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Roberson v. Hughes

United States District Court, N.D. California

July 9, 2019

HUGHES, et al., Defendants.




         In this pro se prisoner's civil rights action for damages, Morris Roberson complains about prison officials' handling of a disciplinary charge, administrative segregation, and housing decisions. Defendants now move for summary judgment and Mr. Roberson opposes the motion. For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment will be granted and judgment entered in their favor.


         A. The Claims For Relief

         The Court has found three cognizable due process claims in this action: (1) a claim that hearing officer Meredith violated Mr. Roberson's right to due process at a disciplinary rehearing on September 6, 2012; (2) a claim that Defendants Lopez, Hughes, and Garcia violated Mr. Roberson's right to due process by failing to prevent his transfer to the Corcoran SHU after he informed them that the SHU term was premised on a disciplinary decision that had been set aside; and (3) a due process claim against Defendants Mascarenas and Sandor for failing to release Mr. Roberson from the SHU once he informed them that his SHU term was premised on a disciplinary decision that had been set aside. See Docket No. 17.[1]

         The second and third claims are based on a sequence of events. Although there are many details - in part because the division of labor in the California prison system allocates decision-making to a variety of officials -- it helps to have a basic roadmap about the nature of the claims asserted in this case. The basic sequence of events that unfolded over several months in 2012 is as follows:

1. Mr. Roberson allegedly participated in a riot and was put in administrative segregation that day pending resolution of a disciplinary charge against him;
2. A hearing was held and Mr. Roberson was found guilty of rioting, was assessed a 90-day loss of credits, and was referred to the classification committee;
3. The classification committee imposed a 5-month SHU term for the disciplinary offense and an indeterminate SHU term for him being a disruptive inmate (because this was his second rioting offense);
4. The disciplinary decision was vacated and ordered reheard because of a procedural deficiency at the original hearing;
5. A rehearing was held, at which Mr. Roberson again was found guilty of rioting; and
6. Mr. Roberson was then sent to the SHU.

         Mr. Roberson's theory is basically that, once the original disciplinary decision was vacated, the SHU terms assessed by the classification committee should have been vacated and that it was improper to send him to the SHU without holding a new classification hearing even though he was found guilty at the rehearing on disciplinary charge on which the SHU terms were based.

         B. The Facts

         The following facts are undisputed unless otherwise noted.

         1. The Parties and Relevant Time Period

         The relevant time period in this action is from April 22, 2012 through about April 2013, although almost all of the important events happened in 2012.

         Mr. Roberson was a prisoner housed at Salinas Valley State Prison until he was transferred to the security housing unit (SHU) at Corcoran State Prison on September 11, 2012.

         There are six Defendants remaining in this action. Correctional counselor Hughes, correctional counselor Garcia, and correctional sergeant Lopez worked in the administrative segregation unit at Salinas Valley. Correctional lieutenant Meredith acted as the senior hearing officer at the September 6, 2012, rehearing at Salinas Valley on the rule violation report issued to Mr. Roberson. Correctional counselor Mascarenas reviewed inmate files at Corcoran and made recommendations to classification committees about those inmates, including Mr. Roberson. Defendant Sandor worked as the chief deputy warden at Corcoran during the relevant time, and chaired three of Mr. Roberson's classification committee hearings.

         2. Mr. Roberson's 2011 Rioting Offense

         A riot involving about two dozen inmates occurred at Salinas Valley on January 20, 2011. A rule violation report (RVR) was issued to Mr. Roberson, charging him with participating in that riot. Docket No. 79 at 6-9, 15. He was found guilty and assessed a 90-day loss of credits.

         3. The April 22 Riot and the Consequences for Mr. Roberson

         A riot occurred on April 22, 2012, at Salinas Valley. According to the Incident Report, 14 inmates were involved, including Mr. Roberson. Id. at 29.

