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Rhinehart v. Hedgpeth

United States District Court, N.D. California

March 30, 2017

MICHAEL JOSEPH RHINEHART, Plaintiff,
v.
HEDGPETH, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART SUMMARY JUDGMENT; STAYING ACTION AND REFERRING TO SETTLEMENT PROCEEDINGS; DIRECTIONS TO CLERK RE: ECF NO. 21

          JON S. TIGAR United States District Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff, a California prisoner currently incarcerated at California State Prison - Los Angeles, filed this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that prison officials at Salinas Valley State Prison (''SVSP''), where he was previously incarcerated, violated his rights under the Equal Protection Clause when, on May 11, 2012, they placed him on modified programs due to his race. Now before the Court is Defendants‘ motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 21. Plaintiff has filed an opposition, ECF No. 34; Defendants have filed a reply, ECF No. 36, and Plaintiff has filed a sur-reply with leave of court.[1] For the reasons set forth below, Defendants‘ summary judgment motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND

         I. PARTIES TO THE ACTION

         A. Plaintiff

         During the relevant time period, Plaintiff was classified as an ''inactive'' Black Guerilla Family prison gang member and a level-four inmate. ECF No. 22 (''Asuncion Decl.'') ¶ 2; ECF No. 23 (''Hedgpeth Decl.'') ¶ 2; ECF No. 24 (''Valdez Decl.'') ¶ 5. Level-four inmates are assigned to housing facilities with the highest level of security. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 2. Plaintiff arrived at SVSP on July 8, 2010 and departed on October 28, 2013. ECF No. 34 at 5. During the relevant time period, Plaintiff was housed in SVSP‘s Facility B.[2] Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 4.

         On May 11, 2012, Plaintiff was subject to two separate modified programs because the modified programs affected Black inmates and Plaintiff is a Black inmate. ECF No. 34 at 5. Plaintiff was not placed on the modified program because of any specific actions taken by him or because he was known to be an inmate likely to engage in violence. ECF No. 34 at 5. While subject to the modified program, Plaintiffs outdoor exercise and other privileges were suspended while non-Black inmates were allowed to participate in outdoor exercise and provided their privileges. ECF No. 34 at 5.

         While housed at SVSP Facility B, Plaintiff was never involved in any violence, and was never approached by other inmates to participate in violence against correctional officers or other inmates. ECF No. 34 at 5. Plaintiff was deeply offended by being placed on a modified program along with all other Black inmates. ECF No. 34 at 5. Plaintiff states that he considered the modified program racial discrimination, and that this discrimination caused him mental anguish and depression. ECF No. 34 at 5.

         B. Defendants

         Defendant Asuncion is currently Acting Warden at California State Prison - Los Angeles County. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 1. From June 2011 to March 2013, Defendant Asuncion was facility captain for SVSP‘s Facility B. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 1. In this capacity, Defendant Asuncion planned, organized, and directed a program for the custody, security, discipline, classification, organizing, treatment, employment, and recreation of Facility B inmates. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 1.

         Defendant Hedgpeth worked for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (''CDCR'') from May 26, 1981 to June 30, 2012, serving at numerous prisons throughout the CDCR[3] and in various positions.[4] Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 1. Defendant Hedgpeth served as Acting Warden at SVSP from January 1, 2012 to June 30, 2012. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 1. Defendant Hedgpeth retired from the CDCR on December 30, 2011, and returned as a retired annuitant from January 1, 2012 to June 30, 2012. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 1. After June 30, 2012, Defendant Hedgpeth had no responsibility or authority at SVSP or at any other CDCR facility. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 1.

         Sergeant Valdez was assigned to SVSP‘s Institutional Gang Investigation Unit (''IGI'') from January 2002 to November 2014, and as of June 2016, was assigned to SVSP‘s Security Squad. Valdez Decl. ¶ 1.

         II.GANGS WITHIN CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION

         The majority of the gangs found within the CDCR are either prison gangs or disruptive groups. Prison gangs originated within the prison system, and disruptive groups began outside the prison in local communities. Asuncion Decl. ¶¶ 21, 25; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶¶ 29-31; Valdez Decl. ¶¶ 10, 11. Prison gangs and disruptive groups are powerful and violent criminal organizations and commit a significant portion of all criminal activity at SVSP and other CDCR prisons. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 29; Valdez Decl. ¶ 10. These groups are often organized according to racial or ethnic bonds, geographic origin, or street-gang membership. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 29; Valdez Decl. ¶ 9.

