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Silverman v. Christian

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 3, 2019

JACOB S. SILVERMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
DUANE CHRISTIAN, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DOCKET NO. 35)

          BETH LABSON FREEMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, a pretrial detainee, filed a pro se civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against jail officials at the Humboldt County Correctional Facility (the “Facility”) for violating his First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances based on their refusal to allow him to file grievances. Defendants Capt. Duane Christian and Lt. Dean Flint filed a motion for summary judgment. (Docket No. 35, hereinafter “Mot.”[1]) Plaintiff filed an opposition, (Docket No. 40), along with an exhibit, (Docket No. 40-1), and Defendants filed a reply, (Docket No. 42).

         For the reasons discussed below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is GRANTED.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Statement of Facts[2]

         A. The Facility's Inmate Grievance Procedure

         The Facility has established an Inmate Grievance Procedure (the “Policy”) pursuant to California Code of Regulations Title 15, section 1073. (Christian Decl. ¶ 2, Ex. A at 1, “Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Custody Services Division, Policies and Procedures.”) The Policy was established “to provide a consistent and equitable method of handling inmate complaints… to resolve grievances within a reasonable time limit.” (Id.) Inmates may fill out an inmate grievance form when they have a complaint relating to conditions of confinement, including but not limited to: medical/dental care, classification actions (except disciplinary action), program participation, telephone access, mail, visiting, food, clothing and bedding, or other custody related matters. (Id. ¶ 3, Ex. A at 1-2.) The Policy states that grievances “must pertain to a complaint that has occurred within the past two (2) weeks of filing the grievance.” (Id., Ex. A at 2.)

         Generally, a prisoner seeking to file a grievance must request a grievance form from the Housing Officer. (Christian Decl. ¶ 3, Ex. A at 3.) The Housing Officer will ask the inmate the subject matter of the grievance to see if she/he can resolve the issue prior to an inmate filing a grievance. (Id.) If the inmate chooses to file the grievance, he must submit the completed form to the Housing Officer, who will then sign and date the grievance in the top right-hand corner and give a copy of it to the inmate. (Id.) The Housing Officer then delivers the grievance form to the next level responder so it can be handled pursuant to the Policy. (Id., Ex. A at 4.)

         There are three levels at which an inmate grievance can be resolved. (Christian Decl. ¶ 4.) Every attempt is made to resolve the grievance at the first level, which requires a response within five days of receipt. (Id., Ex. A at 2.) If an inmate is unhappy with the resolution at any level, the inmate is entitled to appeal the grievance resolution to the next level until Level Three, which is the final level of appeal. (Id.) The grievance shall be responded to within five days, excluding weekends, upon receipt at Level Two and Level Three. (Id.) Plaintiff is aware that the Facility has a mechanism for inmates to file grievances and has filed “an abundance” of grievances pursuant to the Policy. (Norton Decl., Ex. A, Silverman Depo. 35:22-36:12, 42:10-13.)

         B. Frivolous Grievance Procedure

         Pursuant to California Code of Regulations Title 15, section 1073(b), the Policy includes a procedure to control the submission of excessive grievances. (Christian Decl. ¶ 5, Ex. A at 5-6.) According to Defendants, the Policy is intended to provide safeguards against abuse of the grievance system. (Id.) Without these safeguards, staff would be overburdened by having to respond to repetitive and frivolous complaints, time which would be better spent responding to valid, non-frivolous claims. (Id.)

         The Policy states, “Grievances that are filed by inmates for non-productive purposes, excessive grievances filed on the same issue, grievances that use profanity and/or insulting language, or grievances filed with the intent to undermine or interfere with the grievance process, and that over burden staff with repetitive frivolous complaints will be rejected.” (Christian Decl. ¶ 6, Ex. A at 2.) An inmate filing excessive and/or frivolous grievances is given written notice that any further grievances on the matter may subject him to disciplinary action. (Id., Ex. A at 3.) Grievances that are submitted after such notice are forwarded intact, with all copies attached, directly to a Correctional Lieutenant or Facility Manager. (Id.)

         The Policy further states, “Upon being notified by staff of an inmate who appears to be filing excessive grievances with the intent to undermine or interfere with the grievance process and/or overburden staff with repetitive frivolous complaints, the Staff Lieutenant will review all of the inmate's recent grievances to determine if placement on frivolous grievance watch is appropriate.” (Christian Decl. ¶ 7, Ex. A at 5.)

         C. Plaintiffs Grievances

         Plaintiff was in custody as a pre-trial detainee at the Facility from approximately September 2016 until October 2018.[3] (Christian Decl. ¶ 8.) In less than a one-month period, from October 12, 2016 through October 30, 2016, Plaintiff filed approximately 17 grievances. (Christian Decl. ¶ 9, Ex. B.) The Facility responded to each of these grievances. (Id.) These 17 grievances are summarized as follows:

. On October 12, 2016, Plaintiff filed his first grievance which related to a write-up he had received. (Id.; ...

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