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Johanneck v. Ahlin

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 21, 2018

PAM AHLIN, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff is a civil detainee proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Plaintiff's complaint (ECF No.1) is before the Court for screening.

         I. Screening Requirement

         The Court is required to screen complaints brought by incarcerated persons 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, malicious, ” or 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).

         II. Pleading Standard

         A complaint must 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)). Plaintiffs must set forth “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Facial plausibility demands more than the mere possibility that a defendant committed misconduct and, while factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677-78.

         Section 1983 “provides a cause of action for the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Wilder v. Virginia Hosp. Ass'n, 496 U.S. 498, 508 (1990) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). To state a claim under §1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Ketchum v. Alameda Cnty., 811 F.2d 1243, 1245 (9th Cir. 1987).

         Under section 1983 the Plaintiff must demonstrate that each defendant personally participated in the deprivation of his rights. Jones v. Williams, 297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002). This requires the presentation of factual allegations sufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79; Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). Prisoners proceeding pro se in civil rights actions are entitled to have their pleadings liberally construed and to have any doubt resolved in their favor, Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted), but nevertheless, the mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting the plausibility standard, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Moss, 572 F.3d at 969.

         III. Facts and Allegations

         A. Plaintiff's Claims

         Plaintiff is currently detained at Coalinga State Hospital (“Coalinga”) and complains of acts that occurred there. He names as Defendants (1) Pam Ahlin, Director of California Department of State Hospitals (“DSH”), and (2) Brandon Price, Director of Coalinga.

         Plaintiff's allegations can be fairly summarized as follows:

         Plaintiff has been detained at Coalinga for twelve years under California's Sexually Violent Predator Act (“SVPA”).

         In 2006, after extensive testing to ensure the internet could not be accessed, Defendants approved patient ownership and use at state hospitals of laptop computers and other electronic devices that did not have Wi-Fi capabilities.

         In 2007, Defendants issued a moratorium prohibiting patients from purchasing laptops, Palm Pilots, and PlayStations because of violations of hospital policies and violations of state and federal laws regarding child pornography.

         In October 2009, DSH implemented Cal. Code Regs. tit. 9, § 4350 (hereinafter Regulation 4350) prohibiting devices that could send or receive information and devices that could be modified to send or receive information, giving Defendants the right to seize any such electronic device. On October 4, 2010, Coalinga notified Plaintiff that his banned electronic devices could be picked up and stored or mailed to his home.

         On December 23, 2017, DSH provided Plaintiff a copy detailing emergency amendments to Regulation 4350 prohibiting nearly all electronic devices with memory storage, devices capable of connecting to the internet or to other devices, and devices capable of copying or recording information.

         Plaintiff uses electronic devices to store music, movies, personal items, and legal materials. Since 2014 Coalinga has allowed patients to scan paperwork and store the copies electronically on their personal hard drives. Plaintiff has scanned thousands of irreplaceable legal documents, family photographs, and other personal items. (Most paper documents had been destroyed to comply with Coalinga limits on volumes of paperwork. Almost all of Plaintiff's information exists on hard drives only.)

         Plaintiff has invested thousands of dollars on approved electronics and data storage devices. Plaintiff should not to mail his legally purchased movies and electronic devices home as contraband.

         Plaintiff does not have the money to continue buying devices only to have them taken away. Plaintiff works as a janitor at Coalinga for $52.50 per month. It takes Plaintiff more than six months to save enough to purchase an X-box or tablet. Plaintiff has no family members to buy these items for him.

         Many of these regulations are punitive because many of these devices, such as pre-internet gaming devices, commercial CDs and DVDs, and media recorders which record television shows, pose no security threats.

         DSH allowed patients, including those who do not have the means to buy original movies, to purchase blank DVDs and devices to write on DVDs and now wants to take them away.

         The regulation will make the hospital more dangerous because patients will have nothing to entertain themselves.

         Regulation 4350 falls under Title 9. California Code of Regulations, Title 9 should not apply to civilly committed individuals. Title 9 is a California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) regulation designed for penal commitments. It is punitive when applied to civil detainees. Plaintiff, a civil detainee, now has no greater rights in these devices than convicted prisoners serving a punitive term of commitment at DSH. Title 22 applies to civilly committed individuals.

