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Blake v. Hoyt

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 3, 2016

SHAWNCEY BLAKE, Plaintiff,
v.
HOYT, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS’ MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT. NOS. 22, 31

          HAYWOOD S. GILLIAM, JR. United States District Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, an inmate at Santa Clara Department of Corrections (“DOC”) - Main Jail Complex, filed the instant pro se civil rights actions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. These actions were consolidated on December 8, 2015. In the consolidated actions, Plaintiff alleges that Captain Hoyt, Lieutenant Borgzinner, Deputy Crawford, Chief John Hirokawa, and Deputy Hogan (collectively, “Defendants”), all employed by the Santa Clara County Office of the Sheriff (“Sheriff’s Office”), denied him access to the courts, prevented him from petitioning the government for redress of grievances, and retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. Now before the Court are two summary judgment motions filed by Plaintiff, a summary judgment motion filed by Capt. Hoyt, Lt. Borgzinner, Deputy Crawford, and a summary judgment motion filed by that Chief John Hirokawa, Capt. Hoyt, and Deputy Hogan. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff’s summary judgment motions are DENIED, and Defendants’ summary judgment motions are GRANTED.

         PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On February 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant action, hereinafter referred to as Blake I, which the Court found stated cognizable claims that Capt. Hoyt, Lt. Borgzinner, and Deputy Crawford denied him access to the courts, prevented him from petitioning the government for redress of grievances, and retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. Docket No. 13 (amended complaint) and Docket No. 14 (order of service). On March 17, 2015, Plaintiff brought a separate action, hereinafter referred to as Blake II, which the Court found stated cognizable claims that Chief John Hirokawa, Capt. Hoyt, and Deputy Hogan denied him access to the courts, prevented him from petitioning the government for redress of grievances, and retaliated against him for exercising his First Amendment rights. See Compl., Blake II (ECF No. 11); and Order of Service, Blake II (ECF No. 12).

         On November 9, 2015, Plaintiff filed a summary judgment motion in Blake II. Pl. Summ. J. Mot., Blake II (ECF No. 21). On December 7, 2015, Plaintiff filed the same summary judgment motion in the instant action. Docket No. 22. On that same day, Capt. Hoyt, Lt. Borgzinner, Deputy Crawford filed a summary judgment motion in the instant action (Docket No. 31), and Chief John Hirokawa, Capt. Hoyt, and Deputy Hogan filed a nearly identical summary judgment motion in Blake II (Dfdts. Summ. J. Mot., Blake II (Docket No. 31). On December 8, 2015, the Court granted Plaintiff’s unopposed request to consolidate these two cases. Docket No. 37.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND[1]

         On November 14 and December 17, 2014, Plaintiff filed habeas corpus petitions in the Santa Clara County Superior Court in In re Blake, case no. F1451055, challenging his conditions of confinement at Elmwood Correctional Facility.[2] Docket No. 32-1 at 1. Plaintiff’s petitions were denied for failure to exhaust the DOC’s administrative remedies. Docket No. 32-1 at 3. The state superior court stated that the Santa Clara DOC’s administrative grievance process required an inmate to appeal grievance denials by writing a letter to the appropriate division commander, and requesting a written response. Docket No. 32-1 at 2. The state superior court stated that the division commander’s written response is considered the final decision. Id. The state superior court concluded that Plaintiff had not demonstrated that he had exhausted administrative remedies because there was nothing in the record that indicated that Plaintiff had appealed the denial of his grievances. Id. at 2-3.

         On December 31, 2014, Plaintiff was advised not to submit grievances as “indigent legal mail.” Docket No. 35-2 at 1. Plaintiff was informed that if he submitted another grievance as “indigent legal mail, ” he would be issued an infraction. Docket No. 35-2 at 1.

         I. January 2015 Infraction[3]

         On January 22, 2015, Plaintiff sent an appeal letter to Capt. Hoyt that appealed the denial of certain grievances he had filed and was intended to exhaust administrative remedies for these grievances. Docket No. 40 at 43-46. Plaintiff placed the letter in an envelope addressed to Capt. Hoyt and wrote “confidential legal mail” on the envelope. Docket No. 13 (“Am. Compl.”) at 3.

         That same day, Deputy Crawford issued Plaintiff an inmate infraction for disobeying a written order, a violation of DOC Rule 2-11, and for presenting false information or lying to staff, a violation of DOC Rule 2-15. Docket No. 35-4 at 1. Deputy Crawford stated that by mailing a grievance to Capt. Hoyt in an envelope marked “confidential” and “legal mail, ” Plaintiff had disobeyed the December 31, 2014 order to cease submitting grievances as “indigent confidential mail.” Docket No. 35-4 at 1. Deputy Crawford also stated that Plaintiff presented false information in writing “confidential” and “legal mail” on the envelope because “the appeal and other grievances” are not confidential legal mail. Docket No. 35-4 at 1.

         The next day, January 23, 2015, Capt. Hoyt responded in writing to Plaintiff’s appeal letter. Docket No. 35-3 at 1-2.

         On February 6, 2015, Lt. Borgzinner presided over the infraction hearing. Docket No. 35-5 at 1. Lt. Borgzinner found Plaintiff guilty of disobeying a written order from staff, but dismissed the charge of presenting false information to staff. Docket No. 35-5 at 1. Lt. Borgzinner ordered discipline of ten days of disciplinary lockdown. Docket No. 29 (“Hoyt Decl.”) ¶ 22 and Ex. D. Capt. Hoyt reviewed the infraction and adjusted the discipline to two days of disciplinary lockdown. Hoyt Decl. ¶ 23 and Ex. D.

