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Johnson v. Schwarzenengger

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 27, 2017




         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that (1) a prison transfer exposed him to Valley Fever and caused him to develop numerous health problems, including asthma; (2) because he was denied parole, his sentence is disproportionate to his offense; and (3) his gang classification is racially motivated. Plaintiff's first amended complaint is before the court for screening. For the reasons set for the below, the court finds plaintiff has stated potentially cognizable claims against some defendants regarding his exposure to Valley Fever and recommends plaintiff's claims regarding the denial of parole and gang classification be dismissed without prejudice.


         Plaintiff filed his initial complaint here on November 2, 2015. On screening, the court found plaintiff failed to state any cognizable claims for relief. (ECF No. 10.) Plaintiff was provided leave to file an amended complaint. On August 4, 2016, plaintiff filed a first amended complaint. (ECF No. 16.)


         I. Legal Standards

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

         A district court must construe a pro se pleading liberally to determine if it states a potentially cognizable claim. The court must explain to the plaintiff any deficiencies in his complaint and accord plaintiff an opportunity to cure them. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000). While detailed factual allegations are not required, “[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.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 570). “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Id. at 679. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation and internal quotation and punctuation marks omitted).

         II. Allegations of the First Amended Complaint

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner incarcerated at Folsom State Prison. Plaintiff identifies the following defendants: (1) Arnold Schwarzenegger, Governor; (2) Matthew Cates, Secretary Director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”); (3) M. Ledesia, Classification Staff Representative, CDCR; (4) R. Wong, Chief Deputy Warden, California State Prison - Solano (“CSP-Solano”); (5) C. Scavette, Assistant Warden, CSP-Solano; (6) D.K. Sisto, Warden, CSP-Solano; (7) James A. Yates, Warden, Pleasant Valley State Prison (“PVSP”); (8) R. Shannon, Facility Captain, PVSP; (9) Jerry Brown, Governor; (10) Cynthia Fritz, Commissioner of Board of Parole; (11) Stewart Gardner, Commissioner of Board of Parole; (12) Jennifer Shaffer, Chairperson of Board of Parole; (13) D. Artis, Appeals Examiner, CDCR; (14) R. J. Rackley, Warden, Folsom State Prison (“Folsom”); and (15) J. Beard, Director, CDCR. (First Am. Compl. (“FAC”) at 2-2A (ECF No. 16 at 2-3).)

         Plaintiff alleges three claims. First, he claims some defendants exposed him to Valley Fever when they transferred him to PVSP and denied his requests to be transferred from there. Second, he claims he has been unlawfully denied parole, resulting in a sentence that is disproportionate to his crime. Third, he challenges his gang affiliation classification.

         A. Exposure to Valley Fever

         Plaintiff alleges that in July 2008 a decision was made to transfer him from CSP-Solano to PVSP. At that time, plaintiff had not been exposed to the disease Valley Fever.[1] Plaintiff had a “committee hearing” where his transfer was discussed. Plaintiff verbally objected to being transferred to PVSP. Defendant Wong was the chairperson at the hearing and his recommendation that plaintiff be transferred to PVSP was approved by defendant Scavette at the hearing. Plaintiff states this recommendation was then forwarded to the Classification Staff Representative, who he appears to identify here as defendant Ledesia. (FAC at 3-3A to 4-3A (ECF No. 16 at 7-8).)

         Plaintiff filed an appeal of the transfer decision. He argued that sending him to PVSP would endanger him, particularly because he is African-American and therefore more susceptible to Valley Fever. Plaintiff states that the prison refused to process his appeal at the second level. Therefore, he wrote Warden Sisto, Director Cates, the “Inspector General, ” and the “CSR-Chief.” Plaintiff states that he received responses from the Inspector General and from the CSR-Chief. (FAC at 4-3A (ECF No. 16 at 8).)

         Plaintiff sent his appeal directly to the third level of review, the Director's level. Director Cates returned the appeal for plaintiff's failure to obtain second level review. When plaintiff again attempted second level review, he never received a response. (Id.)

         On August 29, 2008, defendant Ledesia approved the transfer to PVSP. Plaintiff wrote Ledesia to attempt to stop the transfer. However, Ledesia did not respond until after plaintiff had been transferred. On September 10, 2008, plaintiff was transferred to PVSP. (Id.)

         When he arrived at PVSP, plaintiff had another committee hearing. He requested a transfer out of PVSP due to the risk of Valley Fever. That request was denied. Plaintiff filed an appeal and wrote letters in attempts to be transferred. (FAC at 5-3A (ECF No. 16 at 9).)

         Plaintiff states Warden Yates, Facility Captain Shannon, and CDCR Director Cates failed to take measures to protect inmates at PVSP from inhaling airborne dust. Plaintiff states that he was not provided a breathing mask or other device, and ...

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