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Cejas v. Paramo

United States District Court, S.D. California

March 28, 2017

ANDREW A. CEJAS, Plaintiff,
DANIEL PARAMO et al., Defendants.


          Hon. William V. Gallo United States Magistrate Judge

         Pending before the Court is a motion filed by Defendants Paramo and Jaime to dismiss certain claims against them for failure to state a claim. Despite the liberal pleading standards afforded to a pro se litigant, for the reasons set forth below the Court RECOMMENDS that Defendants' motion be GRANTED as to the specific claims disputed in their motion.


         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on August 15, 2014. (Doc. No. 1.) When Defendants did not file an answer, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Judgment. (Doc. No. 12.) Defendant then filed a Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim on October 4, 2016 and a Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment on October 5, 2016. (Doc. Nos. 17, 19.) Defendants only seek to dismiss Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Paramo and the retaliation claim against Defendant Jaime. (Doc. No. 17.) On November 25, 2016, Plaintiff filed an Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. No. 24.) Defendants did not file a reply in support of their Motion to Dismiss. This Court then denied Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment on October 26, 2016. (Doc. No. 20.)


         A. Claims Against Defendant Jaime

         All events related to Plaintiff's Complaint transpired between September 2013 and April 2014 at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego, California, where Plaintiff is an inmate. (Id. at 1, 8-9.) Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Jaime spring from a dispute Plaintiff had with Defendant Rutledge.

         Plaintiff claims that during the summer of 2013, Sergeant Rutledge conducted a search of Plaintiff's cell block. (Id. at 12.) While searching Plaintiff's cell, Rutledge saw Plaintiff's Buddhist altar cloth and ordered a subordinate officer to seize the altar cloth and deposit it on a heap of dirty laundry. (Id.) Defendant Rutledge reasoned that the altar cloth was a bed sheet that had been altered with swastikas, which was grounds for confiscation. (Id. at 12-13.) The altar cloth featured a Buddha sitting on a lotus in the middle; a peacock feather on the side; a snake known as Naga, the god of rain, on the other side; and swastikas in each corner. Plaintiff asserts that swastikas are Buddhist symbols. (Id. at 13-14.)

         Plaintiff claims that he spoke to another sergeant, who approached the confiscating officer and explained that the cloth was a religious artifact. (Id. at 12.) That officer then returned Plaintiff's Buddhist altar cloth. (Id. at 12.) Plaintiff asserts that this was the second time that Defendant Rutledge had attempted to confiscate Plaintiff's altar cloth, commenting, “Sergeant S. Rutledge is a black officer, and has a prejudice and discrimination problem with the Buddhist Altar Cloth because it had Swastikas on all four corners.” (Id. at 12-13.)

         Plaintiff claims that on August 13, 2013, he approached Defendant Rutledge in the prison yard and presented him with a CDCR 22 Inmate Request for Interview form requesting an explanation for the confiscation of his Buddhist altar cloth. (Id. at 14.) In the CDCR, Plaintiff explained that the altar cloth was light gray, whereas the facility's bed sheets were white, and provided brief descriptions of the altar cloth's symbols and meanings. (Id. at 13-14.) Correctional officers in receipt of a CDCR 22 have an obligation to respond to it within three business days. (Id. at 75-76.) When Plaintiff did not receive a response to his CDCR 22, on September 12, 2013, Plaintiff approached Defendant Rutledge and asked if he was going to respond. (Id. at 14.) Rutledge said that he did not have to answer it, and when Plaintiff pressed him, Rutledge “took it personal [sic] as [if] plaintiff was telling him how to do his job. Thereafter, Sergeant Rutledge threatened . . . to search [Plaintiff's] cell and threatened to take the hat [Plaintiff] was wearing.” (Id. at 14.) Rutledge subsequently ordered Officer Carter to confiscate Plaintiff's hat, which terminated the conversation. (Id. at 14.)

         Before the end of yard release on September 12, 2013, Plaintiff attempted to access his cell but was told that officers were searching it. (Id.) Defendant Rutledge had ordered Officer Jaime to search Plaintiff's cell. (Id.) During the search, Jaime confiscated Plaintiff's headphones, the Buddhist altar cloth, and a baseball hat. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that on his report, Jaime indicated that he had confiscated the Buddhist altar cloth because it was an altered handkerchief. (Id.)

         Once the search had been completed, Plaintiff was summoned to the Program Office, where he found Defendants Rutledge and Jaime waiting with Lieutenant Allamby along with all of Plaintiff's confiscated property. (Id. at 14-15.) Plaintiff attempted to explain to Lieutenant Allamby that he had asked Rutledge when he would receive a response to the CDCR 22, and that the Buddhist altar cloth was a religious artifact, not an altered handkerchief. (Id. at 15.) Lieutenant Allamby responded that the return of the altar cloth would be at Rutledge's discretion. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that he requested the return of his altar cloth, but Rutledge declined the request. (Id.)

