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Ransom v. Herrera

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 30, 2017

LEONARD RANSOM, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
DANNY HERRERA, et al., Defendants.

         FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS, RECOMMENDING THAT THE CASE PROCEED AGAINST DEFENDANTS BRANNUM AND HERRERA ON A FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT PROCEDURAL DUE PROCESS CLAIM, A FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT SUBSTANTIVE DUE PROCESS CLAIM UNDER DEVEREAUX, A RETALIATION CLAIM, A SECTION 1983 MALICIOUS PROSECUTION CLAIM, AND A CONSPIRACY CLAIM, AND THAT ALL OTHER CLAIMS AND DEFENDANTS BE DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE (ECF NO. 72) TWENTY DAY DEADLINE

         Leonard Ransom, Jr. (“Plaintiff”) is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint (“SAC”) on May 15, 2017, which is before this Court for screening. (ECF No. 72).

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants conspired to violate his constitutional rights by filing a knowingly false report against Plaintiff, falsely accusing Plaintiff of a staff assault. This report formed the basis of a criminal prosecution as well. As described below, Plaintiff's earlier complaint in this case was allowed to proceed past screening, but was then dismissed with leave to amend based on Defendants' motion to dismiss arguing that merely filing false accusations, without more, does not state a violation of constitutional rights. As described below, Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint contains additional facts alleging that the false report and criminal prosecution were done in retaliation for Plaintiff's exercise of his Fifth Amendment rights. Moreover, Plaintiff describes consequences including prolonged Administrative Segregation without a bed that may rise to the level of an atypical and significant hardship resulting from the false report, even though Plaintiff was eventually exonerated. Thus, construing these allegations in favor of Defendant, the Court recommends allowing the Second Amended Complaint to proceed against Defendants Brannum and Herrera only on a Fourteenth Amendment procedural due process claim, a Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process claim under Devereaux, a retaliation claim, a section 1983 malicious prosecution claim, and a conspiracy claim

         I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Leonard Ransom, Jr. (“Plaintiff”) is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff filed the complaint commencing this action on October 13, 2011. (ECF No. 1). On August 12, 2014, the Court[1] screened Plaintiff's complaint and found that it stated claims against Sergeant Ricky Brannum and Correctional Officer Danny Herrera for conspiracy, and against defendant Lieutenant L. Castro for violation of due process. (ECF No. 9). Specifically, the Court found regarding the conspiracy claim that “Plaintiff has alleged facts, if true, state a claim for relief against Defendants Brannum and Herrera on his conspiracy claim. The facts alleged indicate that Brannum, in the presence of Herrera and Plaintiff, stated his intention to falsely charge Plaintiff with staff assault. Plaintiff alleges that Herrera falsely accused him, and that Plaintiff was exonerated based upon false testimony of Herrera.” (ECF No. 9, at p. 6). Regarding the Due Process claim, the Court found “Here, Plaintiff has alleged facts indicating that he was charged with a disciplinary violation, and that he was falsely accused. Plaintiff was exonerated based in part on a finding that a correctional officer gave false testimony. Plaintiff also alleges that there was a specific finding that his due process rights had been violated, and that the pending disciplinary charged was responsible in part of his finding of unsuitability for parole. Plaintiff has therefore stated a colorable claim for relief against Lt. Castro for a Due Process violation.” (Id. at p. 7).

         Plaintiff initially agreed to stand on his original complaint (ECF No. 15), and the Court authorized service of that Complaint. (ECF No. 16). However, Plaintiff then asked to correct two errors in his Complaint: changing defendant Castro's first initial from L. to J., and replacing the date “4/5/09” in paragraph 24 of the Complaint to “5/5/09.” (ECF No. 20). The Court denied this request and gave Plaintiff leave to amend his Complaint to make these changes. (ECF No. 22).

         On January 23, 2015, Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 24). The Court found cognizable claims (ECF No. 27, p. 2), and ordered that the case proceed “against defendants Sergeant Ricky Brannum and Correctional Officer Danny Herrera for conspiracy, and against defendant Lieutenant J. Castro for violation of due process.” (Id. at 4).

