United States District Court, E.D. California
FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS THAT COURT DISMISS CASE
AS MOOT AND DENY PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR STAY ECF NO. 72
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR EXTENSION OF TIME
ECF NO. 78
George Vasquez is a former civil detainee at the Coalinga
State Hospital (“CSH”) proceeding without counsel
in this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Earlier in this case, plaintiff challenged a regulation of
the California Department of State Hospitals
(“DSH”) that would restrict his access to certain
electronic devices at CSH. According to plaintiff, the
challenged regulation, if enforced, would violate his due
process rights. While this case was pending, DSH amended the
challenged regulation, mooting plaintiff's claim. This
court then dismissed the complaint and directed plaintiff to
file an amended complaint to assert any challenge he might
have against the newly-amended regulation.
have passed since the court asked for an amended complaint
from plaintiff, and he has not amended his complaint. The
court has ordered plaintiff to show cause why the case should
not be dismissed (1) as moot and (2) for plaintiff's
failure to file an amended complaint, ECF Nos. 71, 75, but
plaintiff's response does not address either issue.
Instead, he argues that several new claims unrelated to this
case accrued and that he is entitled to litigate those new
claims in this lawsuit. Notably, plaintiff does not dispute
this court's prior conclusion that his original claim
became moot because the challenged regulation was amended.
Plaintiff may litigate his new, unrelated claims in another
case, but his original claim became moot, and without a
pleading that presents a live case or controversy, this court
lacks jurisdiction. Thus, the court must dismiss the case.
Alternatively, plaintiff's prolonged and repeated failure
to file an amended complaint warrants dismissal for failure
to comply with a court order. Neither ground for dismissal
precludes plaintiff from asserting his new claims in a
different case, but this case should now be closed. All
pending motions should be denied.
2010, during his stay at CSH, plaintiff received a memorandum
from CSH administrators, who informed him about increased
findings of contraband such as pornographic materials,
allegedly attributable to patients' use of electronic
devices. The memorandum also informed plaintiff that DSH had
responded to those incidents by enacting, on an emergency
basis, Section 4350 of Title 9 of the California Code of
Regulations, which would prohibit all electronic devices with
internet capabilities at CSH. As applied to plaintiff,
Section 4350 would deprive him of (1) his electronic devices,
including his personal computer and several handheld gaming
consoles; and (2) data stored on those electronic devices,
including plaintiff's legal research and certain
information related to his medical treatment. ECF No. 11 at
argued that the planned enforcement of Section 4350 would
violate his due process rights. He argued that, by banning
all electronic devices, Section 4350 did not employ the least
restrictive means of achieving a legitimate government
interest. Id. at 12-13, 33-34. Plaintiff asked the
court to enjoin DSH from enforcing Section 4350, to
“maintain the status quo before any more changes to the
policies are implemented.” Id. at 15.
filed his original complaint in this case while he was still
a patient at CSH. ECF No. 1. In the original complaint and the
attached exhibits, which ran over 200 pages, plaintiff
complained of a wide variety of matters, including the
planned enforcement of Section 4350. This court concluded
that plaintiff failed to state a claim and required him to
file an amended complaint. See ECF No. 8 at 20.
Plaintiff then filed his first amended complaint and
additional exhibits, running a combined 273 pages. ECF No.
After another round of screening, this court again concluded
that plaintiff failed to state a claim and dismissed the
case. ECF No. 16. The court explained, “Plaintiff's
lengthy Amended Complaint is filled with generalized
statements and legal arguments, but little to no factual
support.” Id. at 15. The court also noted that
plaintiff's factual allegations were vague. Id.
Plaintiff appealed, ECF No. 18, and the Ninth Circuit
affirmed in part and reversed in part. ECF No. 27. Although
the court of appeals affirmed the dismissal of
plaintiff's other claims, the court also concluded that
plaintiff “alleged facts in the amended complaint
sufficient to state a plausible due process claim arising
from the regulation of his electronic devices” and
remanded for further proceedings. Id. at 2-3. On
remand, this court served the first amended complaint on
defendants, who appeared and responded to the complaint with
a motion to dismiss.
their motion to dismiss, defendants argued that
plaintiff's due process claim arising from the threatened
restriction on his electronic devices was moot. See
generally ECF No. 44. They argued that, in response to
lawsuits filed by CSH patients, DSH had amended Section 4350
to allow patients to possess otherwise-prohibited electronic
devices under supervision. See id. at 14-15; Cal.
Code Regs. tit. 9 § 4350(d). The amended regulation also
allowed a patient to mail his electronic devices to an
off-site location of his choice, after a search of those
devices, as an alternative to permanent confiscation.
