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Rainwater v. Ahlin

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 9, 2018

JOHN ALLEN RAINWATER, Plaintiff,
v.
PAM AHLIN, et al., Defendants.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS RECOMMENDING DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER (ECF NOS. 5, 13) OBJECTIONS DUE WITHIN THIRTY DAYS

         Plaintiff John Allen Rainwater (“Plaintiff”), a civil detainee, is appearing pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This matter was referred to a United States magistrate judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302. The Court, having reviewed the record, finds this matter suitable for decision without oral argument. See Local Rule 230(g).

         I.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff filed a complaint in this action on January 11, 2018, alleging he was being held in punitive conditions and his constitutional rights were violated due to being deprived of access to the internet and electronic devices. (ECF No. 1.) On January 26, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion for a temporary restraining order. (ECF No. 5.) On February 15, 2018, Plaintiff's complaint was screened by the magistrate judge and Plaintiff was ordered to either file an amended complaint or notify the court that he was willing to proceed on the claims found to be cognizable within thirty days. (ECF No. 6.) Plaintiff filed two motions for injunctive relief on February 15, 2018 seeking an order allowing civil detainees to file documents electronically, access to other civil detainees to assist with legal matters, a postage machine in his unit, and access to the law library and a copy machine. (ECF Nos. 8, 9.)

         On February 16, 2018, the magistrate judge requested that Defendants Pam Ahlin and Brandon Price (“Defendants”) make a special appearance to respond to Plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order. (ECF No. 11.) On February 22, 2018, Defendants filed an opposition to the motion for a temporary restraining order. (ECF No. 12.) On March 6, 208, an order issued setting an evidentiary hearing on Plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order for March 22, 2018, before Magistrate Judge Michael J. Seng. (ECF No. 13.)

         On March 8, 2018, Plaintiff requested a thirty-day extension of time to respond to the screening order which was granted on March 12, 2018. (ECF Nos. 15, 17.) On this same date, Defendants moved to continue the evidentiary hearing. (ECF No. 16.) On March 15, 2018, the magistrate judge vacated the March 22, 2018 hearing date and the hearing was postponed indefinitely. (ECF No. 18.) On March 19, 2018, Plaintiff filed an opposition to Defendants' motion to continue the hearing. (ECF No. 20.) On March 26, 2018, Plaintiff filed an emergency appeal and motion for an emergency temporary restraining order which was forwarded to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. (ECF No. 21, 22.)

         On April 3, 2018, the matter was reassigned to Magistrate Judge Stanley A. Boone due to the retirement of Magistrate Judge Michael J. Seng. (ECF No. 24.) On April 6, 2018, findings and recommendations issued recommending denying Plaintiff's requests for injunctive relief filed on February 15, 2018. (ECF No. 25.) On April 16, 2018, the Ninth Circuit granted Plaintiff's request to voluntarily dismiss his appeal and the mandate issued. (ECF No. 26.) On this same date, Plaintiff filed a second request for an extension of time to file an amended complaint which was granted on April 18, 2018. (ECF No. 27.) On May 7, 2018, Plaintiff filed a first amended complaint. (ECF No. 29.)

         II.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “A temporary restraining order is designed to preserve the status quo until there is an opportunity to hold a hearing on the application for a preliminary injunction.” Whitman v. Hawaiian Tug and Barge Corp./Young Bros. Ltd. Salaried Pension Plan, 27 F.Supp.2d 1225, 1228 (D. Haw. 1998). The factors considered for issuing a temporary restraining order are the same as the standards for issuing a preliminary injunction. Ohio Republican Party v. Brunner, 543 F.3d 357, 361 (6th Cir. 2008); Stuhlbarg Int'l Sales Co. v. John D. Brush & Co., 240 F.3d 832, 839 n.7(9th Cir. 2001).