         On that same day, Mr. Roberson was placed in the administrative segregation unit (ad-seg).[2] A CDCR-114D[3] was issued to him that day, explaining that he was being placed ad-seg because he and 13 other “Black (Crip) inmates” had been observed by staff fighting in the yard and refusing to get down on the ground when ordered to do so. Id. at 31. The CDCR-114D stated: “Due to the aforementioned, your continued presence on Facility ‘C' is deemed a threat to the safety and security of the institution, staff, and inmate population. Therefore, you will remain in [ad-seg until] the completion of the RVR/D.A. disciplinary process and administrative review for your future appropriate housing and programming needs.” Id. The ad-seg placement was approved on April 23 by a facility captain. Id.

         On April 26, 2012, the Institutional Classification Committee (ICC)[4] met with Mr. Roberson for an initial review of his ad-seg placement. The ICC decided to request a 90-day extension of Mr. Roberson's ad-seg placement to allow time to complete the disciplinary process for Mr. Roberson's participation in the April 22 riot. Docket No. 79 at 32. The ICC thus referred the matter to the classification staff representative (CSR) for approval of the 90-day ad-seg extension. Id.[5] The CSR approved the 90-day ad-seg extension. Id. at 33.

         A rules violation report (RVR) was issued to Mr. Roberson on May 2, 2012, charging him with “participation in a riot” on April 22, 2012. Id. at 34. The RVR was written by correctional officer (C/O) Murphy, who described the fighting occurring that day on the yard, including two inmates kicking a third inmate who was “motionless on the ground while being kicked. Three more inmates, inmates Robinson (F-70309), Roberson (C-83614), and Williams (AE-1790), then ran into the scene and started fighting inmates Brown, Davis, and Richardson.” Id. Staff gave orders for the inmates to stop, then fired pepper spray and “40MM direct rounds” toward the inmates, who eventually stopped fighting and got down on the ground as ordered. Id. at 34-35.

         4. The Original Hearing On the RVR

         An Investigative Employee (IE)[6] was assigned for the RVR. See Docket No. 79 at 40. The IE report prepared in May 2012 stated that the IE had informed Mr. Roberson that the IE “will be acting as a fact finder for the Senior Hearing Officer.” Id. The IE report stated that Mr. Roberson “is requesting photographs of all weapons found on the yard and photographs of all inmates involved. He is also requesting any camera footage found on yard. Inmate ROBERSON also had questions for Inmate witnesses.” Id. The IE recorded the questions asked of, and the answers given by, two inmate-witnesses Mr. Roberson wanted questioned: those inmates denied fighting with Mr. Roberson and denied that Mr. Roberson was involved in the incident on April 22. Id.

         On June 1, 2012, a hearing was held on the RVR. (This will sometimes be referred to as the “original hearing, ” to distinguish it from the September 6, 2012 “rehearing” discussed later.) At the original hearing, Mr. Roberson was found guilty of participating in a riot and was assessed a 90-day loss of credits. Id. at 37. He also was “referred to ICC for program review and possible SHU Term Assessment.” Id.

         5. Classification Decisions

         Under a regulation then in effect, “[a]n inmate whose conduct endangers the safety of others or the security of the institution shall be housed in a SHU. Cal. Code Regs. tit 15, § 3341.5(c) (as amended through April 5, 2012). An inmate may be assigned to the SHU if the “inmate has been found guilty of an offense for which a determinate term of confinement has been assessed or is deemed to be a threat to the safety of others or the security of the institution.” Id. at § 3341.5(c)(1). “Assignment to a SHU may be for an indeterminate or for a fixed period of time.” Id. at § 3341.5(c)(2).

         A memorandum from CDCR headquarters dated August 26, 2002 -- a decade before the relevant events in this case -- discussed imposing indeterminate SHU terms for “disruptive inmates.” Docket No. 80-1 at 9. The memorandum cited § 3341.5(c) as authority, and stated that prison officials could consider indeterminate SHU terms for “inmates who complete a Determinate Security Housing Unit (SHU) term and continue to pose a threat to the safety of others or security of the institution. This perceived threat may be based on the inmate's behavior while in SHU housing or due to the inmate's disciplinary history while housed in the California Department of Corrections.” Docket No. 80-1 at 9. One of the “examples of inmates who may qualify for consideration of Indeterminate SHU status” was “inmates who have been . . . assessed two Determinate SHU terms for participation in a riot.” Id.