         On September 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Citizen Complaint against Defendant Rutledge for his failure to respond to the CDCR 22. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that he then submitted a CDCR 22 to Defendant Jaime on October 1, 2013, requesting the return of Plaintiff's Buddhist altar cloth. (Id. at 16.) Jaime did not respond to the CDCR 22, so on November 13, 2013, Plaintiff submitted a second CDCR 22 to him with the same request. (Id. at 17.) That CDCR 22 also went unanswered. (Id.) Plaintiff consequently filed a Citizen Complaint against Jaime for his repeated failure to respond to the CDCR 22 complaints. (Id.)

         On February 7, 2014, Defendant Jaime finally responded to section B of the November 13, 2013, CDCR 22 that Plaintiff had filed against him, saying, “Title 15 CCR S. 3032(B) inmate shall not alter personal [sic] owned clothing. Your items were alter [sic] with the Swastika symbol.” (Id. at 19.) Plaintiff claims that he responded to Defendant Jaime's answer by identifying the Buddhist altar cloth as permissible property under the Religious Property Matrix guidelines. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges Defendant Jaime violated his First Amendment rights when Jaime searched Plaintiff's cell and confiscated a Buddhist altar cloth in retaliation for Plaintiff's request that Defendant Rutledge respond to the grievance Plaintiff had filed against Rutledge. (Id. at 27.) Plaintiff claims that the search and confiscation “represent[] a pattern of events demonstrating intentional retaliation against Plaintiff” and that the “confiscation of Plaintiff's Buddhist altar cloth imposed a substantial burden on his religious exercise” because the “Buddhist altar cloth was used in Plaintiff's religious worship, and Plaintiff was unable to meaningfully practice his religion without the Buddhist altar cloth.” (Id.)

         B. Claims Against Defendant Paramo

         Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Paramo stem from his handling of Citizen Complaints Plaintiff filed against Appeals Coordinator Defendants R. Olson and J. Ramirez.

         On December 30, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Citizen Complaint against Appeals Coordinators R. Olson and J. Ramirez for “impairing the filing of Citizen Complaints against Sergeant Rutledge that was submitted to the Appeals Coordinators months ago dated on September 20, 2013.” (Id. at 18.) Further, Plaintiff contends that Defendants Olson and Ramirez destroyed or lost the Citizen Complaints that Plaintiff had filed against Rutledge and Jaime. (Id. at 20.) Plaintiff claims that Olson and Ramirez then screened out[2] the Complaint Plaintiff had filed against them. (Id. at 18.) Plaintiff claims that he sent the Citizen Complaint back to the Appeals Coordinators, believing that the screen-out had been erroneous. (Id.) On January 24, 2014, the Defendant Appeals Coordinators screened-out the Citizen Complaint again. (Id.) Plaintiff then challenged the screen-out on January 27, 2014 but did not receive a response. (Id. at 19.)

         On February 10, 2014, Plaintiff sent legal mail to Defendant Paramo and enclosed the two Citizen Complaints-one against each Defendant Appeals Coordinator. (Id. at 19-20.) Paramo allegedly “did not answer, but read and sent the Citizen Complaints to the Appeal Coordinator Olson and Ramirez, ” who promptly screened-out the Citizen Complaints yet again. (Id. at 20.) Plaintiff allegedly again challenged the screen-out, but did not receive a response. (Id.)

         Plaintiff claims that consequently, on March 5, 2014, he filed a Citizen Complaint against Defendant Paramo for having returned the Citizen Complaints about the Appeals Coordinators to the Appeals Coordinators themselves to screen out at their discretion. (Id. at 21.) Defendants Olson and Ramirez also screened out that Citizen Complaint. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that “Appeals Coordinators have screened out . . . all Citizen Complaints filed by Plaintiff.” (Id.) Plaintiff challenged that screen-out as well, but did not receive a response. (Id.)

         Plaintiff contends that Defendant Paramo violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights when Paramo “did not answer, but read and sent the Citizen Complaints [against Defendants Olson and Ramirez] to the Appeal Coordinator[s] Olson and Ramirez.” (Id. Doc. No. 1 at 20.) Defendants Olson and Ramirez then in turn repeatedly “screen[ed] out the staff misconduct against themself [sic], ” which is why Plaintiff had petitioned Defendant Paramo in the first place. (Id. at 21.) Plaintiff further alleges that Paramo violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by “preventing Plaintiff from obtaining relief and from recovering his Buddhist pendant or Buddhist altar cloth because [P]aramo hired [A]ppeals [C]oordinator[s] R. Olson and J. Ramirez, [sic] Paramo is their boss.” (Id. at 28.) Because Defendant Paramo is the warden, Plaintiff claims that, “[h]e is also policy maker for RJDP [Richard J. Donovan Prison], and establishes policies or written regulations that result in violations of constitutionally established civil rights.” (Id. at 9.)


         A. Rule 12(b)(6) ...

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