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Carter v. Flores

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 20, 2017

H. FLORES, et al., Defendants.


         This is a civil action filed by Dominic Carter (“Plaintiff”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se. This action was initiated by the filing of a civil complaint in Kings County Superior Court on November 23, 2016 (Case #16-C0379). (ECF No. 1, p. 4). On February 16, 2017, defendants Flores, Godwin, Goree, Longoria, and Pacillas removed the case to federal court by filing a notice of removal of action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). (Id. at pgs. 1-2). Within the notice of removal, these defendants requested that the Court screen Plaintiff's complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. (Id. at p. 2). On February 21, 2017, defendant Brown filed a joinder to the notice of removal and request for screening. (ECF No. 5). On February 23, 2017, the Court granted the request for the Court to screen the complaint. (ECF No. 6). The complaint is now before the Court for screening.


         The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an 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).

         A complaint is required to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id. at 679. While a plaintiff's allegations are taken as true, courts “are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences.” Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Additionally, a plaintiff's legal conclusions are not accepted as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Pleadings of pro se plaintiffs “must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (holding that pro se complaints should continue to be liberally construed after Iqbal).


         Plaintiff was confined at California State Prison, Corcoran (“Corcoran”) when the alleged constitutional violations occurred. Plaintiff names as defendants: 1) M. Voong (Chief, Inmate Appeal(s)); 2) R. Pimentel (Appeals Examiner); 3) S. Longoria (Correctional Officer); 4) H. Flores (Correctional Officer); 5) C. Brown (Correctional Lieutenant); 6) M. Bejarno (Correctional Lieutenant); 7) R. Godwin (Correctional Captain); 8) A. Pacillas (Correctional Counselor II); and 9) D. Goree (Correctional Counselor II). Plaintiff's allegations follow.

         On August 5, 2014, Plaintiff entered facility 3A's Classroom No. 3. He approached a table occupied by inmate Smith, and had a disagreement with Smith. To deescalate the situation, Plaintiff walked away from Smith to another table occupied by other inmates. While at that table, Plaintiff was attacked by Smith.

         Plaintiff grabbed Smith in an attempt to stop him from assaulting Plaintiff, and Plaintiff fell to the floor.

         Defendants Longoria and Flores responded to the alarm. Upon seeing Defendants Longoria and Flores run into the classroom, Plaintiff tried to push Smith away, so that Plaintiff could prone out. However, defendant Longoria pulled out his can of Oleoresin Capsicum Pepper Spray. He then emptied the whole can of Pepper Spray on Plaintiff, even though Plaintiff was not fighting.

         After defendant Longoria emptied his can of Pepper Spray, he yelled for defendant Flores to spray Plaintiff (defendant Longoria stated “spray that fucking Carter!”). Defendant Flores then emptied his can of Pepper Spray on Plaintiff.

         On August 7, 2014, defendant Longoria authored a Rules Violation Report (“RVR”), asserting that Plaintiff violated California Code of Regulations, Title 15, § 3005(d)(1), specifically for “Fighting Resulting In The Use of Force, And SBI.” Defendant Longoria falsely asserted: “On Tuesday, August 5, 2014, at approximately 0847 hours, while performing my duties as 3A Yard Officer #1, I was standing in front of facility 3A Education performing clothed body searches of inmates assigned to Education when the personal alarm system activated from inside 3A Education. I immediately yelled, ‘get down' as I responded into the education area. I approached Classroom #3 and I observed two (2) inmates fighting at the rear of the classroom. The inmates were later identified as SMITH (H-83863/3AO1-119L) and CARTER (J-73232/3AO5-236U). Inmates SMITH and CARTER were on the floor, repeatedly punching each other in the face and upper torso area. I entered the classroom and I ordered inmates SMITH and CARTER to get down but my orders were ignored as they continued punching each other in the face. I unholstered my state issued MK9 Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) Pepper Spray canister and from a distance of approximately six (6) feet, I dispersed one (1) continuous burst of pepper spray at inmates SMITH and CARTER. The pepper spray made contact with inmates SMITH and CARTER's face and head, which was my intended target area. The pepper spray did not have its desired effect as inmates SMITH and CARTER continued fighting. Officer FLORES then utilized his Mk9 pepper spray canister and from a distance of approximately six (6) feet, administered one (1) continuous burst of pepper spray at inmates SMITH and CARTER striking them in the face. The pepper spray had its desired effect and caused inmate SMITH and CARTER to stop fighting and assume prone positions….”

         The RVR was reviewed by Correctional Sergeant J. Gonzales. It was then classified by Correctional Lieutenant Llamas as a serious offense and Division “D, ” per California Code of Regulations, Title 15, § 3323(f)(10).

         Later, defendant Brown adjudicated the RVR. Plaintiff entered a not guilty plea and attested that he walked away to try to calm the situation, which was supported by Plaintiff's primary witness Education Teacher D. Huerta's testimony.

         Defendant Brown found Plaintiff guilty of the false charge. Among other things, defendant Brown relied on the RVR, which was authored by defendant Longoria. Defendant Brown failed to assess Plaintiff's credibility, or the credibility of Huerta. Defendant Brown also did not consider their testimony that defendant Brown was not impartial.

         On June 29, 2015, Plaintiff appealed defendant Brown's failure to consider Plaintiff and Huerta's testimony. Plaintiff asked that the findings for the RVR be dismissed and/or adjusted by removing the SBI charge from the record.

         On October 13, 2015, defendants Pimentel and Voong found sufficient evidence to warrant a modification of the Second Level Review, which was conducted by defendant Pacillas. They found that a due process error occurred, and ordered that the RVR be reissued/reheard. They also ordered Corcoran to direct the Chief Disciplinary Officer to change the classification of the RVR to the specific act of “Battery on An Inmate With Serious Bodily Injury (‘SBI'), ...

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