         “A preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right.” Winter v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008) (citation omitted). In Winter, the Supreme Court held that “[a] court may grant a preliminary injunction only if the plaintiff establishes four elements: (1) likelihood of success on the merits; (2) likelihood of suffering irreparable harm absent a preliminary injunction; (3) the balance of equities tips in plaintiff's favor; and (4) injunctive relief is in the public interest.” Garcia v. Google, Inc., 786 F.3d 733, 740 (9th Cir. 2015); Leigh v. Salazar, 677 F.3d 892, 896 (2012). “To receive a preliminary injunction, [a plaintiff is] required to show either a likelihood of success on the merits and the possibility of irreparable injury, or that serious questions going to the merits were raised and the balance of hardships tips sharply in its favor.” In re Focus Media Inc., 387 F.3d 1077, 1085 (9th Cir. 2004) (quoting Sun Microsystems, Inc. v. Microsoft Corp., 188 F.3d 1115, 1119 (9th Cir.1999)). “These standards ‘are not separate tests but the outer reaches of a single continuum.' ” Stuhlbarg Int'l Sales Co., 240 F.3d at 840 (quoting International Jensen, Inc. v. Metrosound U.S.A., 4 F.3d 819, 822 (9th Cir.1993)). An injunction may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Winter, 555 U.S. at 22 (quoting Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997)) (emphasis added).

         III.

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiff seeks an order allowing him to keep electronic devices that store memory, DVDs, CDs, and games with memory storage devices, DVD players, and MP3 players. (ECF No. 5 at 1.[1]) Plaintiff contends that he will suffer irreparable harm and injury if his electronic devices and items are confiscated pursuant to Cal. Code Regs. tit. 9, § 4350. (Id. at 1-2.) Plaintiff argues that to seize his devices the defendants must have probable cause that he has done the acts that create the risk addressed by the regulation. (ECF No. 5 at 3.) Plaintiff further argues that the defendants have enacted the regulation without proof or evidence. (Id. at 5.)

         Plaintiff has accumulated a palm pilot, two Hiteker android tablets, PSP, six “My Passport TB”, two Seagate 5 TB expansion disk top drives, expansion cards, microchips, USB flash drives, hundreds of blank DVDs and CDs, Logitech wireless keyboard and movies, a JLAB and AGPtech Waterproof MP3 headphone, Micca media player, and internal TV recorder. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff stores approximately 4, 000 digital movies, 10, 000 MP3s, and possesses about 200 disks that he has accumulated over the past 11 years. (Id.) Plaintiff contends that section 4350 is overbroad and punitive. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff also alleges that he is being denied access to the courts because the facility was on lock down until at least January 28, 2018. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff has access to research material in the law library but is unable to meet with other likeminded patients doing legal work. (Id.) Plaintiff cannot make a mail out appointment for his legal mail, and use of the unit typewriter is approved one day and denied the next. (Id.) Plaintiff is not able to make copies needed for court. (Id.) Patients are not allowed to make phone calls. (Id.)

         Defendants request that the Court deny the motion for a temporary restraining order regarding the implementation of the amendments to section 4350. (ECF No. 12 at 7.) Defendants argue that Plaintiff is not able to establish likelihood of success on the merits because he does not have a constitutional right to possess a computer and related internet capable devices. (Id.) Further, Defendants contend Plaintiff's computers and electronic devices were confiscated as allowed by the regulation the last week of January 2018, so his request is moot. (Id.) Defendants argue that Plaintiff will not suffer harm because he has access to a computer lab to conduct his legal, treatment, and other appropriate activities. (Id.) Defendants further argue that Plaintiff can maintain his digital legal material, and will have a means to listen to music and enjoy video games. (Id.) Defendants request that the Court take judicial notice of the Coalinga State Hospital (“CSH”) website, Notice of Emergency Amendments and Findings of Emergency Regulations for Electronic Patient Property, California Code of Regulations, the Office of Administrative Law's Approval of the Emergency Regulations, memorandums from Defendant Price to the patients at Coalinga State Hospital, the Fresno County District Attorney's memorandum to staff and patients, the order denying a restraining order in Saint Martin v. Price, No. 1:18-cv-00123-DAD-SKO (E.D. Cal), a letter to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Bianco, and the Department of State Hospital's (“DSH”) published statement of comment/response/rebuttal to the regulation.[2] (ECF No. 12-1.)