See ECF No. 44-1 at 26. If a patient refused to turn
in his electronic devices voluntarily for review, then the
electronic devices would be confiscated as contraband and
destroyed. Id.; ECF No. 79 at 11. The first amended
complaint was directed at the old Section 4350 and contained
no challenge against the amended Section 4350. This court
granted defendants' motion to dismiss and granted
plaintiff leave to amend his complaint to assert any
challenge he might have against amended Section 4350. ECF
Nos. 60, 66. Rather than filing a second amended complaint,
plaintiff took an interlocutory appeal. ECF No. 68. The Ninth
Circuit dismissed the appeal, noting that the court of appeal
lacked jurisdiction and that plaintiff's due process
claim was moot. This court ordered plaintiff to show why
the case should not be dismissed (1) as moot and (2) for
plaintiff's failure to file an amended complaint. ECF
Nos. 71, 75.
has filed a response to the order to show cause. ECF No. 79.
He argues that the case is not moot because he has been
released from CSH and several new claims have accrued since
his release. He alleges that, for an unidentified reason,
some electronic devices he had at CSH have not been returned
to him after his release. Plaintiff does not allege that his
new claims arise from the older or the amended version of
Section 4350. He does not allege that defendants named in
this case are responsible for the return of the devices.
Plaintiff still has not filed another amended complaint, and
the operative pleading still challenges the old version of
Section 4350. Defendants filed their own response to the
court's order to show cause on mootness, arguing that the
case is moot.
recommend that the court dismiss the case for two reasons:
First, the case is moot; this court lacks jurisdiction absent
case and controversy. Second, plaintiff has not amended his
complaint as ordered. Each of these reasons provides an
independent basis for dismissal.
federal court has an independent duty to examine its
jurisdiction, and discharging that duty requires the court to
ensure that an actual controversy exists at every stage of
litigation. See Bd. of Trs. of Glazing Health &
Welfare Tr. v. Chambers, 903 F.3d 829, 838 (9th Cir.
2018); Kwai Fun Wong v. Beebe, 732 F.3d 1030, 1036
(9th Cir. 2013). A case becomes moot when a court cannot
grant “any effectual relief.” Rocky Mountain
Farmers Union v. Corey, 913 F.3d 940, 949 (9th Cir.
2019). An actual controversy cannot exist when the case has
become moot. See M.M. v. Lafayette Sch. Dist., 767
F.3d 842, 857 (9th Cir. 2014).
two reasons compel the conclusion that this case became moot:
First, the Ninth Circuit's determination on interlocutory
appeal that the case is moot is the law of the case. Second,
even if the court were to reconsider its prior decision on
mootness, its decision must remain the same.
Law of the Case
of the case doctrine governs reconsideration of “an
issue that has already been decided by the same court, or a
higher court in the identical case.” Rocky Mountain
Farmers Union v. Corey, 913 F.3d 940, 951 (9th Cir.
2019) (quoting United States v. Alexander, 106 F.3d
874, 876 (9th Cir. 1997)). When a court has decided an issue
earlier in a case, that court may reassess its own ruling at
its discretion. See Askins v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland
Sec., 899 F.3d 1035, 1042 (9th Cir. 2018). On the other
hand, a lower court must follow the appellate court's
decision on issues “decided explicitly or by necessary
implication, ” Visciotti v. Martel, 862 F.3d
749, 763 (9th Cir. 2016), absent “clear error, changed
law, new evidence, changed circumstances, or manifest
injustice.” Askins, 899 F.3d at 1043. See
also United States v. Cote, 51 F.3d 178, 181 (9th Cir.
1995) (comparing law of the case doctrine with the mandate
rule). The law of the case doctrine applies even when the
higher court has not provided nuanced analysis for its
decision; the “[d]eference to the judicial hierarchy
leaves room for no other course of action, ” and the
lower court must “assume that the [higher court] meant
what it said.” Visciotti, 862 F.3d at 764.
the law of case doctrine binds this court. Plaintiff
litigated the issue of mootness before the Ninth Circuit.
After defendants moved to dismiss the pending appeal as moot,
plaintiff alleged that he had been released from CSH and
argued that defendants continued to violate his rights by
failing to return certain electronic devices after his
release. According to plaintiff, given the continuing
violation, a live case and controversy existed. See
Vasquez, No. 18-17068, ECF No. 19 at 3-4. The Ninth
Circuit disagreed and dismissed the appeal, stating that
plaintiff's due process claim was moot. See Vasquez
v. Ahlin, No. 18-17068, ECF No. 20 (9th Cir. Jun. 26,
these facts, this court is bound by the Ninth Circuit's
ruling that plaintiff's due process claim is moot. The
change-of-circumstances exception to the law of case doctrine
is not triggered because the court of appeals reached its
ruling knowing plaintiff's change of circumstances.
See Microsoft Corp. v. Motorola, Inc., 795 F.3d
1024, 1034-35 (9th Cir. 2015) (rejecting
change-of-circumstances argument because the court issued its
ruling after, and knowing, the change of
circumstances). The court of appeals noted ...