         On June 7, 2016, Defendants Castro and Herrera filed a motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 32). On July 7, 2016, defendant Brannum filed a motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 38). Defendants Brannum and Herrera argued that the claim against them should be dismissed because “a prisoner's allegation that prison officials issued a false disciplinary charge against him fails to state a cognizable claim for relief under § 1983.” (ECF No. 32-1, p. 6; ECF No. 38-1, p. 6). The gravamen of the motions to dismiss was that merely filing false disciplinary charges, without more, does not state a claim for violation of constitutional rights. (ECF No. 32-1, p. 6; ECF No. 38-1, p. 6) (Plaintiff “has no constitutional right to be free from receiving false disciplinary charges.”). Defendants also argued that the filing of false disciplinary charges does not violate Plaintiff's due process rights so long as Plaintiff receives all the process that is due. (ECF No. 32-1, p. 7).

         On December 28, 2016, the Court issued findings and recommendations, recommending that both motions to dismiss be granted, and that Plaintiff be given leave to amend. (ECF No. 61). The Court thoroughly examined the applicable law and agreed that the mere filing of false disciplinary charges does not state a constitutional claim, but described how there could be a constitutional violation if the filing of false charges resulted in the deprivation of a liberty interest, or if the charges were filed in order to penalize Plaintiff for exercising his constitutional rights:

In order to state a claim for a violation of due process, Plaintiff must allege that he was deprived of a liberty interest without Due Process. Here, Plaintiff was exonerated of the charges and not subjected to additional punishment as a result of the charges. Although he was placed in Administrative Segregation and the false charges were referenced in his parole hearing, these deprivations do not amount to a loss of a constitutionally protected liberty interest such that Plaintiff was entitled to procedural due process. Additionally, the mere filing of false disciplinary charges does not violate due process; rather it entitles a plaintiff to procedures to resolve the charges. If charges are filed in order to penalize Plaintiff for his exercise of constitutional rights, such a situation could be a violation of constitutional rights.

(ECF No. 61). Chief Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill adopted the findings and recommendations in full, over the objections of Defendants as to the leave to amend. (ECF No. 69).

         On May 15, 2017, Plaintiff filed his Second Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 72). On May 31, 2017, Defendants filed a request for screening of the Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 73), which was granted (ECF No. 74).

         II. SCREENING REQUIREMENT

         The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). “Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that the action or appeal fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         A complaint is required to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id. at 679. While a plaintiff's allegations are taken as true, courts “are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences.” Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Additionally, a plaintiff's legal conclusions are not accepted as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Pleadings of pro se plaintiffs “must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (holding that pro se complaints should continue to be liberally construed after Iqbal).

         III. SUMMARY OF PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT

         Plaintiff alleges that on March 4, 2009, while he was incarcerated in Kern Valley State Prison, Correctional Officer Herrera and Correctional Sergeant Brannum approached Plaintiff's cell in order to transport Plaintiff to “an alleged ‘outside medical transport.'” As they approached Plaintiff's cell, Plaintiff heard Herrera say to Brannum that “this is the one with the staff assault.”

         Herrera knew Plaintiff was the one with the staff assault because, approximately ten days prior, Herrera was involved in transporting Plaintiff to a court proceeding. During the transport, Herrera continued to ask Plaintiff about his criminal case, in an effort to elicit an incriminating statement. Plaintiff told Herrera not to ask Plaintiff about his case, and that if Herrera wanted to know, Herrera could talk to Plaintiff's attorney. Plaintiff also told Herrera that Herrera knew anyway, because it was on the paperwork. This appeared to enrage Herrera. When Plaintiff's counsel arrived, Plaintiff spoke with him about Herrera.

         On the trip back from court Herrera was hostile to Plaintiff, and periodically glared back at Plaintiff. Herrera also “turned the rear speakers up, full bore, as to where the decibal [sic] level caused pain in [Plaintiff's] ears, and aggravated [his] migraine headache.” This incident shook Plaintiff, because he knew ...


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