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Smith v. Daguio

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 24, 2019

JASON SMITH, Plaintiff,
M. DAGUIO, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff, a state prisoner, filed the instant pro se civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against prison officers at the Correctional Training Facility (“CTF”) in Soledad. The Court dismissed the complaint with leave to amend to attempt to correct several deficiencies. (Docket No. 6.) Plaintiff has filed an amended complaint. (Docket No. 7.)


         A. Standard of Review

          A federal court must conduct a preliminary screening in 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). In its review, the court must identify any cognizable claims and dismiss any claims that 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 . § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings must, however, be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988). To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         B. Plaintiff’s Claims

         Plaintiff claims that on January 23, 2018, he was denied access to the library by Defendant Correctional Officer M. Daguio. (Am. Compl. at 6-7, original pagination.) On January 25, 2018, Plaintiff asked Defendant Daguio for a temporary pass to access the law library, at which time he also informed Defendant Daguio that he intended to file an administrative grievance against him for denying him access to the law library on January 23, 2018. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff claims that in response, Defendant Daguio stated that he was tired of hearing about all the grievances Plaintiff had submitted in the past and threatened to assign a cell-mate to Plaintiff or have him moved out of the unit. (Id. at 7-8.) Plaintiff claims that he went ahead and filed an inmate appeal that same day. (Id. at 8.) Plaintiff claims Defendant Daguio chilled his First Amendment rights, and that his actions did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal. (Id.)

         Later that same day, Defendant R. Avalos informed Plaintiff that he was being assigned a cell-mate, and that any objections would result in a Rules Violation Report (“RVR”) being issued per Defendant Daguio, which Defendant Avalos would fully support. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff claims Defendant Avalos’s actions chilled his First Amendment rights and did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal. (Id.)

         After speaking with the inmate, Plaintiff informed Defendant Avalos that they were not compatible and that there was “a significant risk to the physical safety of Plaintiff and possibility to staff” because of the cell-mate’s “interest in possessing dangerous contraband.” (Id. at 9.) The next day, on January 26, 2018, Plaintiff received an RVR for refusing to house with the inmate. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that several months later, Defendant Avalos was confronted with “the same/or similar situation” with another inmate, but that in that case Defendant Avalos allowed the inmate to find alternate housing. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff claims that Defendant Avalos’s actions show “preferential/discriminatory treatment” where there was no rational basis for the dissimilar treatment, in violation of Equal Protection. (Id.)

         On January 28, 2018, Plaintiff sent a request for clarification regarding “CDCR’s policies involving inmate housing assignments compatibility factor” to the supervising Sgt., Defendant C. Peaden, who had “signed off” on the RVR without making any personal inquiries. (Id. at 9-10.)

         When Plaintiff appeared before Defendant B. Greer, the senior hearing officer, for the disciplinary hearing on the RVR on January 31, 2018, he was found guilty and assessed numerous losses of privileges, including 30 days loss of canteen, phone, recreation, package, property, and privilege group “C, ” as well as 61 days loss of good time credit. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff claims that his right to due process was violated at this hearing because he was denied his right to call a witness. (Id.) Plaintiff claims after he appealed, the RVR was twice reissued and reheard based on the violation of his procedural due process rights, but that at both subsequent rehearings, his procedural due process rights were again violated. (Id. at 12-14.)

         Based on the above allegations, Plaintiff claims denial of his First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances (Count 1), violation of due process based on the false RVR (Count 2), and retaliation (Count 3). (Id. at 15-17.) Plaintiff also claims that he was deprived of his right to Equal Protection. (Id. at 17.) Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief as well as damages. (Id. at 18-20.) /// 1. Access to the Courts Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 350 (1996); Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 821 (1977). The right of meaningful access to the courts extends to established prison grievance procedures. See Bradley v. Hall, 64 F.3d 1276, 1279 (9th Cir. 1995); accord Hines v. Gomez, 853 F.Supp. 329, 331-32 (N.D. Cal. 1994). This right is subsumed under the First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances, see Id . at 333, and protects both the filing, see id., and content, see Bradley, 64 F.3d at 1279, of prison grievances. To establish a claim for any violation of the right of access to the courts, the prisoner must prove that there was an inadequacy in the prison’s legal access program (e.g., law library or legal assistance) that caused him an actual injury. See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 349-51. To prove an actual injury, the prisoner must show that the inadequacy in the prison's program hindered his efforts to pursue a non-frivolous claim concerning his conviction or conditions of confinement. See Id . at 351, 354-55.

         Plaintiff was advised in the Court’s order of dismissal that his allegations were insufficient to state a denial of access to the courts claim because he failed to allege actual injury. (Docket No. 6 at 3-4.) Plaintiff was advised that he must describe what non-frivolous claim concerning his conviction or conditions of confinement he was hindered from pursuing. See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351, 354-55. Here, Plaintiff states plainly that even after he was “threatened” by Defendant Daguio on January 23, 2018, Plaintiff went ahead and filed the appeal anyway. See supra at 2. Accordingly, even if we assume Plaintiff was pursuing a non-frivolous claim, Plaintiff fails to allege actual injury, i.e., that he was hindered from pursuing his claim. Plaintiff’s allegation that Defendant Daguio’s actions “chilled” his First Amendment rights may be relevant for alleging a retaliation claim, but not for the denial of access to courts claim. Accordingly, this claim is DISMISSED for failure to state a claim for relief. /// 2. Retaliation “Within the prison context, a viable claim of First Amendment retaliation entails five basic elements: (1) An assertion that a state actor took some adverse action against an inmate (2) because of (3) that prisoner’s protected conduct, and that such action (4) chilled the inmate’s exercise of his First Amendment rights, and (5) the action did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal.” Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567-68 (9th Cir. 2005) (footnote omitted).

         Plaintiff’s claim that Defendants Daguio and Avalos took adverse action against him, i.e., assigned him a cellmate and issued a false RVR, because Plaintiff engaged in protected conduct is cognizable as he has also alleged that their actions “chilled” his First ...

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