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Williams v. Alfaro

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 10, 2019

JOHN WESLEY WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
S. ALFARO, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTIONS; AND (Docs. 54, 55, 63, 69) FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO GRANT DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT FOR FAILURE TO EXHAUST ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES AND TO DENY AS MOOT DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS (Doc. 49) FOURTEEN-DAY DEADLINE

          JENNIFER L. THURSTON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Defendants move for summary judgment for failure to exhaust administrative remedies. They also move for judgment on the pleadings on qualified immunity grounds as to one of the claims asserted against Defendants Longoria and Noland. Plaintiff opposes the first motion, but he has not asserted any argument against the latter motion. Plaintiff has also filed several discovery-related motions. Because the undisputed facts demonstrate that Plaintiff did not exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit as to any of his claims, the Court will deny all of Plaintiff's motions, and it will recommend that Defendants' motion for summary judgment for failure to exhaust administrative remedies be granted and that the motion for judgment on the pleadings be denied as moot.

         I. Plaintiff's Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) and Local Rule 260(b) Motion

         Plaintiff moves to stay adjudication of Defendants' motion for summary judgment so that the parties may have an opportunity to conduct discovery before proceeding to the merits of his claims. (Doc. 54.) The Court construes this motion as one brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(d) and Local Rule 260(b).

         Rule 56(d) provides “a device for litigants to avoid summary judgment when they have not had sufficient time to develop affirmative evidence.” United States v. Kitsap Physicians Serv., 314 F.3d 995, 1000 (9th Cir. 2002). A party seeking additional discovery under Rule 56(d) must “explain what further discovery would reveal that is ‘essential to justify [its] opposition' to the motion[ ] for summary judgment.” Program Eng'g, Inc. v. Triangle Publ'ns, Inc., 634 F.2d 1188, 1194 (9th Cir. 1980) (first alteration in original).

         This showing cannot, of course, predict with accuracy precisely what further discovery will reveal; the whole point of discovery is to learn what a party does not know or, without further information, cannot prove. See, e.g., Pac. Fisheries Inc. v. United States, 484 F.3d 1103, 1111 (9th Cir. 2007) (“[T]he purpose of discovery is to aid a party in the preparation of its case ....”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b) advisory committee's note to 1946 amendment) (“The purpose of discovery is to allow a broad search for facts ... or any other matters which may aid a party in the preparation or presentation of his case.”). But for purposes of a Rule 56(d) request, the evidence sought must be more than “the object of pure speculation.” California v. Campbell, 138 F.3d 772, 779-80 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). A party seeking to delay summary judgment for further discovery must state “what other specific evidence it hopes to discover [and] the relevance of that evidence to its claims.” Program Eng'g, 634 F.2d at 1194 (emphasis added). In particular, “[t]he requesting party must show [that]: (1) it has set forth in affidavit form the specific facts it hopes to elicit from further discovery; (2) the facts sought exist; and (3) the sought-after facts are essential to oppose summary judgment.” Family Home & Fin. Ctr., Inc. v. Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp., 525 F.3d 822, 827 (9th Cir. 2008).

         Local Rule 260(b), in turn, provides, in relevant part, “If a need for discovery is asserted as a basis for denial of the motion [for summary judgment], the party opposing the motion shall provide a specification of the particular facts on which discovery is to be had or the issues on which discovery is necessary.” E.D. Cal. Local Rule 260(b).

         Plaintiff fails to identify any discovery that he believes is necessary to oppose Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Instead, he cites to several cases for the proposition that a court should not grant summary judgment against a party who has not yet had an opportunity to pursue discovery. See, e.g., Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 930-31 (9th Cir. 2004). While this is true, the fact remains that a motion for summary judgment for failure to exhaust administrative remedies is not a vehicle through which the merits of a Plaintiff's claims are reached. Rather, it concerns a preliminary jurisdictional requirement that must be satisfied before the merits may even be reached. Therefore, Plaintiff's motion will be denied.

