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Mason v. Martinez

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 28, 2017

SHAVOUGUE A. MASON, Plaintiff,
v.
M.L. MARTINEZ, Defendants.

          FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS

          ALLISON CLAIRE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Currently before the court are plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 56) and defendants' motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 57).

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff's complaint in this case was filed by the Clerk of the Court on April 28, 2014. ECF No. 1. Upon screening, the complaint was found to state claims against defendants M. Martinez, V. Martinez, Major, Lozano, Matteson, and Kyte. ECF No. 8. The claims against defendants Lee, Runnels, and Good were dismissed and plaintiff was given the option to either proceed against the remaining defendants or amend the complaint. Id. Plaintiff opted to proceed without amending the complaint. ECF No. 11. Defendants M. Martinez, V. Martinez, Major, Lozano, Matteson, and Kyte answered (ECF No. 18) and filed a motion for partial summary judgment, prior to the close of discovery, based on plaintiff's alleged failure to exhaust his administrative remedies (ECF No. 22). The undersigned recommended that the defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the claims against defendant V. Martinez be granted, the motion be denied as to all other claims, and that the case proceed on the claims against defendants M. Martinez, Major, Lozano, Matteson, and Kyte.[1] ECF No. 42 at 9, 11. The United States District Judge assigned to the case adopted the findings and recommendations in full. ECF No. 50. The parties were then given an opportunity to file merits-based motions for summary judgment and their fully briefed cross-motions are now pending before the court.

         II. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff states that on September 22, 2013, he was walking to the chapel when he was called out of line by defendant Martinez for a routine body search. ECF No. 1 at 3. Plaintiff complied with Martinez's orders to spread his legs and then Martinez kicked plaintiff in the right ankle, constituting excessive force in violation of the Eighth Amendment. Id. Plaintiff asserts that the kick almost made him fall, but he was able to catch himself. Id. After returning to his cell, plaintiff began to feel pain in his right ankle and requested medical attention. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff also filed a staff complaint against defendant Martinez for kicking him in the ankle. Id. at 4. Three days after the incident, plaintiff was placed in administrative segregation and the next day he was notified that his placement was a result of the staff complaint. Id. The order to place him in administrative segregation was signed by defendant Major. Id. Plaintiff asserts that he was placed in administrative segregation in retaliation for filing the complaint against Martinez. Id. Plaintiff subsequently filed a grievance challenging his placement in administrative segregation. Id. at 5.

         On November 5, 2013, plaintiff was notified that Martinez had submitted a general chrono expressing safety concerns about plaintiff returning to the general population, and he was therefore being retained in administrative segregation. Id. Plaintiff was later notified that he was being transferred to another institution. Id. Plaintiff asserts that defendants Major, Matteson, Lozano, and Kyte retained him in administrative segregation in retaliation for filing grievances and subsequently transferred him to another institution in order to cover up the excessive force used by Martinez during plaintiff's body search and to deter plaintiff from filing further grievances. Id. at 5-6. Plaintiff asserts that defendants' conduct constituted retaliation in violation of his First Amendment rights. Id.

         III. Motions for Summary Judgment

         A. Plaintiff's Arguments

         It is well-established that the pleadings of pro se litigants are held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam). Nevertheless, “[p]ro se litigants must follow the same rules of procedure that govern other litigants.” King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted), overruled on other grounds, Lacey v. Maricopa County, 693 F.3d 896 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc). However, the unrepresented prisoners' choice to proceed without counsel “is less than voluntary” and they are subject to “the handicaps . . . detention necessarily imposes upon a litigant, ” such as “limited access to legal materials” as well as “sources of proof.” Jacobsen v. Filler, 790 F.2d 1362, 1364-65 & n.4 (9th Cir. 1986) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Inmate litigants, therefore, should not be held to a standard of “strict literalness” with respect to the requirements of the summary judgment rule. Id. at 1364 n.4 (citation omitted).

         The court is mindful of the Ninth Circuit's more overarching caution in this context, as noted above, that district courts are to “construe liberally motion papers and pleadings filed by pro se inmates and should avoid applying summary judgment rules strictly.” Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010). Accordingly, though plaintiff has largely complied with the rules of procedure, the court will consider the record before it in its entirety. However, only those assertions in the motion and opposition which have evidentiary support in the record will be considered.

         Plaintiff moves for summary judgment and opposes defendants' cross-motion on the grounds that (1) defendant M. Martinez violated plaintiff's rights under the Eighth Amendment by using excessive force, and (2) defendants Major, Lozano, Matteson, and Kyte violated plaintiff's First Amendment rights by placing and retaining him in administrative segregation and transferring him to another institution in retaliation for filing grievances. ECF No. 56 at 1, 4-7; ECF No. 60 at 6-14. He further argues that defendants are not entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 14-19.

