United States District Court, E.D. California
TRUC N. HO, Plaintiff,
E. MAJOR, et al. Defendants.
M. KELLISON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
a prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court
is plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 1).
court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners
seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or
employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or
portion thereof if it: (1) is frivolous or malicious; (2)
fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; or
(3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from
such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2).
Moreover, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that
complaints contain a “short and plain statement of the
claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This means that claims must be stated
simply, concisely, and directly. See McHenry v.
Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996) (referring to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e)(1)). These rules are satisfied if the
complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the
plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests.
See Kimes v. Stone, 84 F.3d 1121, 1129 (9th Cir.
1996). Because plaintiff must allege with at least some
degree of particularity overt acts by specific defendants
which support the claims, vague and conclusory allegations
fail to satisfy this standard. Additionally, it is impossible
for the court to conduct the screening required by law when
the allegations are vague and conclusory.
appears to be challenging a prison disciplinary proceeding
wherein he was found guilty of battery on an inmate with a
weapon causing serious bodily injury. Plaintiff was assessed
with 360 days loss of credit and 15 months in the Secured
Housing Unit (SHU). He claims his Fourteenth Amendment rights
were violated in that there was not “some
evidence” to support the findings that a weapon was
used. However, other than setting out the proceedings and the
involvement of the various defendants in those proceedings,
plaintiff makes no allegation as to any specific wrongdoing
or errors in the proceedings. He has requested the guilty
finding be set aside and he be awarded monetary damages.
are several defects in plaintiff's complaint. First, it
appears that plaintiff's claims sound in habeas and are
not cognizable as a § 1983 action. When a state prisoner
challenges the legality of his custody and the relief he
seeks is a determination that he is entitled to an earlier or
immediate release, such a challenge is not cognizable under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the prisoner's sole federal
remedy is a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. See
Preiser v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 475, 500 (1973); see
also Neal v. Shimoda, 131 F.3d 818, 824 (9th Cir. 1997);
Trimble v. City of Santa Rosa, 49 F.3d 583, 586 (9th
Cir. 1995) (per curiam). Thus, where a § 1983 action
seeking monetary damages or declaratory relief alleges
constitutional violations which would necessarily imply the
invalidity of the prisoner's underlying conviction or
sentence, or the result of a prison disciplinary hearing
resulting in imposition of a sanction affecting the overall
length of confinement, such a claim is not cognizable under
§ 1983 unless the conviction or sentence has first been
invalidated on appeal, by habeas petition, or through some
similar proceeding. See Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S.
477, 483-84 (1994) (concluding that § 1983 claim not
cognizable because allegations were akin to malicious
prosecution action which includes as an element a finding
that the criminal proceeding was concluded in plaintiff's
favor); Butterfield v. Bail, 120 F.3d 1023, 1024-25
(9th Cir. 1997) (concluding that § 1983 claim not
cognizable because allegations of procedural defects were an
attempt to challenge substantive result in parole hearing);
cf. Neal, 131 F.3d at 824 (concluding that §
1983 claim was cognizable because challenge was to conditions
for parole eligibility and not to any particular parole
determination); cf. Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74
(2005) (concluding that § 1983 action seeking changes in
procedures for determining when an inmate is eligible for
parole consideration not barred because changed procedures
would hasten future parole consideration and not affect any
earlier parole determination under the prior procedures).
particular, where the claim involves the loss of good-time
credits as a result of an adverse prison disciplinary
finding, and the resulting loss directly impacts the length
of the prisoner's sentence, the claim is not cognizable.
See Edwards v. Balisok, 520 U.S. 641, 646 (1987)
(holding that § 1983 claim not cognizable because
allegations of procedural defects and a biased hearing
officer implied the invalidity of the underlying prison
disciplinary sanction of loss of good-time credits);
Blueford v. Prunty, 108 F.3d 251, 255 (9th Cir.
1997); cf. Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 858
(9th. Cir. 2003) (holding that the favorable termination rule
of Heck and Edwards does not apply to
challenges to prison disciplinary hearings where the
administrative sanction imposed does not affect the overall
length of confinement and, thus, does not go to the heart of
habeas); see also Wilkerson v. Wheeler, 772 F.3d 834
(9th Cir. 2014) (discussing loss of good-time credits);
Nettles v. Grounds, 830 F.3d 922, 934-35 (9th Cir.
2016) (discussing the impact of a prison disciplinary
violations in determining suitability for parole).
Ninth Circuit recently addressed the issue of a pro
se litigant filing the incorrect action to address his
claim. “[A] district court may construe a petition for
habeas corpus to plead a cause of action under § 1983
after notifying and obtaining informed consent from the
prisoner.” Nettles, 830 F.3d at 936.
“‘If the complaint is amendable to conversion on
its face, meaning that it names the correct defendants and
seeks the correct relief, the court may recharacterize the
petition so long as it warns the pro se litigant of
the consequences of the conversion and provides an
opportunity for the litigant to withdraw or amend his or her
complaint.'” Id. (quoting Glaus v.