         In both Defendant Hedgpeth‘s experience and Sgt. Valdez‘s experience, most prison violence is caused by feuds between prison gangs and disruptive groups, and not because of grievances between individuals. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 29; Valdez Decl. ¶ 9.

         The CDCR recognized six prison gangs during the relevant time period: Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia; Aryan Brotherhood; Nazi Lowriders; Black Guerilla Family; and Northern Structure. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 22; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 30; Valdez Decl. ¶ 10. Disruptive groups often form symbiotic relationships with one of the six recognized prison gangs. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 31; Valdez Decl. ¶ 10.

         Two of the largest street gangs in CDCR prisons were the Bloods and the Crips. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 22; Valdez Decl. ¶ 13. Ethnically, Blood and Crip membership was compromised of predominantly Black individuals. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 22; Valdez Decl. ¶ 13. It was not possible for prison officials to determine which group an inmate belonged to based solely on an inmate‘s hometown because gang-membership often crossed regional and national boundaries. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 32; Valdez Decl. ¶ 13. Generally, inmates who were affiliated with the Crips and the Bloods were unwilling to self-identify as members of these disruptive groups, making it difficult for staff to identify inmates associated with disruptive groups and to conduct modified program investigations. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 25; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 33; Valdez Decl. ¶ 13. Unidentified gang members were often able to act on behalf of the gang undetected and sometimes avoided being placed on modified programs that affected their gang. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 22; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 33; Valdez Decl. ¶ 13.

         Another street gang that was organized and influential in SVSP was the ''Northern Hispanics.'' Asuncion Decl. ¶¶ 29, 32; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 35; Valdez Decl. ¶ 17. The membership of the Northern Hispanic disruptive group was primarily ethnically Hispanic inmates from Northern California. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 30; Valdez Decl. ¶ 17. The Northern Hispanic disruptive group had its own constitution; was structured like a military organization; and assigned specific duties to its members, associates, and subordinates. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 29; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 34; Valdez Decl. ¶ 17. The ''Northern Hispanic'' label was not used as a racial or ethnic label. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 30; Valdez Decl. ¶ 17. Rather, ''Northern Hispanic'' referred to a class of inmates who chose to adhere to a particular gang ideology, regardless of the inmate‘s ethnicity. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 30; Valdez Decl. ¶ 17. Inmates of non-Hispanic inmates also chose to affiliate with the Northern Hispanics. Valdez Decl. ¶ 18.

         In both Defendant Hedgpeth‘s experience and Sgt. Valdez‘s experience, a gang‘s leadership used its power to coerce other inmates to follow its orders. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 36; Valdez Decl. ¶ 23. At SVSP, gang leadership would directly or indirectly order inmates, even those unaffiliated with gangs, to attack staff and other inmates. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 36; Valdez Decl. ¶ 23. Inmates who refused the gang‘s demands sometimes faced violent retaliation. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 36; Valdez Decl. ¶ 23.

         According to Sgt. Valdez, black inmates would often be coerced to participate, or volunteer to participate, in criminal activity in support of the Bloods or the Crips, both of which were comprised predominantly of Black individuals. Valdez Decl. ¶¶ 13-16. Sgt. Valdez also stated that Black inmates almost always set aside conflicts to help other Black inmates during a group disturbance or riot between different races. Valdez Decl. ¶ 15. Black inmates would typically physically assault another Black inmate, whether affiliated or unaffiliated, who failed to ''help'' or participated during a group disturbance with other races. Valdez Decl. ¶ 15. Moreover, during a feud with another inmate group, such as the Northern Hispanics, Black inmates would be expected to attack a member of that group first, and not wait to be attacked. Valdez Decl. ¶ 15.

         According to Sgt. Valdez, typically Hispanic inmates placed their gang or disruptive group ties above race, unlike Black inmates. Valdez Decl. ¶ 15. Defendants stated that it was extremely difficult for non-affiliated Hispanic inmates to avoid pervasive threats and coercion from the Northern Hispanic and Southern Hispanic disruptive groups. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 32; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 35; Valdez Decl. ¶¶ 17, 22. Nearly all of the unaffiliated Hispanic inmates - who were not affiliated with Fresno Bulldogs or Mexican Nationals - were subjected to attempts by the Northern Hispanics and Southern Hispanic disruptive groups to intimidate and control them. Valdez Decl. ¶ 22.

