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Struggs v. Pfeiffer

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 24, 2019

C. PFEIFFER, et al., Defendants.



         I. BACKGROUND

         Cedric Lynn Struggs (“Plaintiff”) is a state prisoner proceeding pro se with this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. On September 27, 2018, Plaintiff filed the Complaint commencing this action, which is now before the court for screening. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. (ECF No. 1.)


         The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). “Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that the action or appeal fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         A complaint is required to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). 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). To state a viable claim, Plaintiff must set forth “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79; Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not. Id. The mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id.


         Plaintiff is presently incarcerated at Kern Valley State Prison (KVSP) in Delano, California, where the events at issue in the Complaint allegedly occurred. Plaintiff names as defendants: C. Pfeiffer (Warden), O. Goss (Chief Deputy Warden), Captain J. Hanzak, Lieutenant (Lt.) Sandoval, Lt. C. Waddle, Sergeant (Sgt.) J. Anderson, Sgt. R. Chanelo, Officer J. Hightower, R. Santillan (SnE Officer), C. Gonzales (Appeals Coordinator), R. Jaramillo (CCI), Suarez (CCI), E. Chesley (ISU), R. Hernandez (ISU), Doe #1 (ISU), Sgt. Lozono (ISU), S. Lone (ISU), and M. Voong (Chief Office of Appeals) (collectively “Defendants”).

         A summary of Plaintiff’s allegations follows.

         August 30, 2017 Cell Search, Rules Violation Reports, and Hearing

         Plaintiff shared a cell with inmate Yearwood at KVSP. On August 30, 2017, defendant Hightower and Officer Lopez [not a defendant] conducted a search of the inmates’ cell and subjected them to unclothed body searches. A medical report was generated by the MTA and afterward defendant Sgt. Anderson asked the inmates who had drugs. Both inmates denied it and they were allowed to return to their cell.

         On November 20, 2017, Plaintiff was called out of his cell for an interview about the “RVR you received regarding controlled substance.” Compl. at 16. Plaintiff said he did not receive an RVR, and the interview ended.

         On November 22, 2017, defendant Santillan came to the inmates’ cell with RVRs for both of them, began to read the RVRs, and then asked the inmates if they wanted to request postponement, witnesses, an investigation, and staff assistance. Both inmates said yes, signed and dated the applicable forms, and were told to give a list of witnesses to their investigative employee (IE).

         On November 30, 2017, defendant Santillan returned to the cell and told the inmates there was a mix-up with the first RVR and she was there to give them a second RVR, which she slid under the door. Plaintiff objected because Santillan did not allow them to sign a new form for the new RVR requesting postponement, witnesses, an investigation, and staff assistance. Defendant Santillan said she would use the first form they had signed and told them to talk to her supervisor if they had questions. Plaintiff filed form 22 Requests and 602 Appeals for clarification about the two RVRs that had been issued and the improper procedures, but did not receive satisfactory answers.

         On December 8, 2017, Plaintiff spoke to defendant Chanelo, who was defendant Santillan’s supervisor, and Chanelo said that yes, she had told Santillan to issue the second RVR. Plaintiff told Chanelo that the proper procedures were not being followed. Chanelo told Plaintiff he could file a 602 Appeal if he disagreed with the hearing officer’s decision at the RVR hearing. Plaintiff again submitted form 22 Requests and 602 Appeals, which were not answered to Plaintiff’s satisfaction.

         On February 5, 2018, defendant Senior Hearing Officer Lt. Waddle held a hearing on Plaintiff’s RVR (115 hearing). Plaintiff complained that he was not given advance notice and was not ready for the hearing. Lt. Waddle read the charges and Plaintiff pleaded “not guilty.” Compl. at 18. Plaintiff then argued with Lt. Waddle and was escorted out of the office by Sgt. Brown for being disruptive and disrespectful. Plaintiff again submitted form 22 Requests and 602 Appeals, which were not answered to Plaintiff’s satisfaction.

