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Salas v. Nichols

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 30, 2017

RAFAEL SALAS, Plaintiff,
NICHOLS, et al., Defendants.


          JON S. TIGAR United States District Judge.


         Plaintiff, an inmate at Pelican Bay State Prison (“PBSP”), filed this pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in a separate order. His complaint (Dkt. No. 1) is now before the Court for review under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.


         A. Standard of Review

         A federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity, or from an officer or an employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review, the Court must identify any cognizable claims, and dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) (1), (2). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires only “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citations omitted). “[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. . . . Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint must proffer “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570.

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated; and (2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         B. Complaint

         In reviewing the complaint's factual allegations, the Court notes that although Plaintiff has only alleged six causes of actions, his complaint is 59 pages long with 227 pages of exhibits, and the complaint details numerous allegedly wrongful acts, some of which are unrelated to the causes of actions, committed by Defendants between November 2013 and April 2016. The Court simply does not have the resources to scour the complaint and exhibits and organize the allegations contained therein in order to perform its screening duty under § 1915A and identify all cognizable claims.[1] Accordingly, the Court will presume that Plaintiff only seeks to bring the six legal claims which he has identified, and the Court will only review the factual allegations which support his legal claims.[2]

         The Court now turns to the allegations in Plaintiff's complaint which, in sum, alleges that prison officials have been continuously harassing him in retaliation for his use of the prison grievance system.[3]

         November 2013 - December 2013: Truvino Grievance and Related Cell Searches.

         On November 6, 2013, Plaintiff and other inmates filed a group appeal against Correctional Officer Truvino (who is not a named defendant) for attempting to incite racial tensions between Black and Hispanic inmates. Dkt. No. 1 at 12.

         Defendants retaliated against Plaintiff for filing for this group appeal in the following manner.

         On December 4, 2013, named defendants Officers Nichols and Carraway trashed Plaintiff's cell under the guise of a cell search. Dkt. No. 1 at 13. Twenty minutes after this cell search was completed, John Does 1-15 rushed into Plaintiff's cell section and trashed all the cells in the section under the guise of a mass cell search. Id.

         On December 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed grievance PBSP-B-13-04123 alleging that the cell searches and trashing of cells was in retaliation for his group appeal against Officer Truvino. Dkt. No. 1 at 14. Plaintiff was interviewed by named defendant Officer Barneburg with respect to this grievance. Id. at 15. Officer Barneburg promised that correctional officers would not retaliate against Plaintiff and other prisoners for filing grievances. Id. at 15. In return, Plaintiff withdrew his grievance with the understanding that Plaintiff could re-filed his grievance if there were retaliatory acts in the future. Id. at 15.

         July 2014 - September 2014: Grievances Regarding Law Library Restroom Policy.

         In July 2015, Plaintiff secured a job assignment as a computer clerk in B-Yard Education, which is located near the Law Library. Dkt. No. 1 at 15. Officer Forkner, who is stationed at the Law Library, was upset with Plaintiff's new job assignment and therefore instituted a new and arbitrary policy that inmates using the law library could only use the restroom once or twice a day. Id. at 15-16. Plaintiff filed a habeas action challenging Officer Forkner's arbitrary policy. Id. at 15. On August 5, 2014, Officer Forkner also denied Plaintiff's request for legal forms. Id. at 16.

         In early August 2014, Plaintiff filed a grievance and a Form 22 regarding Officer Forkner's restroom policy.

         In grievance PBSP-B-14-02281, Plaintiff alleged that Officer Forkner had retaliated against him for Plaintiff's efforts to seek redress of grievances; that Officer Forkner had interfered with Plaintiff's access to the courts; that Officer Forkner had incited racial tensions; and that Officer Forkner had used improper language when dealing with prisoners. Id. at 16-17. This grievance was ultimately denied at all levels. Dkt. No. 1 at 35.

         In his Form 22, Plaintiff informed Officer Barneburg that Officer Forkner was retaliating against him for filing a grievance challenging the restroom policy. Id. at 16. Named defendant Officer Speaker responded to the Form 22, and stated that the restroom policy was prompted by complaints from correctional staff in B-Yard Education that inmates were using the restroom without supervision. Id. at 17. Plaintiff contacted B-Yard Education staff who all denied making such complaints. Id. On August 21, 2014, as Plaintiff was carrying out his assigned responsibility of emptying out wastebaskets, Officer Speaker accused Plaintiff of violating the restroom policy and threatened to issue an RVR. Id. at 18. In response, Plaintiff stated that he would file a grievance against Officer Speaker. Officer Speaker escorted Plaintiff back to his cell and had him confined to quarters. Id. at 18.

         In response to this incident, Plaintiff sent two Form 22s to named defendant Captain Melton, and filed a group grievance against Officer Speaker, PBSP-B-14-02545. The first Form 22 alleged that Officer Forkner was retaliating against him; and the second Form 22 alleged that Officer Speaker was retaliating against him for his complaints regarding Officer Forkner. Id. at 18.

         The group grievance against Officer Speaker alleged that Officer Speaker had falsely claimed that B-Yard Education staff complained about inmates using the restroom; had falsely accused Plaintiff of violating the restroom policy; had compromised the integrity of a staff complaint investigation; and had retaliated against him for filing a grievance against Forkner. Dkt. No. 1 at 19. Named defendant Officer Higgerson interviewed Plaintiff regarding this grievance. Officer Higgerson advised Plaintiff to seek a medical chrono for bathroom use in order to circumvent the restroom policy. Officer Higgerson denied Plaintiff's grievance, relying on the false evidence that B-Yard Education staff had made complaints about inmates using the restroom. Id. at 20.

         At that time, Plaintiff was housed in PBSP B-Yard, 7-Block, A-section. Due to a series of retaliatory events which are described below, Plaintiff was transferred to administrative segregation housing. On January 14, 2015, Officer Bramucci informed Plaintiff that because Plaintiff was housed in segregated housing, Plaintiff had been removed from the complaint and named defendant Chief Deputy Warden Bradbury had processed the staff complaint as a program issue instead. Dkt. No. 1 at 39. In response, Plaintiff alleged that Officer Bramucci had violated Plaintiff's First Amendment rights when he excluded Plaintiff from his own grievance. Id. Named defendants Officers Townsend, Osborne, and Ducart affirmed Officer Bramucci's decision to remove Plaintiff from the grievance. Id. Plaintiff appealed this decision, but Officers Townsend and Bramucci cancelled Plaintiff's appeal. Id. at 40. Plaintiff appealed the cancellation of his appeal as an abuse of discretion. Id. Officer Osborne affirmed the cancellation of the appeal.

         September 2014 Cell Search.

         On September 12, 2014, Officers Barneburg, Lacy, Schaad, Williams, and Loheim, all named defendants, searched Plaintiff's cell. Officer Schaad initially declared Plaintiff's cell contraband free. Dkt. No. 1 at 20-21. Then Plaintiff witnessed Officer Barneburg enter his cell with a razor blade and exit without the razor blade. Id. Shortly thereafter, Officer Schaad informed Plaintiff that a razor blade had been found in his cell. Id. The cell search also resulted in the disappearance of Plaintiff's LAPD Murder Investigation book files which were relevant to Plaintiff's criminal habeas appeal. Id. at 24. After the cell search, not all of Plaintiff's property was returned to him, with named defendant Officer Harlen disposing of some of the property disposed. Pursuant to the cell search and the discovery of the knife, Plaintiff was reassigned to an administrative segregation unit (“ASU”), which was a more punitive level of housing than his prior housing. Id. at 25.

         Grievances and Form 22s Related to ...

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