         Plaintiff appealed Lt. Borgzinner’s findings on February 6, 2015. Capt. Hoyt denied the appeal on March 3, 2015. Hoyt Decl. ¶ 24 and Ex. F.

         II. February 2015 Infraction[4]

         On February 24, 2015, Plaintiff sent another appeal letter to Capt. Hoyt that again appealed certain other grievances that he had filed. Hoyt Decl., Ex. G, Blake II (ECF No. 29-7) (complaining that Officers Tejada and DeStafani refused to answer his questions regarding conditions of confinement, that Officers Tejada and DeStafani failed to bring him requested grievance forms and inmate request forms, that Plaintiff was unable to make pro per phone calls, and that his housing unit lacked hot water). Plaintiff again placed his appeal letter in an envelope addressed to Capt. Hoyt and again wrote “confidential legal mail” on the envelope. Am. Compl. at 3, Blake II (ECF No. 11); Hogan Decl. ¶ 5, Blake II (ECF No. 26); Hoyt Decl., Ex. G, Blake II.

         That same day, Deputy Hogan issued Plaintiff an inmate infraction for disobeying written and verbal orders to not label grievances or letters as “legal mail, ” and for falsely describing his appeal letter as legal mail. Hogan Decl. ¶¶ 7-9, Blake II; Hoyt Decl., Ex. H, Blake II. Disobeying written or verbal orders is a violation of DOC Rule 2-11, and presenting false information or lying to staff is a violation of DOC Rule 2-15. Hogan Decl. ¶¶ 7-9, Blake II; Docket No. 35-1 at 31.

         On March 5, 2015, Lt. Meyers presided over the infraction hearing. Meyers Decl. ¶¶ 4, 6, Blake II (ECF No. 28). Lt. Meyers found Plaintiff not guilty because although Plaintiff had falsely labeled non-legal mail as legal mail and disobeyed direct orders from staff, Plaintiff had done so in an attempt to exhaust his administrative remedies. Meyers Decl. ¶ 6, Blake II. Lt. Meyers did not order any discipline for this infraction. Meyers Decl. ¶ 7, Blake II. Capt. Hoyt reviewed the infraction and agreed that leniency was appropriate since Plaintiff had violated the rules in an attempt to exhaust his administrative remedies. Hoyt Decl. ¶ 31, Blake II.

         III. Santa Clara DOC Procedures Regarding Grievances and Mail

         When inmates are booked into the Santa Clara DOC, they are provided with a copy of the Inmate Orientation Rulebook (“Rulebook”). The Rulebook sets forth the DOC’s Inmate Grievance Procedure. Hoyt Decl. ¶ 3. Inmates may grieve any condition of confinement over which the DOC has control. Inmates initiate a grievance by completing a grievance form and handing the form to any officer. Docket No. 35-1 (“Rulebook”) at 9. If the officer is unable to resolve the grievance, the grievance is forwarded to a sergeant. Rulebook at 9. If the sergeant is unable to resolve the grievance, the grievance is forwarded to the team lieutenant. Rulebook at 9. The team lieutenant will determine the appropriate action to take and provide the inmate with a written response. Rulebook at 9. If the grievance is denied in the written response, the inmate may appeal the decision by writing a letter to the facility captain. Rulebook at 9.

         All appeal letters addressed to the facility captain are treated as confidential, unless they obviously contain contraband. Hoyt. Decl. ¶ 5. This means that only the facility captain and her confidential secretary will review the contents of the letter, and that the letter will not be reviewed by other DOC staff. Hoyt. Decl. ¶ 5. Inmates are instructed not to send grievance mail via the indigent legal mail system. Hoyt Decl. ¶ 8. The facility captain will provide a written response to the appeal letter, either affirming or reversing the denial. Docket No. 35-1 at 9.

         The Rulebook also provides that inmates may “correspond confidentially with the Facility Captain, or the Chief of Correction” and provides that inmates will receive a written response to their confidential correspondence. Docket No. 35-1 at 9.

         The DOC has the following practices governing inmate mail. All outgoing mail is treated as confidential and will not be opened unless it obviously contains contraband. Hoyt Decl. ¶ 7. Accordingly, if an envelope contains only paper, it will not be opened. Hoyt Decl. ¶ 7.

         DOC inmates may send regular mail by addressing an envelope, purchasing postage, and handing it to their unit officer or sergeant. Hoyt Decl. ¶ 9. Pro se inmates may send legal mail by marking an envelope with the words “legal mail, ” and asking their unit officer or sergeant to place the envelope in the pro per legal mail box. Hoyt Decl. ¶ 10. The DOC processes legal mail separately from regular mail because legal mail postage is paid for by the California court system. Hoyt Decl. ¶ 10. In addition, the DOC expedites processing of legal mail, and the prompt processing of legal mail assists inmates in meeting court deadlines. Hoyt Decl. ¶ 10 and Docket No. 31 at 17.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Standard of Review

         Summary judgment is proper where the pleadings, discovery, and affidavits show there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See id.

         The moving party bears the initial burden of identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). The burden then shifts to the nonmoving party to “go beyond the pleadings and by [his] 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.’” See Id. at 324 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) (amended 2010)).

         For purposes of summary judgment, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party; if the evidence produced by the moving party conflicts with evidence produced by the nonmoving party, the court must assume the truth of the evidence submitted by the nonmoving party. See Leslie v. Grupo ICA, 198 F.3d 1152, 1158 (9th Cir. 1999). The court’s function on a summary judgment motion is not to make credibility determinations or weigh conflicting evidence with ...


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