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Ahmed v. Ringler

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 8, 2017

ABDIKIDAR AHMED, Plaintiff,
v.
S. RINGLER, Defendant.

          ORDER AND FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          DEBORAH BARNES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims defendant Ringler conducted unnecessary searches of plaintiff's bunk area on November 21, 2012 and May 7, 2013. Plaintiff alleges these searches were in retaliation for plaintiff's submission of grievances regarding Ringler's July 2, 2012 search of his bunk area. Before the court is defendant's motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 62), defendant's motion to strike evidence submitted with plaintiff's opposition (ECF No. 69), and plaintiff's motion for leave to amend his opposition to the motion to dismiss (ECF No. 70). The court will deny as moot defendant's motion to strike, grant plaintiff's motion for leave to amend, and recommend defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed his complaint on May 28, 2013. (ECF No. 1.) The magistrate judge then assigned to the case screened plaintiff's complaint and determined service was appropriate for defendants Ringler and Scotland. (ECF No. 9.) Pursuant to defendants' motion to dismiss the court recommended Scotland be dismissed but that Ringler be directed to answer plaintiff's retaliation claim. (ECF No. 26.) The district judge adopted the findings and recommendations in full (ECF No. 27) and Ringler filed a responsive pleading. (ECF No. 28.)

         After the close of discovery, Ringler filed a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 62.) Plaintiff filed an opposition (ECF No. 68) and defendant replied (ECF No. 69). Along with the reply brief, defendant moved to strike evidence plaintiff submitted in the opposition to the summary judgment motion. (ECF No. 69.) Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to amend his opposition (ECF No. 70.) and filed an amended opposition (ECF No. 71). Ringler opposed plaintiff's motion for leave to amend the opposition (ECF No. 72).

         II. Allegations in the Complaint

         Plaintiff alleges, on July 2, 2012, defendant Ringler along with Sergeants Ramirez and Clark conducted a two and a half hour search of plaintiff's personal property and housing area at California State Prison at Solano. (ECF No. 1 at 3.) As a result of the search, plaintiff's television and radio were confiscated because they were deemed contraband. (Id.) Plaintiff claims he was able to establish rightful ownership and the items were returned. (Id.) When he went to retrieve the items he noticed the radio was damaged due to Ringler's attempts to open the radio and search for contraband. (Id.) Plaintiff filed an inmate appeal regarding the search on July 12, 2012. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff's appeal was denied at all three levels, and was exhausted on January 3, 2013, when the third level review was completed. (Id.) Plaintiff claims in retaliation for filing this appeal, he was subjected to improper searches on November 21, 2012 and May 7, 2013. (Id. at 4-5.) Plaintiff requests damages, and injunctive and declaratory relief. (Id. at 5.)

         MOTION FOR LEAVE TO AMEND OPPOSITION

         Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to amend his opposition to Ringler's motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 70.) Additionally, Ringler moved to strike evidence submitted with plaintiff's opposition to the motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 69-1.)

         It is well-established that the pleadings of pro se litigants are held to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curium). Nevertheless, “[p]ro se litigants must follow the same rules of procedure that govern other litigants.” King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987) (citations omitted), overruled on other grounds, Lacey v. Maricopa County, 693 F.3d 896 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc). However, the unrepresented prisoners' choice to proceed without counsel “is less than voluntary” and they are subject to “the handicaps . . . detention necessarily imposes upon a litigant, ” such as “limited access to legal materials” as well as “sources of proof.” Jacobsen v. Filler, 790 F.2d 1362, 1364-65 & n.4 (9th Cir. 1986) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Inmate litigants, therefore, should not be held to standard of “strict literalness” with respect to the requirements of the summary judgment rule. Id. at 1364 n.4 (citation omitted).

         The court is mindful of the Ninth Circuit's more overarching caution in this context, as noted above, that district courts are to “construe liberally motion papers and pleadings filed by pro se inmates and should avoid applying summary judgment rules strictly.” Thomas v. Ponder, 611 F.3d 1144, 1150 (9th Cir. 2010). Accordingly, the court will grant plaintiff's motion to amend his opposition, and considers the record before it in its entirety despite plaintiff's failure to be in strict compliance with the applicable rules. However, only those assertions in the opposition and amended opposition which have evidentiary support in the record will be considered. Additionally, the court will deny defendant's motion to strike as moot because the court did not rely upon any of the documents identified in the motion to strike in reaching a decision on defendant's motion for summary judgment.

         MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT

         In his motion for summary judgment Ringler argues plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies, no reasonable juror could conclude Ringler's actions were retaliatory, and Ringler is entitled to qualified immunity. Plaintiff responds that he has exhausted administrative remedies, and he has submitted proof of all five elements to support a claim of retaliation in violation of the First Amendment.

         I. Legal Standard For Motion for Summary Judgment

         Summary judgment is appropriate when the moving party “shows that 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). Under summary judgment practice, “[t]he moving party initially bears the burden of proving the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” In re Oracle Corp. Sec. Litig., 627 F.3d 376, 387 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). The moving party may accomplish this by “citing to particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other materials” or by showing that such materials “do not establish the absence or presence of a genuine dispute, or that an adverse party cannot produce admissible evidence to support the fact.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1).

         “Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof at trial, the moving party need only prove there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Oracle Corp., 627 F.3d at 387 (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 569(c)(1)(B). 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 which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 323. In such a circumstance, summary judgment should “be granted so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for the entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied.” Id.

         If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). In attempting to establish the existence of this factual dispute, the opposing party may not rely upon the allegations or denials of its pleadings but is required to tender evidence of specific facts in the form of affidavits, and/or admissible discovery material, in support of its contention that the dispute exists. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). The opposing party must demonstrate that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact “that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, ” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.242, 248 (1986); T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. Pac. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 630 (9th Cir. 1987), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., “the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party, ” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

         In the endeavor to establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that “‘the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.'” T.W. Elec. Serv., 809 F.2d at 630 (quoting First Nat'l Bank of Ariz. v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968). Thus, the “purpose of summary judgment is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the ...


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