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Carter v. Shelton

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 8, 2019

RALPH R. SHELTON, et al., Defendants.



         This is a civil rights case brought pro se by a state prisoner under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His claims arise from his detention in San Quentin State Prison (“SQSP”). Plaintiff alleges that his due process rights were violated after he was found guilty of indecent exposure and as part of his punishment defendants falsely labeled him as a sexual predator by putting a sign on his cell indicating he was guilty of indecent exposure. He also alleges that defendants failed to protect him from an assault by other inmates. Defendants have a filed a motion for summary judgment asserting that plaintiff failed to administratively exhaust his failure-to-protect claim, and a motion to dismiss arguing that his due process allegations fail to state a claim. Plaintiff filed an opposition, and defendants filed a reply. For the reasons set forth below, the motions are granted.


         Legal Standard

         “The PLRA [Prison Litigation Reform Act] mandates that inmates exhaust all available administrative remedies before filing ‘any suit challenging prison conditions,' including, but not limited to, suits under § 1983.” Albino v. Baca, 747 F.3d 1162, 1171 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 85 (2006)). To the extent that the evidence in the record permits, the appropriate procedural device for pretrial determination of whether administrative remedies have been exhausted under the PLRA is a motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Id. at 1168. The burden is on the defendant to prove that there was an available administrative remedy that the plaintiff failed to exhaust. Id. at 1172. If the defendant meets that burden, the burden shifts to the prisoner to present evidence showing that there is something in his particular case that made the existing and generally available administrative remedies effectively unavailable to him. Id. The ultimate burden of proof remains with the defendant, however. Id. If undisputed evidence viewed in the light most favorable to the prisoner shows a failure to exhaust, a defendant is entitled to summary judgment under Rule 56. Id. at 1166. But if material facts are disputed, summary judgment should be denied and the district judge rather than a jury should determine the facts in a preliminary proceeding. Id.

         During the relevant time, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) provides any inmate under its jurisdiction the right to appeal “any policy, decision, action, condition, or omission by the department or its staff that the inmate or parolee can demonstrate as having a material adverse effect upon his or her health, safety, or welfare.” Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3084.1(a). To initiate an appeal, also referred to as a grievance, the inmate or parolee must submit a CDCR Form 602 describing the issue to be appealed to the appeals coordinator's office at the institution for receipt and processing. Id. § 3084.2(a)-(c). Inmates must submit their initial appeal within 30 calendar days of “[t]he occurrence of the event or decision being appealed, or upon first having knowledge of the action or decision being appealed.” Id. at § 3084.8(b). The appeal must name “all staff member(s) involved” and “describe their involvement in the issue.” Id. § 3084.2(a)(3). The CDCR appeal process consists of three formal levels of appeals: (1) first formal-level appeal filed with one of the institution's appeal coordinators, (2) second formal-level appeal filed with the institution head or designee, and (3) third formal-level appeal filed with the CDCR director or designee. Id. §§ 3084.7, 3084.8. A prisoner exhausts the appeal process when he completes the third level of review. Id. § 3084.1(b); Harvey v. Jordan, 605 F.3d 681, 683 (9th Cir. 2010). A “cancellation or rejection” of an appeal “does not exhaust administrative remedies.” Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, § 3084.1(b).

         The PLRA amended 42 U.S.C. § 1997e to provide that “[n]o action shall be brought with respect to prison conditions under [42 U.S.C. § 1983], or any other Federal law, by a prisoner confined in any jail, prison, or other correctional facility until such administrative remedies as are available are exhausted.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). Although once within the discretion of the district court, exhaustion in prisoner cases covered by § 1997e(a) is now mandatory. Porter v. Nussle, 534 U.S. 516, 524 (2002). The PLRA's exhaustion requirement requires “proper exhaustion” of available administrative remedies. Woodford, 548 U.S. at 93. Proper exhaustion requires using all steps of an administrative process and complying with “deadlines and other critical procedural rules.” Id. at 90.

         An inmate “need not exhaust unavailable [remedies].” Ross v. Blake, 136 S.Ct. 1850, 1858 (2016). An administrative remedy is unavailable “when (despite what regulations or guidance materials may promise) it operates as a simple dead end-with officers unable or consistently unwilling to provide any relief to aggrieved inmates, ” Id. at 1859; or when “an administrative scheme [is] so opaque that it becomes, practically speaking, incapable of use, [i.e., ] some mechanism exists to provide relief, but no ordinary prisoner can discern or navigate [the mechanism], ” Id.; or “when prison administrators thwart inmates from taking advantage of a grievance process through machination, misrepresentation, or intimidation, ” Id. at 1860.


         The following facts are undisputed except where indicated otherwise:

         Plaintiff was housed at SQSP during the relevant time and alleges in the complaint that on October 21, 2015, defendant Shelton conducted a disciplinary hearing and found plaintiff guilty of indecent exposure. Complaint at 7. Due to the guilty finding for indecent exposure, defendant Fitzsimmons allegedly placed an “IEX” sign on plaintiff's cell door. Id. Plaintiff alleges that on October 27, 2015, he was attacked on the yard by two inmates who just a few weeks earlier, according to plaintiff, had attacked another inmate whose cell door displayed an IEX sign.

         While incarcerated at SQSP, plaintiff exhausted only one administrative appeal: IAB Case Log 1711377. Motion for Summary Judgment (“MSJ”), Voong Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. A. Plaintiff submitted six administrative appeals at SQSP that were screened out at the third and final level of review and were not exhausted: IAB Case Logs 1508424, 1510467, 1705362, 1706632, 1708742 and 1712806. Id. Plaintiff also submitted two administrative appeals at SQSP that were never submitted to the third level of review: SQ-A-16-00055 and SQ-E-16-01125. Maxfield Decl., Exs. A-C. Out of these nine appeals that plaintiff submitted, three appeals could potentially relate to his failure to protect claim: IAB Case Logs 1508424 and 1510467; and SQ-16-00055. Voong Decl., Exs. C, D; Maxwell Decl. Ex. B.

         IAB Case Log 1508424 addressed the allegation in this action that plaintiff was attacked on October 27, 2015. Voong Decl., Ex. C. The appeal was dated November 4, 2015 but was sent by plaintiff directly to the third level of review on January 11, 2016. Id. at 41, 56 of 237. This appeal was rejected because plaintiff bypassed the required lower levels of review. Id. at 40 of 237. Plaintiff was advised that he could not appeal the rejected appeal but could resubmit the appeal. Id. There is no record of the appeal being resubmitted. Maxfield Decl., Ex. A.

         IAB Case Log 1510467 addressed plaintiff's October 21, 2015, rules violation hearing for indecent exposure but did not address the alleged October 27, 2015, attack. Voong Decl., Ex. D at 59-62 of 237. Plaintiff submitted this appeal to the first level of review on November 17, 2015 and alleged that his due process rights were violated at the hearing and that he was denied visiting privileges with his wife. Id. He did not mention the placement of the IEX sign on his cell door or that he was attacked. Id. The appeal was partially granted at the second level of review and a new rules ...

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