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Green v. Chamberlain

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 22, 2019

VENCIL GREEN, Plaintiff,
NASARIA CHAMBERLAIN, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the Court is Plaintiffs complaint (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff alleges violations of his Eighth, First, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

         The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if it: (1) is frivolous or malicious; (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; or (3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Moreover, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that complaints contain a “. . . short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This means that claims must be stated simply, concisely, and directly. See McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996) (referring to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e)(1)). These rules are satisfied if the complaint gives the defendant fair notice of the Plaintiffs claim and the grounds upon which it rests. See Kimes v. Stone, 84 F.3d 1121, 1129 (9th Cir. 1996). Because Plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts by specific defendants which support the claims, vague and conclusory allegations fail to satisfy this standard. Additionally, it is impossible for the Court to conduct the screening required by law when the allegations are vague and conclusory.

         I. Plaintiffs Allegations

         Plaintiff names the following as defendants: (1) Nasaria Chamberlain, a prison superintendent; (2) Lori Stein, a supervisor of the Prison Industry Authority (PIA); (3) Charlotte Reynolds, a prison superintendent; (4) Phillip Earley, a PIA administrator; (5) Brad Smith, a PIA administrator; (6) T. Tozi, a prison superintendent; (7) D. Conlon, a correctional officer; (8) R. Bennett, a correctional officer; (9) J. Lizarraga, the prison warden; (10) K. Rogers, a correctional lieutenant; (11) C. Heintscel, a correctional captain; (12) J. Feltner, a correctional sergeant; (13) M. Voong, Chief of the CDCR Third Level Appeals; and (14) R. Roy, as associate prison warden. Plaintiff alleges the following:

         In October 2017, Plaintiff informed his work supervisor, Defendant Stein, that his broken chair caused him pain. See ECF No. 1, p. 7. Defendant Stein ignored Plaintiffs concerns. Plaintiff then filed a grievance with the prison and a report with the Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Occupational Safety and Health. Defendant Stein, shortly thereafter, filed a false Rules Violation Report (RVR) and admitted it was in response to Plaintiffs grievance. See id. at 7-8, 21.

         A few days later, Defendant Earley interviewed Plaintiff about the grievance but later “disappeared.” See id. at 10. Defendant Earley's disappearance obstructed Plaintiffs ability to appeal his grievances in violation of California Code of Regulations. See id. Not until Plaintiffs wife wrote a citizens complaint did Defendant Lizarraga urge Defendant Earley to process Plaintiffs grievances. See id.

         In December, Defendant Chamberlain submitted a falsified RVR after telling Plaintiff she was tired of his grievances. See id. at 10-11. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff reported Defendant Chamberlain to Defendant Conlon for shoving Plaintiffs desk at work. See id. at 12. Defendants Tozi and Earley heard Plaintiffs grievance but took no action. See id. The following day, Defendants Chamberlain and Conlon asked to meet with Plaintiff, but he refused. See id. at 13-14. Defendant Conlon attempted to provoke Plaintiff by calling him a rapist in front of other inmates. See id. at 14. Other inmates also witnessed Defendant Conlon coaching Defendant Chamberlain on the computer. See id. Plaintiff alleges the two conspired to retaliate by falsifying another RVR. See id.

         Because of the false RVRs, Plaintiff could not return to his previous work assignment. See id. at 15. Defendant Earley assigned Plaintiff to a new job allegedly in violation of the California Code of Regulations. See id. On his first day of work, his new supervisor, Defendant Reynolds, told Plaintiff not to file grievances. See id. at 16. Plaintiff later heard Defendant Reynolds tell another inmate that Plaintiff had snitched on Defendant Reynolds. See id Plaintiff alleges Defendant Reynolds was having an illicit sexual relationship with another inmate, Hersey, for whom she was smuggling in heroin and cellphones. See id. Plaintiff filed a grievance against Defendant Reynolds's illicit activity and asserting she was deliberately indifferent to his safety by labeling him a snitch. See id. at 17. Defendant Reynolds falsified a work report shortly after that. See id. On June 13, Defendant Reynolds verbally accosted Plaintiff, during which time she again called Plaintiff a “snitch” in front of other inmates. See Id. at 18. Defendant Reynolds filed an RVR in which she falsified Defendant Bennett's presence at the scene of the altercation. See id. In return, Plaintiff filed a grievance against Defendant Reynolds and her supervisors, Defendant Tozi and Defendant Smith. See id.

         Before Plaintiffs disciplinary hearing regarding the June 13 incident, Plaintiff asked Defendant Bennett to appear on his behalf and testify that he was not present during the altercation, contrary to Defendant Reynolds's RVR. See id. at 18-19. Defendant Bennett told Plaintiff he should not have reported Defendant Reynolds's sexual relationship with inmate-Hersey. See id. at 19. At Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing, Defendant Bennett allegedly lied and testified that he was present during the June 13 incident. See id. The disciplinary committee found Plaintiff guilty and restricted him from his work assignment. See id.

         Based on these factual allegations, Plaintiff raises the following claims: (1) Defendants violated his First Amendment rights by retaliating against Plaintiff for filing grievances and by failing to intervene in the unconstitutional acts of their subordinates; (2) Defendants' retaliations resulted in various violations of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment right to due process; (3) Defendants were deliberately indifferent to his safety in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights; and (4) Defendant Earley violated the California Code of Regulations by interfering with Plaintiff's appeals process and impermissibly transferring Plaintiff's work assignment.

         II. Discussion

         A. First Amendment Retaliation Claim

         In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for retaliation, the prisoner must establish that he was retaliated against for exercising a constitutional right, and that the retaliatory action was not related to a legitimate penological purpose, such as preserving institutional security. See Barnett v. Centoni, 31 F.3d 813, 815-16 (9th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). In meeting this standard, the prisoner must demonstrate a specific link between the alleged retaliation and the exercise of a constitutional right. See Pratt v. Rowland, 65 F.3d 802, 807 (9th Cir. 1995); Valandingham v. Bojorquez, 866 F.2d 1135, 1138-39 (9th Cir. 1989). The prisoner must also show that the exercise of First Amendment rights was chilled, though not necessarily silenced, by the alleged retaliatory conduct. See Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 449 (9th Cir. 2000), see also Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 569 (9th Cir. 2005). Thus, the prisoner plaintiff must establish the following in order to state a claim for retaliation: (1) prison officials took adverse action against the inmate; (2) the adverse action was taken because the inmate engaged in protected conduct; (3) the adverse action chilled the inmate's First Amendment rights; and (4) the adverse action did not serve a legitimate penological purpose. See Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 568.

         As to the chilling effect, the Ninth Circuit in Rhodes observed: “If Rhodes had not alleged a chilling effect, perhaps his allegations that he suffered harm would suffice, since harm that is more than minimal will almost always have a chilling effect.” Id at n.11. By way of example, the court cited Pratt in which a retaliation claim had been decided without discussing chilling. See id This citation is somewhat confusing in that the court in Pratt had no reason to discuss chilling because it concluded that the plaintiff could not prove the absence of legitimate penological interests. See Pratt, 65 F.3d at 808-09. Nonetheless, while the court has clearly stated that one of the “basic elements” of a First Amendment retaliation claim is that the adverse action “chilled the inmates exercise of his First Amendment rights, ” id at 567-68, see also Resnick, 213 F.3d at 449, the comment in Rhodes at footnote 11 suggests that adverse action which is more than minimal satisfies this element.

         Here, Plaintiff states cognizable retaliation claims against Defendants Stein, Reynolds, Chamberlain, and Bennett for various adverse actions taken in ...

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