Anderson, 408 F.3d 382, 388 (7th Cir. 2005)). However,
the Court recognized that following enactment of the PLRA,
“‘a habeas corpus action and a prisoner civil
rights suit differ in a variety of respects-such as the
proper defendant, filing fees, the means of collecting them,
and restrictions on future filings-that may make
recharacterization impossible or, if possible,
disadvantageous to the prisoner compared to a dismissal
without prejudice of his petition for habeas
corpus.'” Id. at 935-36 (quoting
Robinson v. Sherrod, 631 F.3d 839, 841 (7th Cir.
2011)). Based on these differences, the court is not inclined
to recharacterize plaintiff's civil rights complaint as a
habeas petition in this instance.
stated above, it appears that plaintiff's claim sound in
habeas. He is challenging a prison disciplinary proceeding
wherein he lost 360 days of credit and is seeking to have the
guilty finding set aside and theose credits restored. If
plaintiff is a determinately sentenced prisoner, or he has
not yet reached his minimum eligible parole date (MEPD), a
finding in his favor would affect the overall length of
confinement. However, if plaintiff is an indeterminately
sentenced prisoner past his MEPD and is currently receiving
parole consideration hearings, then a restoration of his good
time credit would not necessarily affect the length of his
confinement. There is simply not enough information in the
complaint for the court to determine whether this case would
impact the length of plaintiff's confinement. This defect
may be curable, and plaintiff will be provided an opportunity
to file an amended complaint if he determines, based on the
information provided herein, that his claim is appropriately
raised in a § 1983 action.
that this action is properly filed as a § 1983 action,
plaintiff is informed that the Due Process Clause protects
prisoners from being deprived of life, liberty, or property
without due process of law. Wolff v. McDonnell, 418
U.S. 539, 556 (1974). In order to state a claim of
deprivation of due process, a plaintiff must allege the
existence of a liberty or property interest for which the
protection is sought. See Ingraham v. Wright, 430
U.S. 651, 672 (1977); Bd. of Regents v. Roth, 408
U.S. 564, 569 (1972). Due process protects against the
deprivation of property where there is a legitimate claim of
entitlement to the property. See Bd. of Regents, 408
U.S. at 577. Protected property interests are created, and
their dimensions are defined, by existing rules that stem
from an independent source - such as state law - and which
secure certain benefits and support claims of entitlement to
those benefits. See id.
interests can arise both from the Constitution and from state
law. See Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 466 (1983);
Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 224-27 (1976);
Smith v. Sumner, 994 F.2d 1401, 1405 (9th Cir.
1993). In determining whether the Constitution itself
protects a liberty interest, the court should consider
whether the practice in question “. . . is within the
normal limits or range of custody which the conviction has
authorized the State to impose.” Wolff, 418
U.S. at 557-58; Smith, 994 F.2d at 1405. Applying
this standard, the Supreme Court has concluded that the
Constitution itself provides no liberty interest in good-time
credits, see Wolff, 418 U.S. at 557; in remaining in
the general population, see Sandin v. Conner, 515
U.S. 472, 485-86 (1995); in not losing privileges, see
Baxter v. Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308, 323 (1976); in
staying at a particular institution, see Meachum,
427 U.S. at 225-27; or in remaining in a prison in a
particular state, see Olim v. Wakinekona, 461 U.S.
238, 245-47 (1983).
determining whether state law confers a liberty interest, the
Supreme Court has adopted an approach in which the existence
of a liberty interest is determined by focusing on the nature
of the deprivation. See Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S.
472, 481-84 (1995). In doing so, the Court has held that
state law creates a liberty interest deserving of protection
only where the deprivation in question: (1) restrains the
inmate's freedom in a manner not expected from the
sentence; and (2) “imposes atypical and significant
hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents
of prison life.” Id. at 483-84. Prisoners in
California have a liberty interest in the procedures used in
prison disciplinary hearings where a successful claim would
not necessarily shorten the prisoner's sentence. See
Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 853, 859 (9th Cir.
2003) (concluding that a due process challenge to a prison
disciplinary hearing which did not result in the loss of
good-time credits was cognizable under § 1983); see
also Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 82 (2005)
(concluding that claims which did not seek earlier or
immediate release from prison were cognizable under §
with respect to prison disciplinary proceedings, due process
requires prison officials to provide the inmate with: (1) a
written statement at least 24 hours before the disciplinary
hearing that includes the charges, a description of the
evidence against the inmate, and an explanation for the
disciplinary action taken; (2) an opportunity to present
documentary evidence and call witnesses, unless calling
witnesses would interfere with institutional security; and
(3) legal assistance where the charges are complex or the
inmate is illiterate. See Wolff, 418 U.S. at 563-70.
Due process is satisfied where these minimum requirements
have been met, see Walker v. Sumner, 14 F.3d 1415,
1420 (9th Cir. 1994), and where there is “some
evidence” in the record as a whole which supports the
decision of the hearing officer, see Superintendent v.
Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 455 (1985). The “some
evidence” standard is not particularly stringent and is
satisfied where “there is any evidence in the record
that could support the conclusion reached.”