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Donney v. Beard

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 5, 2017

KENNETH DONNEY, Plaintiff,
v.
JEFFREY BEARD, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          EDMUND F. BRENNAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner who, represented by counsel, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He filed the immediate complaint through his counsel on December 7, 2015. ECF No. 1. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 27), plaintiff has responded (ECF No. 29), and defendants have replied (ECF No. 30). On April 26, 2017, the court held a hearing on the motion. For the reasons stated hereafter, the court recommends that defendants' motion be granted.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff states that, prior to his incarceration, he was a federal prosecutor. ECF No. 1 at 1. The complaint does not specify what division of the federal government plaintiff worked in, but documents attached to his opposition indicate that he worked for the Federal Trade Commission.[1] ECF No. 29-2 at 4. Plaintiff claims that, as a result of his former position as a “prosecutor, ” other inmates have made “physical attacks and attempts on his life.” ECF No. 1 at 3. The complaint only describes one such attack in any appreciable detail.[2]

         Plaintiff states that, on March 30, 1997, he was in the Pleasant Valley State Prison (“PVSP”) day room with approximately one-hundred and fifty other inmates. Id. at 3. He claims that “the mass media” had already identified him as a former prosecutor and, as a consequence, an inmate named Shelton attempted to murder him by slitting his jugular vein. Id. Plaintiff was treated for his injury and, on May 23, 1997, was transferred to California Men's Colony- East (“CMCE”). Id. at 4.

         Upon arrival at CMCE, plaintiff claims to have reached a “mutual understanding” with Associate Warden Ted McAlister (who is not a party to this suit). Id. Plaintiff states he offered not to take legal action against the California Department of Corrections (“CDCR”) for failing to protect him from the 1997 attack at PVSP if, in exchange, McAlister would protect him from further attack by assigning him to a single-man cell. Id. The complaint provides that this “mutual understanding” was entirely verbal and never committed to writing. Id. Plaintiff recounts that he was brought to McAlister's office shortly after arriving at CMCE. Id. McAlister purportedly asked after Plaintiff's litigative intentions by inquiring “Are you going to do your Ralph Nader thing?” Id. Plaintiff states that he responded by saying “Let me relieve you of those concerns. I want to do my time as safely as possible. I want to stay here at CMC-East. So, if you leave me alone, I'll leave you alone.” Id. At this, McAlister allegedly pounded his desk enthusiastically and said “Done!” Id. The complaint does not provide what specific terms, if any, this verbal agreement was construed to contain. Notably absent are specific terms as to how plaintiff was to be ‘left alone', how long he was to be ‘left alone', and whether this agreement was intended to extend beyond McAlister's jurisdiction at CMCE.

         Plaintiff states that he was housed to his satisfaction in a single-man cell at CMCE until, on an unspecified date, the CDCR lowered his inmate designation from Level III to Level II. Id. After this change of status, he was transferred to the California Health Care Facility (“CHCF”), where defendant Brian Duffy acted as warden. Id. at 2, 4. On October 6, 2015 and, while incarcerated at CHCF, plaintiff's request for an “S-Suffix” or single-man cell designation was denied. Id. at 3.

         Based on the foregoing facts, plaintiff's complaint raises two claims. First, he alleges that defendants violated his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by declining to grant him single-man cell designation. Id. at 6. He claims that his assignment to a double cell or dormitory places him “under conditions posing a risk of harm.” Id. Second, he alleges that defendants violated his due process rights by failing to honor the “mutual agreement” he reached with Warden McAlister at CMCE. Id.

         In terms of relief, plaintiff requests a permanent injunction which provides that: (1) defendants are prohibited from transferring plaintiff to a double cell or dormitory housing; (2) defendants are prohibited from placing plaintiff in a dangerous prison population setting; (3) defendants shall exercise their administrative authority to code plaintiff as a single-cell (“S” suffix) inmate; and (4) defendants shall continue adhering to the agreement struck with Warden McAlister. ECF No. 1 at 8. Plaintiff also requests reasonable attorney fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and any other relief the court deems just. Id.

         II. Applicable Legal Standards

         A. Summary Judgment Standard

         Summary judgment is appropriate when there is “no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment avoids unnecessary trials in cases in which the parties do not dispute the facts relevant to the determination of the issues in the case, or in which there is insufficient evidence for a jury to determine those facts in favor of the nonmovant. Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 600 (1998); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-50 (1986); Nw. Motorcycle Ass'n v. U.S. Dep't of Agric., 18 F.3d 1468, 1471-72 (9th Cir. 1994). At bottom, a summary judgment motion asks whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury.

         The principal purpose of Rule 56 is to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims or defenses. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986). Thus, the rule functions to “‘pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial.'” Matsushita Elec. Indus. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e) advisory committee's note on 1963 amendments). Procedurally, under summary judgment practice, the moving party bears the initial responsibility of presenting the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record, together with affidavits, if any, that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323; Devereaux v. Abbey, 263 F.3d 1070, 1076 (9th Cir. 2001) (en banc). If the moving party meets its burden with a properly supported motion, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to present specific facts that show there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; Auvil v. CBS “60 Minutes”, 67 F.3d 816, 819 (9th Cir. 1995).

         A clear focus on where the burden of proof lies as to the factual issue in question is crucial to summary judgment procedures. Depending on which party bears that burden, the party seeking summary judgment does not necessarily need to submit any evidence of its own. When the opposing party would have the burden of proof on a dispositive issue at trial, the moving party need not produce evidence which negates the opponent's claim. See, e.g., Lujan v. National Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 885 (1990). Rather, the moving party need only point to matters which demonstrate the absence of a genuine material factual issue. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24 (“[W]here the nonmoving party will bear the burden of proof at trial on a dispositive issue, a summary judgment motion may properly be made in reliance solely on the ‘pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file.'”). Indeed, summary judgment should be entered, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on ...


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