         II. Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment for Failure to Exhaust

         A. Plaintiff's Allegations and Undisputed Facts

         The Court found Plaintiff's complaint to state several cognizable claims stemming from multiple, distinct incidents: 1) a First Amendment retaliation claim against Villarrial, Dollarhide, Longoria, and Noland in their individual capacities; 2) an Eighth Amendment excessive force claims against Campbell, Morelock, Longoria, Noland and Burns in their individual capacities; 3) an Eighth Amendment medical indifference claim against Dollarhide, Longoria, and Burns in their individual capacities; 4) a Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection claim against Longoria, Noland, and Alvarado in their individual capacities; and 5) Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) claims against Alfaro and Sexton in their official capacities.

         To facilitate review of Plaintiff's claims and related administrative grievances, the Court will present each incident separately and include evidence of Plaintiff's exhaustion efforts.

         Plaintiff is a state prisoner who suffers from a psychiatric disorder, Self-Injurious Behavior (“SIB”), whereby he cuts himself with sharp objects to relieve anxiety and other mental distress. SIB can lead to dangerous levels of self-harm. In September 2016, Plaintiff arrived at California State Prison in Corcoran to participate in the Mental Health Services Delivery System (“MHSDS”). He describes several incidents in which he was deliberately treated poorly by staff members who were aware of his susceptibility to self-harm. Due to these incidents, Plaintiff did indeed engage in self-harm.

         1. Incident 1

         a. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Between October and December 2016, Defendants Noland and Longoria openly ridiculed Plaintiff and other MHSDS prisoners who were standing in line for medication. When Plaintiff complained about the treatment to these staff members, Longoria and Noland, along with other officers, hand-cuffed Plaintiff, pushed him into walls while escorting him to a holding cage, locked him in the holding cage for 1-2 hours still handcuffed, and continued to call him names.

         b. Evidence of Exhaustion

          There is no evidence that Plaintiff submitted a grievance as to the conduct of thes two Defendants' from October through December 2016. There is, however, an inmate grievance submitted on January 11, 2017, Log No. 17-0305, alleging misconduct by non-party CO Flores and Defendant Noland on January 10, 2017, in the form of tight handcuffs, shoving Plaintiff into a wall, forcefully pushing Plaintiff into a holding cage, and name calling, but this could not have served to exhaust Plaintiff's administrative remedies because it related to a January 2017 incident and it involved different individuals. See Decl. of D. Goree in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. (Doc. 49-5) Ex. V.

         2. Incident 2

         a. Plaintiff's Allegations

         On or around February 11, 2017, Plaintiff was assigned to a yard crew position as a part of his mental health treatment. However, Defendants Alvarado, Longoria, and Noland refused to call Plaintiff to report to work or to put Plaintiff to work. In late February 2017, Plaintiff asked Alvarado, Longoria, Noland and other officers why he had not been called to work. Longoria stated, “We don't hire J-cats.” Noland laughed, and Alvarado stated, “Go back to your cell. If we want you, we'll call you.” Plaintiff was never called to work.

         b. Evidence of Exhaustion

         On March 29, 2017, Plaintiff submitted an inmate grievance, Log No. 17-2955, complaining about the refusal of various yard officers to call Plaintiff to work because of his mental health status. See Goree Decl. Ex. CC (Doc. 49-5 at 177-83). This grievance was lost for a period of time. See id.

         On May 11, 2017, Plaintiff submitted a Reasonable Modification or Accommodation Request (“RAP”) on a CDCR 1824 form, Log No. 17-2507, complaining about the failure of facility staff to allow Plaintiff to report to work because of his “mental health psychiatric disability.” Goree Decl. Ex. GG (Doc. 49-5 at 215-16). The RAP was denied on June 1, 2017, because Plaintiff's request did not include any disability discrimination issues. Id. (Doc. 49-5 at 214). Plaintiff was then informed that if he disagreed with the decision, he could submit an inmate grievance.

