate motion for summary judgment also arguing that Plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies, and that there is no evidence that he was involved in a conspiracy. (ECF No. 28.) Plaintiff filed a single opposition to both motions, (ECF No. 35), and Defendants filed separate replies, (ECF Nos. 38 and 40). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motions for summary judgment are GRANTED.


         I. Plaintiffs Claims

         Plaintiff claims that on June 26, 2014, Defendants Correctional Officers Peffley and Bittner ran over to his cell and ordered Plaintiff and his cellmate to get down. (ECF No. 1 at 10.) Plaintiff complied with the officers' orders. (Id. at 10, 37-38.) Officer Peffley then threw a tear gas grenade into Plaintiffs cell via the cell door's food slot. (Id. at 3, 10.) The grenade exploded, causing Plaintiffs clothing to catch on fire and resulting in severe burns to Plaintiffs legs. (Id. at 3, 10-12.) Then Defendants Peffley, Bittner, and Hernandez, and other unidentified correctional officers, sprayed Plaintiff with propellant "O.C. Pepper Spray, " which caused the flames to accelerate. (Id. at 11.)

         Plaintiff claims that Defendants conspired to hide evidence of the fire that was caused by the tear gas grenade. (Mat 13.) He claims that Defendant Lt. J. Stevenson reviewed all reports related to this incident and edited the incident reports to hide the fact that the use of the grenade set Plaintiff on fire. (Id. at 11.) Plaintiff also claims that Defendant Sgt. Correa failed to include in his incident report that the use of the grenade set Plaintiff on fire, and that he failed to direct other correctional officers, who are non-parties to this action, to include this fact in their incident reports. (Id. at 11-12.)

         Based on these allegations, the Court found Plaintiff stated cognizable Eighth Amendment claims of excessive force for the use of the gas grenade and pepper spray and for deliberate indifference to inmate safety for the failure to intervene during the use of excessive force and for authorizing the use of explosive devices. (ECF No. 7 at 5.) The Court also found cognizable Plaintiffs conspiracy claim based on the allegation that Defendants deliberately omitted from their incident reports the fact that Plaintiff had been set on fire by the use of a grenade. (Id. at 8.)

         II. Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, discovery and affidavits show that there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A court will grant summary judgment "against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial... since a complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial." Celotex Corp. v. Cattrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). A fact is material if it might affect the outcome of the lawsuit under governing law, and a dispute about such a material fact is genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         Generally, the moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the record which demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. Where the moving party will have the burden of proof on an issue at trial, it must affirmatively demonstrate that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party. But on an issue for which the opposing party will have the burden of proof at trial, the moving party need only point out "that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325. If the evidence in opposition to the motion is merely colorable, or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. See Liberty Lobby, 477U.S. at 249-50.

         The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to "go beyond the pleadings and by her own affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, ' designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324 (citations omitted). If the nonmoving party fails to make this showing, "the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Id. at 323.

         The Court's function on a summary judgment motion is not to make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence with respect to a material fact. See T. W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987). The evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and the inferences to be drawn from the facts must be viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Id. at 631. It is not the task of the district court to scour the record in search of a genuine issue of triable fact. Keenan v. Allen, 91 F.3d 1275, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996). The nonmoving party has the burden of identifying with reasonable particularity the evidence that precludes summary judgment. Id. If the nonmoving party fails to do so, the district court may properly grant summary judgment in favor of the moving party. See id; see, e.g., Carmen v. San Francisco Unified School District, 237 F.3d 1026, 1028-29 (9th Cir. 2001).

         A. Exhaustion

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA") amended 42 U.S.C. § 1997e to provide that "[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. § 1983], or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Exhaustion is mandatory and no longer left to the discretion of the district court. Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84 (2006) (citing Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 739 (2001)). "Prisoners must now exhaust all 'available' remedies, not just those that meet federal standards." Id. Even when the relief sought cannot be granted by the administrative process, i.e., monetary damages, a prisoner must still exhaust administrative remedies. Id. at 85-86 (citing Booth, 532 U.S. at 734). The PLRA's exhaustion requirement requires "proper exhaustion" of available administrative remedies. Id. at 93.

         The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation ("CDCR") provides its inmates and parolees the right to appeal administratively "any departmental decision, action, condition, or policy which they can demonstrate as having an adverse effect upon their welfare." Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.1(a). It also provides its inmates the right to file administrative appeals alleging misconduct by correctional officers. See Id. ยง 3084.1(e). Under the current regulations, in order to exhaust available administrative remedies within this system, a prisoner must submit his complaint on CDCR Form 602 (referred to as a "602") and proceed through three levels of appeal: (1) first formal level appeal filed with one of the institution's appeal ...

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