         III. MODIFIED PROGRAMS

         On or around May 2012, section 3000 of the California Code of Regulations, title 15 provided for the implementation of ''modified programs:''

Modified Program means the suspension or restriction of less than all inmate program activities and/or movement. A Modified Program may either occur independently in response to an incident or unusual occurrence or may occur as a facility transitions from a lockdown to regular programming. Imposed restrictions may fluctuate as circumstances dictate with the goal of resuming regular programming as soon as it is practical. Modified programming will last no longer than necessary to restore institutional safety and security or to investigate the triggering event, and shall not target a specific racial or ethnic group. For those inmates whose movement has been restricted, movement may be authorized on a case-by-case basis for essential or emergency services such as medical, dental, mental health or law library visits. The routine and/or temporary restrictions on inmate movement or yard activities, which do not last longer than 24 hours, are not considered a program modification.

         Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3000. All modified programs required the warden‘s approval. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 7; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 13.

         A. Objectives

         The decision to implement modified programs was based on the safety and security needs of the institution. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 6. Modified programs were typically implemented in response to violence or potential violence, and often were implemented after incidents involving either a significant number of inmates, violence between two different inmate groups, or threats to staff. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 6; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 7. A majority of modified programs were implemented in response to gang-related activity. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 21. The objective of a modified program was to safely return a facility back to a normal program without a security breach. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 7. Modified programs remained in effect until staff completed their investigation of the violent incident that triggered the modified program. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 7. Modified programs could apply to all inmates or just a group of inmates. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 7.

         B. Restriction on Inmate Activities

         Modified programs restricted inmate privileges and inmate movement to safeguard the security and safety of inmates and staff. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 7. Inmates‘ access to outdoor exercise, visiting, quarterly packages, or canteen could be limited or suspended during a modified program. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 7.

         C. Custodial Staff Duties During Modified Programs

         Modified programs require additional duties of custodial staff. Asuncion Decl. ¶¶ 85, 85; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 27. Custodial staff from the impacted facility must investigate each modified program by conducting inmate-interviews, facility-wide searches, document review, and other work necessary to safely return the facility to a normal program. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 85; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 27. At times, custodial staff from other facilities would assist, but for no more than one or two days. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 85; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 27.

         In addition, custodial staff must cell-feed inmates and escort them to obtain medical or dental care. During a normal program, inmates walk themselves to the dining hall, and are allowed to walk themselves to the medical or dental facility unsearched and unrestrained. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 86. During a modified program, custodial staff obtained and delivered meals to each inmate in his or her cell, three times a day, and then retrieved the meal-tray after the meal was completed. When inmates required medical or dental care, each inmate was escorted one at a time by two officers after being subjected to a clothed-body search and placed in mechanical restraints. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 86.

         D. Reporting Requirements

         Section 55015 of the CDCR Department Operations Manual (''DOM'') is a confidential section of the DOM[5] that was in effect in May 2012 and provided the authority for a modified program. Asuncion Decl. ¶¶ 8, 87; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 8; Valdez Decl. ¶ 27. Section 55015 also set forth clear guidelines for modified programs, and set forth strict reporting requirements regarding modified programs. Asuncion Decl. ¶¶ 8, 87; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 8; Valdez Decl. ¶ 27. Section 55015 authorized prison officials to conduct inmate interviews and suspend inmate privileges which investigating the incident that triggered the modified program. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 8; Valdez Decl. ¶ 27.

         If the normal program is modified in any manner, Section 55015 required that staff complete the appropriate portions of the Program Status Report, CDCR Form 3022, for each modified program. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 8; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 12.

         At the start, all modified programs required immediate notification from the impacted area by the Watch Commander, or a higher-ranked employee, to the Warden. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 88; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 13. Within twenty-four hours of a program modification, the Warden was required to verbally notify the appropriate Associate Director at CDCR headquarters, as well as complete and submit CDCR Form 3022, Part A (Initial Notification) to the Associate Director. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 88; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 13. Only the Warden had the authority to implement a modified program. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 88; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 13.

