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Arellano v. Blahnik

United States District Court, S.D. California

June 29, 2017

BLAHNIK, Defendant.


          LOUISA S PORTER United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff Raul Arellano (“Arellano”), a state prisoner proceeding pro se and informa pauperis, filed his Complaint in this case on September 23, 2016, alleging Defendant Blahnik (“Blahnik”) violated his rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1.) On February 16, 2017, Blahnik filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint and requested the Court take judicial notice of certain California state court records. (ECF No. 6.) Arellano filed an opposition to Blahnik's motion to dismiss on March 21, 2017. (ECF No. 8.) Blahnik then filed a reply to Arellano's opposition on March 28, 2017. (ECF No. 9.)

         After a thorough review of the pleadings, the parties' papers, and all supporting documents, the Court hereby RECOMMENDS that Blahnik's motion to dismiss be DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Arellano is currently incarcerated at Richard J. Donovan State Prison (“RJD”) in San Diego, California.[1] (ECF No. 1 at 1.)

         The Fourth Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal, Division One, affirmed the judgment of the Superior Court of the State of California, San Diego County (“Superior Court”), on January 14, 2013. (ECF No. 6-2 at 90-113.) On April 17, 2013, the California Supreme Court denied Arellano's petition for review. (ECF No. 6-2 at 115.) Arellano asserts that, while five (5) months into state habeas corpus research, he was sent to solitary confinement and deprived of all his legal materials from September 2013 to July 2014. (ECF No. 1 at 8.) Nonetheless, Arellano filed his petition for writ of habeas corpus in the Superior Court on April 22, 2014. (ECF No. 6-2 at 118.) In his petition, Arellano lays out 98 grounds for relief, “most, but not all, ” of which are “clothed in IAC [Ineffective Assistance of Counsel] raiment.” (Id. at 118-19.) The Superior Court reasoned that full or partial transcripts of the preliminary hearing and trial proceedings were necessary to support the “deficient performance” and/or “prejudice” elements of Arellano's IAC claims. (Id. at 119.) (Emphasis added.) Thus, it denied Arellano's petition on its 54 IAC grounds, as well as other grounds, on June 18, 2014. (Id. at 131.)

         On June 7, 2016, the California Court of Appeal denied Arellano's prior petition against Daniel Paramo, Warden, which requested copies of all trial transcripts and contended that the law library staff lost all his trial transcripts that the Superior Court needs to hear his petition on the merits. (See Case No. 16-cv-2337-WQH-MDD, ECF No. 1 at 4.) The California Supreme Court also denied Arellano's petition on August 10, 2016. (Id.)

         Arellano then filed his first federal petition of habeas corpus on September 13, 2016. (Id. at 13.) In that petition, Arellano argued that the state court abused its discretion by not granting him copies of his trial transcripts after they deemed them necessary to analyze the “deficient performance” and “prejudice” elements of the IAC claims raised in his state court petition. (Id.) On September 21, 2016, the Honorable Mitchell D. Dembin, United States Magistrate Judge, issued a Notice Regarding Possible Failure to Exhaust and One-Year Statute of Limitations which cautioned Arellano to consider whether all his claims were exhausted, yet it postponed any determination of whether or not all Arellano's claims were exhausted until later in the proceedings. (See Case No. 16-cv-2337-WQH-MDD, ECF No. 2.) On the same day, the Honorable William Q. Hayes, United States District Judge, dismissed Arellano's case without prejudice because Arellano had not paid the mandatory $5.00 filing fee or demonstrated his inability to pay the fee with adequate proof. (See Case No. 16-cv-2337-WQH-MDD, ECF No. 3.)

         On September 23, 2016, Arellano filed the instant Complaint against Blahnik. (ECF No. 1.) Arellano's allegations are laid out below. On February 16, 2017, Blahnik filed its Motion to Dismiss Complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) on the grounds that the Complaint fails to state an access-to-court claim upon which relief can be granted. (ECF No. 6.) After the Court set a briefing schedule, Arellano filed his response in opposition to Blahnik's motion on March 21, 2017. (ECF No. 8.) On March 28, 2017, Blahnik filed a reply to Arellano's opposition to the motion. (ECF No. 9.)