         On June 4, 2017, Plaintiff submitted an inmate grievance regarding the RAP denial. Goree Decl. Ex. JJ (Doc. 49-5 at 258-60). This grievance appears to have been related to the earlier-filed grievance, Log No. 17-2955, and construed at the second level of review as a staff complaint. It was partially granted at the second level of review on July 13, 2017, and then denied at the third level of review on November 3, 2017. Decl. of M. Voong in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. ⁋ 11, Ex. YY (Doc. 49-7 at 85-86, 91-92). This grievance did not exhaust Plaintiff's administrative remedies as to this incident because the grievance was processed at the final level of review after this case was initiated.

         3. Incident 3

         a. Plaintiff's Allegations

         On January 23, 2017, there was a gang-related disturbance at CSP-Cor. Although Plaintiff was not involved, he was ordered to lay prone and was shivering in wet grass for two hours. Campbell and Morelock secured Plaintiff's wrist with excessively tight restraints. They then commented that Plaintiff was an MHSDS inmate as they roughly searched Plaintiff and removed his pants, exposing his buttocks. During the search, Plaintiff's pubic hairs were forcefully ripped out. Defendants roughly pulled up Plaintiff's pants and boxer shorts, causing Plaintiff discomfort. As Plaintiff was putting his feet into his shoes, Defendants shoved him forward, preventing Plaintiff from putting on one shoe and causing other prisoners to laugh.

         b. Evidence of Exhaustion

         On January 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed an inmate grievance, Log No. 17-0465, concerning this incident. Goree Decl. Ex. W (Doc. 49-5 at 102-09). This grievance was converted to a staff complaint and was partially granted at the second level of review on July 28, 2017. Plaintiff was informed that he could appeal the decision by submitting an appeal to the Secretary's/Third Level of Review, but there is no evidence that Plaintiff submitted the appeal for further review. This grievance therefore did not exhaust Plaintiff's administrative remedies as to this incident.

         4. Incident 4

         a. Plaintiff's Allegations

         On or about April 12, 2017, Plaintiff's counselor determined that Plaintiff was eligible for a Level III override referral to a progressive programming facility at California State Prison - Los Angeles (“CSP-LAC”). On May 30, 2017, Plaintiff learned that the referral was not going through. On June 2, 2017, Dollarhide advised Plaintiff that his case needed to be taken back to the committee to be approved. Then, on June 4, Dollarhide said that Villarrial had intervened and stopped the Level III override from going back to the committee because Plaintiff “files a lot of complaints.” Villarrial refused to hold a new committee for Plaintiff's referral. He also falsified information about Plaintiff not meeting behavioral requirements, using this as a pretense to reject Plaintiff's referral.

         b. Evidence of Exhaustion

         Plaintiff filed several grievances regarding referrals to other institutions. On May 31, 2017, Plaintiff submitted an inmate grievance, Log No. 17-2954, complaining about his exclusion by the Unit Classification Committee (“UCC”) on May 3, 2017, from an override to another facility. Goree Decl. Ex. HH (Doc. 49-5 at 221-23). Plaintiff claimed he met all the requirements for a transfer, but he was denied due to a “bogus” Staff Separation Alert that he claims was planted in his file. Plaintiff's grievance was denied at the first level of review on June 22, 2017, and then at the second level of review on September 11, 2017. Id. (Doc. 49-5 at 224-28). There is no record of Plaintiff submitting this grievance to the third level of review.

         On June 11, 2017, Plaintiff submitted an inmate grievance, Log No. 17-3020, regarding a “botch[ed]” UCC action from May 24, 2017. Goree Decl. Ex. KK (Doc. 49-5 at 265-68). This grievance was bypassed at the first level of review and then partially granted at the second level of review on August 1, 2017. Id. (Doc. 49-5 at 269-70). There is no record of Plaintiff submitting this grievance to the third level of review.

         On June 21, 2017, Plaintiff submitted an inmate grievance, Log No. 17-3177, complaining about Dollarhide and Villarrial's denial of Plaintiff's override. Goree Decl. Ex. II (Doc. 49-5 at 250-253). The grievance was screened on June 22, 2017, and it was rejected for having exceeded the allowable number of appeals within a 14-day period. Id. (Doc. 49-5 at 249). Presumably upon resubmission, it was screened again at the second level of review on July 3, 2017, and Plaintiff was asked to explain how this ...


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