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Hoffmann v. Jones

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 10, 2018

KEVIN JONES, Defendant.



         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His complaint concerns events that occurred while he was a pretrial detainee at the Lassen County Jail.

         Defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 40. For the reasons that follow, the motion must be granted.

         I. Background

         This action involves a jail policy requiring inmates to obtain permission before corresponding with other Jail inmates. Plaintiff alleges that defendant Jones, the Captain of the Lassen County Jail (“the Jail”), violated his First Amendment rights when he refused to allow plaintiff, an inmate at the Jail, to correspond with Casey Simoni, who was also incarcerated at the Jail. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff alleges that he had a son with Simoni, that county protective services had taken the child, and that plaintiff wanted to write to Simoni to “maintain family ties as well as knowing how my son is doing, health, needs, pictures.” Id. at 3. An exhibit attached to the complaint shows that plaintiff filed an “inmate request form” on July 6, 2015 asking to communicate with Simoni. Id. at 5. Jail staff responded, “Please coordinate through CFS [Child and Family Services].” Id. Plaintiff alleges that this response violates his First Amendment right of freedom of speech.[1] Id. at 3. He seeks an injunction ordering defendant to allow such correspondence and monetary damages. Id.

         II. The Parties' Factual Contentions and Evidence

         The parties do not dispute most of the facts underlying this case. Instead, the dispute centers on whether those facts give rise to a viable First Amendment claim. Where a genuine dispute exists about a fact, the court will so note.[2]

         Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Jail for most of 2015. ECF No. 41-1, Def.'s Statement of Undisputed Facts ISO Mot. for Summ. J. (hereinafter “DUF”), Fact No. 1. In May of 2015, Casey Simoni, the mother of plaintiff's infant son, was also booked into the Jail. DUF Nos. 2-4. Defendant was the Custody Commander of the Jail. ECF No. 42, Decl. of Kevin Jones, at ¶ 2. At that time, the Jail enforced a policy requiring inmates to obtain permission before corresponding with other Jail inmates. ECF No. 42 at ¶ 5. Plaintiff asked for permission to write to Simoni “in order to facilitate family ties, and create a parenting program.” DUF No. 5; ECF No. 46 at 86. Simoni told Jail staff that she did not want to communicate with plaintiff, except through Child and Family Services. DUF No. 6; ECF No. 42-1, Simoni Dep., at 48-49; ECF No. 46 at 88. She did so because plaintiff “had made hurtful statements about my case and made accusations towards me, that co-parenting was no longer going to be an idea. He made very clear if, in fact, he was able to get full custody of my son, that would be it and he would be taking my son to Montana and I would not see him anymore.”[3] ECF No. 42-1 at 46.

         Defendant denied plaintiff permission to write to Simoni, “mainly because Simoni did not want to correspond with Plaintiff.” DUF No. 8; ECF No. 42 at ¶ 12. However, Jones offered plaintiff the alternative of communicating with Simoni regarding their son through the social workers at Child and Family Services.[4] ECF No. 42 at ¶ 12. Plaintiff did not do so because, he says, that would have acknowledged “that [using that alternative] was preserving his freedom of speech right which it was not.” ECF No. 46 at 65. As plaintiff explains it, “communicating by way of [a] third party is not the retention of plaintiff's first amendment rights; freedom of expression dose [sic] not say freedom of expression by way of third party, nor dose [sic] free speech say out of someone else's mouth.” ECF No. 46 at 32-33. Plaintiff also asserts that he did not use the alternative offered by Jones because he was worried that Simoni might confide something in the communication that, if revealed to Child and Family Services, would hurt her court case (which related to her treatment of their son). ECF No. 46 at 65.

         III. The Motion for Summary Judgment

         A. Summary Judgment Standards

         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 which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See id. at 322. In such a circumstance, summary judgment must be granted, “so long as whatever is before the district court demonstrates that the standard for entry of summary judgment, as set forth in Rule 56(c), is satisfied.” Id. at 323.

         To defeat summary judgment the opposing party must establish a genuine dispute as to a material issue of fact. This entails two requirements. First, the dispute must be over a fact(s) that is material, i.e., one that makes a difference in the outcome of the case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (“Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.”). Whether a factual dispute is material is determined by the substantive law applicable for the claim in question. Id. If the opposing party is unable to produce evidence sufficient to establish a required element of its claim that party fails in opposing summary judgment. “[A] complete failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

         Second, the dispute must be genuine. In determining whether a factual dispute is genuine the court must again focus on which party bears the burden of proof on the factual issue in question. Where the party opposing summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial on the factual issue in dispute, that party must produce evidence sufficient to support its factual claim. Conclusory allegations, unsupported by evidence are insufficient to defeat the motion. Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). Rather, the opposing party must, by affidavit or as otherwise provided by Rule 56, designate specific facts that show there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; Devereaux, 263 F.3d at 1076. More significantly, to demonstrate a genuine factual dispute, the evidence relied on by the opposing party must be such that a fair-minded jury “could return a verdict for [him] on the evidence presented.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248, 252. Absent any such evidence there simply is no reason for trial.

         The court does not determine witness credibility. It believes the opposing party's evidence, and draws inferences most favorably for the opposing party. See id. at 249, 255; Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. Inferences, however, are not drawn out of “thin air, ” and the proponent must adduce evidence of a factual predicate from which to draw inferences. Am. Int'l Group, Inc. v. Am. Int'l Bank, 926 F.2d 829, 836 (9th Cir. 1991) (Kozinski, J., dissenting) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322). If reasonable minds could differ on material facts at issue, summary judgment is inappropriate. See Warren v. City of Carlsbad, 58 F.3d 439, 441 (9th Cir. 1995). On the other hand, the opposing party “must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts . . . . Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine issue for trial.'” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587 (citation omitted). In that case, the court must grant summary judgment.

         Concurrent with the motion for summary judgment, defendant advised plaintiff of the requirements for opposing a motion pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 41; see Woods v. Carey, 684 F.3d 934 (9th Cir. 2012); Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 957 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc), cert. ...

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