         A. Mootness Due to Implementation of the Amendments

         Initially, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order is moot because the amendments to section 4350 have been implemented; and Plaintiff's electronic devices and items have been confiscated. Here, Plaintiff is seeking a temporary restraining order or “any appropriate relief the Court finds proper to halt a potentiol [sic] miscarriage of justice until the court decides on the constitutional claims. . . .” (ECF No. 5 at 9.) Defendants argue that the amended regulation was implemented in January 2018, and all personal computers and related electronic devices were confiscated by January 31, 2018 making Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief moot. (ECF No. 12 at 19-20.)

         “[A] case is moot when the issues presented are no longer ‘live' or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the outcome.” Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496 (1969). A case becomes moot where there is no reasonable expectation that the alleged violation will reoccur and “interim relief or events have completely and irrevocably eradicated the effects of the alleged violation.” Los Angeles Cty. v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631 (1979). “Thus, in deciding a mootness issue, the question is not whether the precise relief sought at the time the application for an injunction was filed is still available. The question is whether there can be any effective relief.” Sea-Land Serv., Inc. (Pac. Div.) v. Int'l Longshoremen's & Warehousemen's Union, Locals 13, 63, & 94, 939 F.2d 866, 870 (9th Cir. 1991).

         Plaintiff sought a temporary restraining order to prevent his electronic devices from being confiscated due to the amendments to section 4350. While Plaintiff's devices have now been confiscated, it cannot be said that the alleged violation will not reoccur. Plaintiff is still detained at CSH and were he to attempt to obtain one of the items prohibited by the amendments to section 4350 he would be precluded from possessing them by the regulation.

         Further, the effects of the amendment to section 4350 have not been eradicated, rather Plaintiff is subjected to the specific conditions that he alleged violated his constitutional rights, the confiscation of his electronic devices. While Defendants argue that the action is moot due to the confiscation of Plaintiff's electronic devices, relief remains available should the Court find that Plaintiff has met his burden of making a clear showing that he is entitled to relief. For example, the Court could enjoin DSH from enforcing the regulation. The Court finds that Plaintiff's request for injunctive relief is not moot due to the implementation of the amendments to section 4350.

         B. Likelihood of Success on Merits

         Plaintiff argues that he is likely to succeed on the merits of his claims because the defendants must have probable cause to seize his property and none of the risks claimed are specific to him. Further, Plaintiff contends that the defendants have not been truthful in enacting section 4350 and do not have proof or evidence to support the amendments to the regulation. Plaintiff states that the regulations allow him to keep and use personal property as space permits and any attempt to limit his electronic property is punitive. Finally, Plaintiff contends that he is being denied access to the court because the facility is on lock down and he cannot meet and confer with other likeminded patients doing legal work.

         Defendants counter that Plaintiff cannot establish a likelihood of success on the merits of his claims because he does not have a constitutional right under the Fourteenth Amendment to possess a computer and related electronic devices. Further, Defendants argue that they have a legitimate interest in institutional security and an obligation to take reasonable measures to guarantee the safety of patients in the institution. Defendants contend it is crucial that SVPs be prevented from procuring child pornography and other illicit materials.

         In deciding whether a preliminary injunction should issue, the likelihood of success on the merits is the most important factor for the court to consider. Disney Enterprises, Inc. v. VidAngel, Inc., 869 F.3d 848, 856 (9th Cir. 2017). To establish a substantial likelihood of success on the merits, the plaintiff must show “a fair chance of success.” In re Focus Media Inc., 387 F.3d at 1086 (quoting Republic of the Philippines v. Marcos, 862 F.2d 1355, 1362 (9th Cir.1988)). “[O]nce the moving party has carried its burden of showing a likelihood of success on the merits, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to show a likelihood that its affirmative defense will succeed.” In re Focus Media Inc., 387 F.3d at 1086 (quoting Perfect 10, Inc. v. Amazon.com, Inc., 508 F.3d 1146, 1158 (9th Cir. 2007)). When a plaintiff has ...


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