         Staff were required to create a daily plan of operation for each modified program, which was reported in CDCR Form 3022, Part B (Plan of Operation) and addressed the modified program‘s costs, duration, affected areas, inmates, critical workers, feeding, medical and mental health services, inmate appointments, showers, religious services, library, visiting, phone calls, recreation, canteen, vendor packages, and disciplinary or classification hearings. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 89; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 14. The Warden reviewed the plan of operation on a daily basis and provided this report to the Associate Director. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 89; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 14.

         Staff were also required to complete CDCR Form 3022, Part C (Weekly Status Report), a weekly status report which included the current plan of operation, described the preceding week‘s progress, and specified actions taken to attempt to return to a normal program. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 90; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 15. This report was also sent to the Associate Director. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 90; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 15.

         Staff were also required to complete CDCR Form 3022, Part D (Weekly Status Report - Prison), a weekly status report that identified all modified programs at an institution. This report was submitted to the Associate Director every week, and was forwarded to the Deputy Director and the Division of Adult Institutions (''DAI'') Director. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 91; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 16.

         Staff were also required to complete CDCR Form 3022, Part E (Sixty-Day Status Report) every sixty days until the modified program returned to a normal program. This sixty-day status report included the current plan of operation, and specified actions taken to attempt to return to a normal program. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 92; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 17. This report was submitted to the Associate Director, who was required to submit it to the Deputy Director and the DAI Director. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 92; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 17. The DAI Director was required to immediately provide the sixty-day report to the Chief Deputy Secretary of CDCR‘s Adult Operations. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 92; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 17.

         In accordance with section 55015, the Warden conducted daily meetings with the Chief Deputy Warden, the Associate Wardens, the Facility Captains from the affected areas, members from the Investigative Services Unit (''ISU'') and Institutional Gang Investigation Unit (''IGI''), and other staff members, to address each modified program implemented at SVSP. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 93; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 18. During these meetings, the Warden was provided investigation results, inmate-interview results, new intelligence, and input from ISU and IGI. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 93; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 18. Additionally, the staff reviewed the daily plan of operations; developed the plan of operation for the next day; discussed alternatives to the modified programs; and discussed the best way to end the modified programs as quickly as safety would allow. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 93; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 18.

         Every week, the Warden conducted a telephone-conference with the CDCR Associate Director. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 94; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 19. These telephone-conferences were also attended by the Chief Deputy Warden, the Associate Wardens, the Facility Captains from the affected areas, ISU and IGI members and other staff members. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 94; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 19. During these weekly conferences, staff reported to the Associate Director investigation results, inmate-interview results, new intelligence, and plans to return to normal programming. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 94; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 19.

         E. Returning to Normal Programming

         CDCR‘s policy was to return to a normal programming as soon as it was safe to do so. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 20; Asuncion Decl. ¶ 16. In accordance with the obligation to provide safety and security to staff and inmates, staff cautiously restored privileges and incrementally released inmates from the modified program. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 20; Asuncion Decl. ¶ 16. During a modified program, privileges were restored gradually. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 21; Asuncion Decl. ¶ 17. For example, restrictions on contact-visiting would be lifted for inmates affected by a modified program. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 21; Asuncion Decl. ¶ 17. If successful, then other inmate privileges would be restored in an effort to return to normal programming. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 21; Asuncion Decl. ¶ 17. Typically, exercise-yard and dayroom privileges were the last privileges to be restored during a modified program because these privileges presented the greatest potential for inmate violence. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 21; Asuncion Decl. ¶ 17.

         Inmates were carefully chosen to be included in incremental releases. Staff selected inmates for incremental release that were the least likely to engage in violence. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 18; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 22; Valdez Decl. ¶ 32. An inmate‘s likelihood of engaging in violence was determine by reviewing the inmate‘s central-files to identify inmates without disciplinary records for violence, without known gang-affiliations, and with very low classification scores. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 18; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 22; Valdez Decl. ¶ 32. These inmates typically underwent unclothed body searches and were subjected to metal detectors before they were released to the yard. Asuncion Decl. ¶ 18; Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 22; Valdez Decl. ¶ 32. Inmates were sometimes incrementally released in groups as small as two or three inmates. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 22. If successful, larger groups of inmates would be released until all inmates were programming on the yard. Hedgpeth Decl. ¶ 22. However, if a violent incident occurred during the incremental release, staff were ...


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