         May 15, 2018 & July 14, 2018 Cell Searches -- Typewriter Springs

         On May 15, 2018, Plaintiff and inmate Wells were pulled out of their cells for a cell search by defendants Chesley, Hernandez, and Doe #1 (ISU). When the inmates returned they found three springs and could not figure out why the springs were left in the cell. The next day Plaintiff realized that the three springs came out of his typewriter. Plaintiff submitted 22 form Requests and 602 Appeals in an effort to resolve the issue.

         On July 14, 2018, Plaintiff was again pulled out of his cell. He was strip-searched in the dayroom, and his cell was searched. When Plaintiff returned he looked for his typewriter and noticed that the bag of springs that were attached to Plaintiff’s 602 Appeal had been removed. Plaintiff sent form 22 Requests and a 602 Appeal.

         July 5, 2018 Cell Search

         On July 5, 2018, Plaintiff and inmate Wells were pulled out for a cell search by defendants Lozono and Lone. When the inmates returned defendant Lozono told Plaintiff he was there to discuss the 602 Appeal that Plaintiff had filed. Plaintiff asked Lozono why he had searched the cell if he was there for a 602 hearing, and Lozono said “because I can.” Compl. at 19. Plaintiff responded to Lozono that the cell search was retaliation because Plaintiff had filed a 602 Appeal against Lozono’s staff. Lozono said, “Do what you have to do, but I am denying your 602.” Id.

         Relief Requested

         Plaintiff requests monetary damages and injunctive relief.


         A. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         The Civil Rights Act under which this action was filed provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1983. “[Section] 1983 ‘is not itself a source of substantive rights, ’ but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.’” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)); see also Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Org., 441 U.S. 600, 618 (1979); Hall v. City of Los Angeles, 697 F.3d 1059, 1068 (9th Cir. 2012); Crowley v. Nevada, 678 F.3d 730, 734 (9th Cir. 2012); Anderson v. Warner, 451 F.3d 1063, 1067 (9th Cir. 2006).

         To state a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must allege that (1) the defendant acted under color of state law and (2) the defendant deprived him of rights secured by the Constitution or federal law. Long v. County of Los Angeles, 442 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2006); see also Marsh v. Cnty. of San Diego, 680 F.3d 1148, 1158 (9th Cir. 2012) (discussing “under color of state law”). A person deprives another of a constitutional right, “within the meaning of § 1983, ‘if he does an affirmative act, participates in another’s affirmative act, or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made.’” Preschooler II v. Clark Cnty. Sch. Bd. of Trs., 479 F.3d 1175, 1183 (9th Cir. 2007) (quoting Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978)). “The requisite causal connection may be established when an official sets in motion a ‘series of acts by others which the actor knows or reasonably should know would cause others to inflict’ constitutional harms.” Preschooler II, 479 F.3d at 1183 (quoting Johnson, 588 F.2d at 743). This standard of causation “closely resembles the standard ‘foreseeability’ formulation of proximate cause.” Arnold v. Int’l Bus. Mach. Corp., 637 F.2d 1350, 1355 (9th Cir. 1981); see also Harper v. City of Los Angeles, 533 F.3d 1010, 1026 (9th Cir. 2008).

         B. Unrelated Claims -- Rule 18 Violation

         Plaintiff alleges multiple claims in the Complaint that are unrelated under Rule 18 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff may not proceed in one action on a myriad of unrelated claims against different staff members. “The controlling principle appears in Fed.R.Civ.P. 18(a): ‘A party asserting a claim to relief as an original claim, counterclaim, cross- claim, or third-party claim, may join, either as independent or as alternate claims, as many claims, legal, equitable, or maritime, as the party has against an opposing party.’ Thus multiple claims against a single party are fine, but Claim A against Defendant 1 should not be joined with unrelated Claim B against Defendant 2. Unrelated claims against different defendants belong in different suits, not only to prevent the sort of morass [a multiple claim, multiple defendant] suit produce[s], but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing ...

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