         Plaintiff is being subjected to worse punishment than if he were serving a penal commitment. CDCR allows some prisoners serving punitive sentences to own electronic devices and have access to the internet. The devices are Wi-Fi capable, but have had the Wi-Fi components removed. At least some state prisoners, therefore, have access to electronic devices and internet services that are being denied to Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff has never had any device confiscated by officials at Coalinga or been in possession of child or adult pornography. Plaintiff has not violated any hospital policies or laws relating to ownership of his electronic devices. Plaintiff is not well-versed in computer skills and is unable to hack an electronic device.

         From 2006 to 2017, up to one hundred Coalinga staff members have been terminated for bringing into Coalinga hospital grounds contraband items, including child pornography. Coalinga employees are still being terminated because they have been bribed by patients to bring contraband material into Coalinga. The contraband includes drugs, alcohol, tobacco, electronic devices, and illegal devices that, when used with other devices (tethering), make non-Wi-Fi capable devices capable of accessing the internet and communicating with other devices. All child pornography brought in to Coalinga was brought in by hospital staff. Several Coalinga employees were apprehended bringing child pornography into the institution nine months ago. In April/May of 2015, Coalinga police removed fifteen to twenty computers to investigate whether they had been used to store or access child porn. Plaintiff should not be punished for the criminal actions of others.

         Plaintiff brings claims under the First, Fifth, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. He seeks declarative and injunctive relief.

         B. Notice of Emergency Amendments and Finding of Emergency

         Plaintiff includes as an exhibit to his complaint the Notice of Emergency Amendments and Finding of Emergency provided to Plaintiff by DSH. (See ECF No. 1, Ex. 1 at 24-37).

         This document outlines the facts and reasoning DSH relied upon in making its determination that there was a need for emergency amendment of Regulation 4350. As such, the document is relevant in determining whether Plaintiff's allegations state a claim. It is summarized here:

         The Notice recites a need to control not just access to the internet and certain electronic devices, but data storage at state hospitals. (Id.) Digital data storage and communication has allowed patients to access, exchange and/or profit from illegal material, including child pornography. (Id. at 25.)

         DSH has been working with the Fresno County District Attorney's office to investigate and prosecute child pornography cases. (Id. at 26.) In 2017, DSH made eleven arrests in regards to child pornography. (Id.) There have been five convictions of patients on charges relating to child pornography and several more are awaiting trial. (Id.) DSH has found that nearly all of the child pornography is being distributed through various electronic devices. (Id.)

         Memory devices, even small devices, have the capability to store and copy digital information; and many electronic devices, even devices thought to be disconnected from the internet, allow for access to the internet. (Id. at 26-27.)

         DSH further notes that:

[A]ccess to the internet provides full access to illegal materials, aerial views of DSH facilities, communication with victims, communication to create additional victims, and the ability to download illicit images for sale or sharing with other patients. However because the ability is in software format within currently room searches. Penal Code section 1546.1, adopted in 2015, mandates that a search of electronic devices is not permitted without permission by the possessor or a search warrant further frustrating the ability to enforce facility and public safety. . . This internet access creates danger for the public, the staff, and patients, as well as interferes with treatment by creating exposures, triggers, and temptations that are intended to be controlled in a secured inpatient mental health setting.

(Id. at 27.)

         Gaming devices that access the internet are currently prohibited and those without internet access are allowed. (Id.) However, many recent gaming devices contain data storage capabilities, permitting patients to download illegal material to the device and then prevent the illegal material from being discovered in a standard room search. (Id.) These gaming devices also allow for copyright violations. (Id.) Therefore, the amendment would prohibit possession of gaming devices with accessible data and the ability to play non-proprietary inserts. (Id.)

         The ability to burn DVDs and CDs allows for the distribution of illegal images, as well as copyright infringements. (Id.) This poses enforcement challenges as DSH does not have the staff needed to get warrants and to review disks to determine what material is appropriate. (Id.) Therefore the amendment would ban all CD/DVD burners and blank disks, but allows some ownership of CDs and DVDs provided by a manufacturer. (Id.)

         DSH acknowledges that child pornography and other illegal materials exist within hospitals, but without the proposed amendment, it ...

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