         Custody captain Hughes states in his declaration that in 2012 it was not necessary for there to be a guilty finding on the “RVRs for riots or SHU-able offenses . . . before an inmate was considered for indeterminate SHU placement”; merely being charged was sufficient for an inmate to receive an indeterminate SHU term. Docket No. 68 at 5. The CDCR's Operations Manual provided that, when the inmate was in ad-seg due to a pending disciplinary matter, the classification committee hearing “shall assume the alleged misconduct or criminal activities to be factual as reported in the segregation order.” Docket No. 79 at 103 (DOM § 52080.27.1). Custody captain Hughes explains that the administrative decision under § 3341.5(c) as to whether the inmate posed a threat to safety and security “could be made on many factors, including being charged with an RVR. For example, in many cases, inmates will choose to defer a hearing on their RVR until they learn whether the local district attorney plans to prosecute them, because inmates do not want to make incriminating statements in their RVR hearing. In the meantime, the prison has the authority to give those inmates indeterminate SHU terms while they await the district attorney's decision, even though they have not yet been found guilty of the RVR or any new criminal charges.” Docket No. 68 at 10.

         On June 28, 2012, Mr. Roberson appeared before the ICC again. Docket No. 79 at 43. No defendant participated in this ICC hearing. Mr. Roberson states that, at this hearing, the ICC elected to release him back to the C Yard because the RVR had not yet been completed, but he did not feel comfortable returning to the C Yard because C/O Murphy worked there. Docket No. 16 at 6-7. It is undisputed, however, that he was not released to the C-yard and instead remained in ad-seg. The ICC report for the June 28 hearing noted that the RVR disciplinary process was not yet complete because, although Mr. Roberson had been found guilty, the RVR was awaiting final signatures and awaiting a possible referral to the district attorney for prosecution. Docket No. 79 at 43. The ICC report noted that Mr. Roberson's projected minimum eligible release date (MERD) -- apparently for the SHU term he would get for being found guilty of participating in a riot -- was August 15, 2012; the ICC therefore elected to retain him in ad-seg pending completion of the disciplinary process. Id. The CSR approved a 45-day extension in ad-seg to allow completion of the disciplinary process. Id. at 44.

         On July 13, 2012, another CDCR-114D was issued to Mr. Roberson stating that he was being “retained in [ad-seg] pending ICC review and a possible SHU term assessment/ indeterminate SHU placement.” Id. at 46.

         On July 19, 2012, Mr. Roberson appeared before the ICC. The ICC noted that Mr. Roberson had been found guilty of participating in a riot, “a Division D and SHU-able offense, ” and elected to impose a 5-month SHU term with a MERD of August 15, 2012, based on Mr. Roberson having been found guilty of participating in a riot. Id. at 48. More significantly, the ICC determined that Mr. Roberson had received two SHU terms for participating in two riots within the last two years (i.e., the riot on April 22, 2012, and the riot on January 20, 2011), and he thus met the criteria for indeterminate SHU placement. Id. The committee noted that Mr. Roberson's “behavior clearly demonstrates a propensity for Violence and disruptive behavior which endangers the safety of others, as well as the security of the Institution.” Id. The ICC referred Mr. Roberson to a CSR with a recommendation that he be transferred to the SHU at Corcoran or Tehachapi[7] “to serve an indeterminate SHU term upon completion of MERD of 8-15-12” on the 5-month SHU term. Id. Mr. Roberson was to be retained in ad-seg pending CSR review and transfer. Id.

         On July 30, 2012, the CSR approved the ICC's recommendation for a 5-month SHU term plus an indeterminate SHU term. Docket No. 79 at 50. Mr. Roberson thus was “endorsed” to the Corcoran SHU to serve an indeterminate SHU term upon expiration of his MERD on the 5-month SHU term. The CSR's note stated: “Inmate has proven to be a threat to the security of the institution as noted in the ICC action of 7-19-12. Please review case within 180 days for consideration of release from SHU.” Id. The CSR approved Mr. Roberson's retention in ad-seg until his transfer to the Corcoran SHU. Id.

         6. Inmate Appeal ...

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