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Stringer v. Cruz

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 12, 2019

R. CRUZ, et al., Defendants.



         Lawrence T. Stringer, then an inmate at the Correctional Training Facility in Soledad, filed this pro se prisoner's civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His complaint is now before the court for review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.


         California's Proposition 57, approved by voters in November 2016, makes parole more available for certain felons convicted of nonviolent crimes. Proposition 57 added Article I, section 32 to the California Constitution. That section provides, in relevant part, that “[a]ny person convicted of a nonviolent felony offense and sentenced to state prison shall be eligible for parole consideration after completing the full term for his or her primary offense, ” defined for these purposes as “the longest term of imprisonment imposed by the court for any offense, excluding the imposition of an enhancement, consecutive sentence, or alternative sentence.” Cal. Const. art. I, § 32(a)(1). To implement Proposition 57, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) set up the nonviolent parole process (NVPO) to allow early parole consideration for certain nonviolent offenders. See Cal. Code Regs. tit. 15, § 3490 et seq.

         Stringer alleges in his complaint that he was eligible for parole consideration (apparently under the NVPP) but the CDCR, the Board of Parole Hearings, a counselor, a records analyst, and an appeals coordinator “waited [too] long to review [his] file, which made [him] no longer eligible because of the time frame.” Docket No. 1 at 3. He alleges that this violated his rights to due process and to equal protection of the law. He further alleges that documents attached “prove all” of his allegations are true. Id. He seeks monetary damages. Id.

         The documents attached to the complaint show that a January 10, 2018 decision approving Stringer for release in the NVPP was later vacated because the decisionmaker had not adequately considered the violent nature of two rule violation reports Stringer received. At the next proceeding on January 30, 2018, Stringer was denied release in the NVPP; that decision was upheld on March 19, 2018. He filed unsuccessful petitions for writ of habeas corpus in the Sacramento County Superior Court and the California Court of Appeal. He also filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the California Supreme but does not state the outcome of that petition.

         The CDCR's inmate locator website indicates that Stringer was not in CDCR custody as of September 11, 2019. He thus may have been paroled or be in a county jail for court proceedings.


         A federal court must engage in a preliminary screening of any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must identify any cognizable claims, and dismiss any claims which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See id. at § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se complaints must be liberally construed. See Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010).

         To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         Although a complaint “does not need detailed factual allegations, . . . a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. . . . Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). A complaint must proffer “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570.

         The complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Stringer conclusorily alleges that he has been denied due process and equal protection, but does not allege any facts that plausibly show a denial of those rights. It is not adequate pleading for a plaintiff merely to identify the constitutional rights (i.e., the rights to due process and equal protection) at issue; rather, he must allege facts showing how each of those rights was violated. Also, it is unclear how the alleged delay in review of an inmate's file would cause him to become ineligible for parole. Leave to amend is granted so that Stringer may file an amended complaint that alleges sufficient facts to state a plausible claim for one or more violations of his constitutional rights.

         To aid Stringer in the preparation of his amended complaint, the court now provides basic information about due process claims, equal protection claims, the unavailability of prison release as a remedy in a civil rights action, and some information about proper defendants.

         The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects individuals against governmental deprivations of life, liberty or property without due process of law. Interests that are procedurally protected by the Due Process Clause may arise from two sources: the Due Process Clause itself and laws of the states. See Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 223-27 (1976). In the prison context, these interests are generally ones pertaining to liberty. Changes in conditions so severe as to affect the sentence imposed in an unexpected manner implicate the Due Process Clause itself, whether or not they are authorized by state law. See Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995) (citing Vitek v. Jones, 445 U.S. 480, 493 (1980) (transfer to mental hospital), and Washington v. Harper, 494 U.S. 210, 221-22 (1990) (involuntary administration of psychotropic drugs)). Deprivations that are less severe or more closely related to the expected terms of confinement may also amount to deprivations of a procedurally protected liberty interest, provided that the liberty in question is one of “real substance.” See Sandin, 515 U.S. at 477-87. An interest of “real substance” will generally be limited to freedom from restraint that imposes an “atypical and significant hardship on the inmate in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life” or “will inevitably affect the duration of [a] sentence.” Id. at 484, 487. The mere failure to follow state ...

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