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Suarez v. Kernan

United States District Court, E.D. California

August 2, 2016

MAHER SUAREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
SCOTT KERNAN, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          EDMUND F. BRENNAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants Hubbard, Gower, Davey, Marquez, Harrison, St. Andre, Garcia, Harrison, Kokkonen, Tamplen, Williams, White, Furtado, and Kernan (hereafter ‘defendants’) move for judgment on the pleadings. ECF No. 88. For the reasons stated below, the motion should be granted.

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff alleges several causes of action against the defendants. First, he alleged that in 2009 they validated him as a gang member and placed him in the Secure Housing Unit (“SHU”) without due process, thereby violating his Fourteenth Amendment rights. ECF No. 1 at 15. Second, plaintiff alleged that defendants violated his “state created liberty interest” by placing him in both the administrative segregation unit (“ASU”) and the SHU. Id. at 15-16. Third, plaintiff claimed that his indefinite retention in the SHU violated the Due Process Clause of the California Constitution. Id. at 16. Fourth, he alleged that defendants violated his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by refusing to combine two pieces of evidence used in his gang validation into a single source, thereby denying him equal protection of the law. Id. at 17. Fifth, he alleged that his First Amendment rights were violated by defendants’ policies which punished his associations with other prisoners which were not in furtherance of gang activity and which did not violate rules, regulations, or the law. Id. Sixth, he claimed that those defendants who held supervisory positions failed to properly train or supervise their subordinates even as they had knowledge that those subordinates were violating plaintiff’s rights. Id. at 17-18. Seventh, he alleged that defendants violated his equal protection rights by treating him like an inmate who had committed a disciplinary infraction without first charging him with any disciplinary offense. Id. at 18. In conjunction with this claim, plaintiff alleged that defendants denied him the privileges and property allowed to general population inmates. Id. Eighth, he claimed that defendants’ decision to treat him like an inmate who had committed a disciplinary infraction and restricting his privileges and property on that basis also violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 18-19.

         On July 12, 2013, defendants filed their first motion to dismiss. ECF No. 22. Plaintiff’s California due process claim (Claim Three) was dismissed due to his failure to file a claim with California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board. ECF No. 43 at 18; ECF No. 46. Plaintiff’s First Amendment freedom of association claim (Claim Five) and failure to train and supervise subordinates claim (Claim Six) were also dismissed. Id.

         A second motion to dismiss was filed on behalf of defendant Kernan.[1] ECF No. 58. It was granted as to plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief intended to cure the alleged violations of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. ECF No. 73; ECF No. 83.

         The instant motion seeks judgment on the pleadings.

         II. Legal Standard

         “After the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “Judgment on the pleadings is properly granted when, accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true, there is no issue of material fact in dispute, and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Chavez v. United States, 683 F.3d 1102, 1108 (9th Cir. 2012) (quotation marks and alteration omitted). A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is similar to a Rule 12(c) motion insofar as it challenges the legal sufficiency of the claims asserted in the complaint. See Id. A Rule 12(c) motion is “functionally identical” to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, and courts apply the “same standard.” Dworkin v. Hustler Magazine Inc., 867 F.2d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 1989) (explaining that the “principal difference” between Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule 12(c) “is the tim[ing] of filing”); see also United States ex rel. Cafasso v. Gen. Dynamics C4 Sys., 637 F.3d 1047, 1054 n.4 (9th Cir. 2011).

         Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when a complaint does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quotation marks omitted). For purposes of ruling on a Rule 12(c) motion, the Court “accept[s] factual allegations in the complaint as true and construe[s] the pleadings in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Manzarek v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 519 F.3d 1025, 1031 (9th Cir. 2008).

         The court, however, need not accept as true allegations contradicted by judicially noticeable facts, see Shwarz v. United States, 234 F.3d 428, 435 (9th Cir. 2000), and it “may look beyond the plaintiff’s complaint to matters of public record” without converting the Rule 12(c) motion into a motion for summary judgment, Shaw v. Hahn, 56 F.3d 1128, 1129 n.1 (9th Cir. 1995). Nor must the Court “assume the truth of legal conclusions merely because they are cast in the form of factual allegations.” Fayer v. Vaughn, 649 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (quotation marks omitted). Mere “conclusory allegations of law and unwarranted inferences are insufficient” to defeat a motion for judgment on the pleadings. Adams v. Johnson, 355 F.3d 1179, 1183 (9th Cir. 2004).

         III. Request for Judicial Notice

         Defendants request judicial notice of plaintiff’s state court filings and court orders, namely: (1) the online docket for Lassen County Superior Court Case No. CHW2875 (2) plaintiff’s habeas petition filed in Case No. CHW2875 on September 1, 2010; (3) the September 13, 2010 Order of the Lassen County Superior Court denying plaintiff’s habeas petition; (4) the California Court of Appeal for the Third District Case No. C066250 online docket; (5) plaintiff’s habeas petition filed in Case No. C066250 on October 4, 2010; (6) the Order returning plaintiff’s case to the Lassen County Superior Court on December 15, 2010; (7) the August 22, 2011 Order of the Lassen County Superior Court denying plaintiff’s habeas petition; (8) the California Court of Appeal for the Third District Case No. C069342 online docket; (9) plaintiff’s habeas petition filed in Case No. C069342 on October 3, 2011; and (10) the Order of the California Court of Appeal for the Third District denying plaintiff’s habeas petition on December 28, 2011. ECF No. 89, Ex. A-J (89-1 through 89-10).

         Plaintiff has not raised any objections to judicial notice of these documents in his opposition and it appears that they are proper subjects for such notice. See also Headwaters Inc. v. United States Forest Service, 399 F.3d 1047, 1051 n.3 (9th Cir. 2005) (taking judicial notice of docket in another case); Mullis v. United States Bankruptcy Court, 828 F.2d 1385, 1388 & n.9 (9th Cir. 1987) (taking judicial notice of “pleadings, orders and other papers ...


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