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Watts v. Abernathy

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 9, 2019

VERNELL WATTS, Plaintiff,
v.
J. ABERNATHY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          DENNIS M. COTA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's complaint (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process in labeling him as a sex offender with a “R” suffix without giving him notice or an opportunity to challenge the designation. Plaintiff additionally alleges this designation somehow violates his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

         I. SCREENING REQUIREMENT AND STANDARD

         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).

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require complaints contain a “…short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” See McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1)). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). While a plaintiff's allegations are taken as true, courts “are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences.” Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Prisoners proceeding pro se in civil rights actions are entitled to have their pleadings liberally construed and are afforded the benefit of any doubt. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (citations omitted). To survive screening, Plaintiff's claims must be facially plausible, which requires sufficient factual detail to allow the Court to reasonably infer that each named defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quotation marks omitted); Moss v. United States Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). The sheer possibility that a defendant acted unlawfully is not sufficient, and mere consistency with liability falls short of satisfying the plausibility standard. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quotation marks omitted); Moss, 572F.3d at 969.

         II. PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS

         Plaintiff has named two Defendants: (1) J. Abernathy and (2) J. Vila. Plaintiff alleges Defendants violated his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment by unlawfully upholding Plaintiff's alleged unlawful sex offender classification- “R” suffix- without providing him due process. Plaintiff alleges he was not provided notice or an opportunity to be heard on the matter. Plaintiff additionally alleges this classification has further led to a violation his rights under the ADA. However, it is unclear exactly how Plaintiff's rights under the ADA are implicated, or if Plaintiff even qualifies for protection under the ADA.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Due Process Clause protects against the deprivation of liberty without due process of law. Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 221 (2005). In order to invoke the protection of the Due Process Clause, a plaintiff must first establish the existence of a liberty interest for which the protection is sought. Id. Liberty interests may arise from the Due Process Clause itself, or from an expectation or interest created by prison regulations. Id. The Due Process Clause itself does not confer on inmates a liberty interest in avoiding “more adverse conditions of confinement.” Id. The existence of a liberty interest created by prison regulations is determined by focusing on the nature of the deprivation. Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 481-84 (1995). Such liberty interests are “generally limited to freedom from restraint which...imposes atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” Id. at 484; Myron v. Terhune, 476 F.3d 716, 718 (9th Cir. 2007).

         Under certain circumstances, labeling a prisoner with a particular classification may implicate a liberty interest subject to the protections of due process. Neal v. Shimoda, 131 F.3d 818, 827 (9th Cir. 1997) (“[T]he stigmatizing consequences of the attachment of the ‘sex offender' label coupled with the subjection of the targeted inmate to a mandatory treatment program whose successful completion is a precondition for parole eligibility create the kind of deprivations of liberty that require procedural protections.”).

         Plaintiff cannot claim any constitutional right to a particular prison classification arising directly from the Fourteenth Amendment as inmates have no liberty interest in custody classification decisions. Hernandez v. Johnston, 833 F.2d 1316, 1318 (9th Cir. 1987); Moody v. Daggett, 429 U.S. 78, 88 n.9 (1976). The assignment of an “R” suffix alone does not “impose[ ] atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life.” Sandin, 515 U.S. at 484; Neal, 131 F.3d at 830; Cooper v. Garcia, 55 F.Supp.2d 1090, 1101 (S.D. Cal. 1999); Johnson v. Gomez, 1996 WL 107275, at *2-5 (N.D. Cal. 1996); Brooks v. McGrath, 1995 WL 733675, at *1-2 (N.D. Cal. 1995).

         However, if Plaintiff can demonstrate the assignment of the “R” suffix resulted in some kind of discrimination under the ADA, Plaintiff may be able to establish a deprivation of liberty that requires procedural protections. In other words, if Plaintiff can establish that the stigmatizing results of the “R” suffix designation somehow lead to discrimination in violation of the ADA, Plaintiff may be able to state a claim for relief. For that reason, Plaintiff will be provided leave to amend. Additionally, because of Plaintiff's pro se status, the Court has provided a review of relevant ADA law below.

         Plaintiffs may bring claims under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12132. Title II of the ADA “prohibit[s] discrimination on the basis of disability.” Lovell v. Chandler, 303 F.3d 1039, 1052 (9th Cir. 2002). “To establish a violation of Title II of the ADA, a plaintiff must show that (1) [he] is a qualified individual with a disability; (2) [he] was excluded from participation in or otherwise discriminated against with regard to a public ...


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