         B. Defendants' Arguments

         Defendants move for summary judgment on the grounds that (1) Martinez did not violate plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights because her use of force was not excessive, (2) Major, Lozano, Matteson, and Kyte did not violate plaintiff's First Amendment rights because plaintiff was placed in administrative segregation for legitimate penological reasons, and alternatively, (3) that all defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. ECF No. 57-1. They oppose plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on the ground that he has not met his burden. ECF No. 58 at 2-4.

         IV. Legal Standards for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party “shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Under summary judgment practice, “[t]he moving party initially bears the burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” In re Oracle Corp. Sec. Litig., 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party may accomplish this by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” or by showing that such materials “do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         “Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party need only prove that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Oracle Corp., 627 F.3d at 387 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1)(B). Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, “after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 323. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should “be granted so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for the entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied.” Id.

         If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pacific Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ” Anderson, 447 U.S. at 248.

         In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that “‘the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.'” T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 630 (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. V. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968). Thus, the “purpose of summary judgment is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

         “In evaluating the evidence to determine whether there is a genuine issue of fact, [the court] draw[s] all inferences supported by the evidence in favor of the non-moving party.” Walls v. Central Costa Cnty. Transit Auth., 653 F.3d 963, 966 (9th Cir. 2011) (citation omitted). It is the opposing party's obligation to produce a factual predicate from which the inference may be drawn. See Richards v. Nielsen Freight Lines, 810 F.2d 898, 902 (9th Cir. 1987). Finally, to demonstrate a genuine issue, the opposing party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts.” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 (citations omitted). “Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Id. at 587 (quoting First Nat'l Bank, 391 U.S. at 289).

         On May 27, 2016, defendants served plaintiff with notice of the requirements for opposing a motion pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 57-2; see Klingele v. Eikenberry, 849 F.2d 409, 411 (9th Cir. 1988); Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 960 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc) (movant may provide notice).

         V. Undisputed Material Facts

         The following material facts are undisputed except as noted.

         At the time relevant to the complaint, plaintiff was an inmate in the custody of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) at the California State Prison (CSP)-Solano. Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Facts (DSUF) (ECF No. 57-3) ¶ 1; Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Facts (PSUF)[2] ¶ 1. During this time, defendants Martinez, Major, Lozano, Matteson, and Kyte were employed as at CSP-Solano. ECF No. 21 at 1; ECF No. 57-3 at 13 (Martinez Decl.) ¶ 1; ECF No. 57-3 at 21 (Major Decl.) ¶ 1; ECF No 57-3 at 30 (Kyte Decl.) ¶ 1; ECF No. 57-3 at 40 (Matteson Decl.) ¶ 1; ECF No. 57-3 at 72 (Lozano Decl.) ¶ 1.

         On September 22, 2013, plaintiff was entering the chapel when he was called out of line for a random clothed body search by defendant Martinez. DSUF ¶ 2; Response to DSUF[3] ¶ 2.[4]Martinez asked plaintiff to spread his legs and plaintiff complied. DSUF ¶ 2; Response to DSUF ¶ 2. Martinez then asked plaintiff to spread his legs wider. DSUF ¶ 2; Response to DSUF ¶ 2. At this point, plaintiff claims that defendant Martinez kicked him in the right ankle. ECF 1 at 3; Response to DSUF ¶¶ 2-3. Martinez denies that she kicked plaintiff, but admits that she placed her foot between plaintiff's legs and put pressure on his right foot to indicate he should move his foot over further. DSUF ¶¶ 2-3. Plaintiff did not say anything to Martinez in response to her conduct. DSUF ¶ 4; Response to DSUF ¶ 4.[5]

         The same day, plaintiff submitted a health care request form claiming that he had “throb[b]ing pain in R ankle after being kicked in it by c/o Martinez while being searched going into chapel.” ECF No. 60 at 30. On September 24, 2013, he was seen by a registered nurse, RN Morales, regarding the health care request. Id.; PSUF ¶ 12; Response to PSUF (ECF No. 59) ¶ 12. The nurse recorded that plaintiff reported his pain level at 5/10 and observed that plaintiff “walked with a slow steady gait, slight limp.” ECF No. 60 at 30-31; PSUF ¶ 12; Response to PSUF ¶ 12. In 2011, before this incident, plaintiff had surgery to remove bone spurs from his right ankle. DSUF ¶ 7; Response to DSUF ¶ 7. After his surgery and prior to the incident with Martinez, plaintiff experienced chronic, intermittent pain in his right ankle due to the bone spurs and arthritis, but the pain occurred only during inclement weather.[6] ECF No. 60 at 60 (Depo transcript 14:6-16:17).