         The Complaint alleges that, on or around August 2014, after being released from solitary confinement, Arellano received his legal materials, including original trial transcripts from which he drafted his state habeas petition. (ECF No. 1 at 8.) It is alleged that, from August 2014 to September 2014, Arellano diligently pursued Blahnik in order to make copies of the transcripts the Superior Court deemed necessary to analyze the IAC claims in his petition on the merits. (Id.) Due to library access restrictions, Arellano's block only had library access once a week. (Id.) The Complaint also alleges that Arellano was repeatedly skipped in line for library services in favor of other inmates by Blahnik and that Arellano saw Blahnik make copies for other inmates although Blahnik told him the copy machine was broken. (Id.)

         The Complaint goes on alleging that Arellano told Blahnik that he needed the copies made in order to have his IAC grounds reviewed, to exhaust his state remedies and finally get his conviction overturned. (Id.) It is alleged that Blahnik responded by saying that he would not help Arellano with anything because he does not “like my type of charges” and that he felt pressured by Arellano's persistence. (Id. at 8-9.) On September 22, 2014, Arellano gave and Blahnik accepted approximately 500 pages of Arellano's legal materials, which included the original trial transcript, affidavits, and an interrogatory of the victim from a detective. (Id. at 9.) After a few days passed, Arellano inquired of Blahnik about what happened to the original documents he asked Blahnik to copy. (Id.) Blahnik told Arellano that he lost the documents when he went to make copies. (Id.)

         Subsequently, Arellano notified Blahnik that he filed a CDCR Form 22 (the inmate-request form), and Blahnik modified his story of what happened to Arellano's documents. (Id.) The Complaint alleges Blahnik then expressed that he made the copies and gave them to another inmate, J.R. (Id.) On or about September 29, 2014, Arellano spoke with J.R., who told Arellano that he neither received any papers from Blahnik nor had a reason to pick up Arellano's papers as J.R. did not know Arellano. (Id.) J.R. also informed Arellano that no other inmates could pick up his legal papers as they had to be signed out by the owner. (Id.)

         On October 22, 2014, Arellano filed a grievance against Blahnik. (Id.) The Complaint alleges that Arellano subsequently confronted Blahnik about losing his legal papers and why he would give his paperwork to another inmate, which risked exposing Arellano's charges and put his life at risk among other inmates. (Id.) Blahnik responded that Arellano should have never filed a grievance against him and confessed to intentionally throwing away Arellano's papers because he does not like Arellano or the charges for which he was convicted. (Id.) For that reason, Arellano believes that Blahnik destroyed his original legal documents and his original paperwork will never be returned. (Id.)


         A. Legal Standards

         1. Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

         A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) “tests the legal sufficiency of a claim.” Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001). Because Rule 12(b)(6) focuses on the sufficiency of a claim rather than the claim's substantive merits, “a court may [ordinarily] look only at the face of the complaint to decide a [Rule 12(b)(6)] motion to dismiss.” Van Buskirk v. Cable News Network, Inc., 284 F.3d 977, 980 (9th Cir. 2002). “A court may, however, consider certain materials-documents attached to the complaint, documents incorporated by reference in the complaint, or matters of judicial notice-without converting the motion to dismiss into a motion for summary judgment.” United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 907-08 (9th Cir. 2003).[2]

         A motion to dismiss should be granted if a plaintiff fails to proffer “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim that is plausible on its face' [Citation omitted.] A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         “All allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.” Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th Cir. 1996) (citing Nat'l wildlife Fed. V. Espy, 45 F.3d 1337, 1340 (9th Cir. 1995)). The Court need not, however, “accept as true allegations that are merely conclusory, unwarranted deductions of fact, or unreasonable inferences.” Sprewell v. Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001) (citing Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752, 754-55 (9th Cir. 1994)); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”); Papasan v. Allan, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (on motion to dismiss, court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.”). “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, ' but it demands more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Thus, “[w]hile legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 679. “The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. at 678. “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility of entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570) (finding when plaintiffs have not “nudged their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, their complaint must be dismissed.”).

         “In sum, for a complaint to survive a motion to dismiss, the non-conclusory ‘factual content, ' and reasonable inferences [drawn] from that content, must be plausibly suggestive of a claim entitling the plaintiff to relief.” Moss v. United States Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         2. Standards Applicable to Pro Se Litigants in ...

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