         Plaintiff also submitted an inmate grievance against Martinez which was dated September 22, 2013, and processed on September 25, 2013.[7] ECF No. 57-3 at 16, 18; DSUF ¶ 8; Response to DSUF ¶ 8.

         On September 25, 2013, defendant Major completed a CDC 114-D Administrative Segregation Unit Placement Notice advising plaintiff that he was being placed in administrative segregation. DSUF ¶ 9; PSUF ¶ 7. Under reasons for placement, the boxes for “presents an immediate threat to the safety of self or others, ” “jeopardizes integrity of an investigation of alleged serious misconduct or criminal activity, ” and “endangers institution security” were checked. ECF No. 57-3 at 26. The description of the circumstances supporting the placement stated that “on September 22, 2013, you submitted a 602 form alleging Correctional Officer M. Martinez utilized unnecessary force on you while she was conducted [sic] a clothed body search of your person. You will remain in ASU pending investigation.” Id. The placement notice documented that plaintiff was not retained in administrative segregation for disciplinary reasons. Id. The bottom portion of the notice, which was completed by non-defendant Capt. Mitchell, states that a decision had been made to retain him in administrative segregation “pending completion [of] investigation into excessive UOF.” Id.

         Pursuant to the California Code of Regulations, an inmate “shall be immediately removed from the [general population] and placed in administrative segregation” when his presence in the general population “presents an immediate threat to the safety of the inmate or others, endangers institutional security or jeopardizes the integrity of an investigation.” Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3335. The parties dispute whether § 3335 required plaintiff to be placed in administrative segregation and whether it was the basis for his placement. DSUF ¶¶ 10-11; Response to DSUF ¶¶ 10-11.

         On October 2, 2013, plaintiff was taken to an Institutional Classification Committee (ICC) meeting regarding his placement in administrative segregation. DSUF ¶ 12; Response to DSUF ¶ 12. Defendants Matteson and Kyte were present as committee members during the ICC hearing. DSUF ¶ 12; PSUF ¶ 11. Defendants Major and Lozano were not present at the ICC hearing. ECF No. 57-3 at 45. The ICC decided to retain plaintiff in administrative segregation and recommended a 60-day extension of his placement. DSUF ¶ 12; PSUF ¶ 11. According to the report, petitioner was initially placed into administrative segregation “due to Pending [sic] investigation into unnecessary force utilized by C/O M. Martinez” and that he would be “retained in ASU pending Facility investigation.” ECF No. 57-3 at 35. The report further states that he was placed in administrative segregation “to protect the integrity of an investigation into possible staff misconduct” and specifically identifies the excessive force alleged in his appeal. Id.

         On October 14, 2013, plaintiff filed another inmate appeal, this time stating that he had been placed in administrative segregation because of the staff complaint he filed regarding Martinez. DSUF ¶ 16; PSUF ¶ 5.

         On October 21, 2013, Martinez wrote a “General Chrono” requesting that plaintiff not be released back to the general population at CSP-Solano and that he be transferred to another institution. DSUF ¶ 17; Response to DSUF ¶ 17. The chrono stated that

[i]f Inmate Mason is released back to the general population at CSP-Solano, I feel Inmate Mason would attempt to manipulate this writer, by making other false statements against me, in an attempt to prevent me from conducting my job duties as a Correctional Officer. Additionally, I feel he would also attempt to manipulate other Staff Members in the same manner, which would jeopardize the Safety and security of the institution, staff, and inmates.

ECF No. 57-3 at 63.

         On November 5, 2013, plaintiff was issued another Administrative Segregation Unit Placement Notice retaining him in administrative segregation based on the information in Martinez's general chrono. DSUF ¶ 18; Response to DSUF ¶ 18. According to the placement notice, plaintiff was retained in administrative segregation “due to Correctional Officer M. Martinez's concerns for staff safety” and that he was initially placed in administrative segregation “pending an investigation into allegations Officer Martinez utilized unnecessary force.” ECF No. 57-3 at 37. Under reasons for placement, the boxes for “presents an immediate threat to the safety of self or others” and “endangers institution security” were checked. Id. The bottom portion, which was completed by defendant Kyte, states that the placement was not for disciplinary reasons and that he would be “retain[ed] pending ICC review and TX consideration.” Id.

         On November 12, 2013, defendant Lozano reviewed and signed the second-level response to plaintiff's first grievance. ECF No. 57-3 at 17, 49-50. The response stated that the inquiry found that Martinez “did not violate CDCR policy with respect to one or more of the issues appealed. Appellant ...


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