United States District Court, C.D. California
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT
WITH LEAVE TO AMEND
A. AUDERO UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
10, 2019, Plaintiff Tonney Killensworth ("Plaintiff), an
inmate at California State Prison - Corcoran, proceeding pro
se, filed a Complaint alleging violations of his
civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section
1983"). (Compl, ECF No. 1.) The Court has screened the
Complaint as prescribed by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). For the reasons stated below,
the Complaint is DISMISSED WITH LEAVE TO
AMEND. Plaintiff is ORDERED to,
within thirty days after the date of this Order, either: (1)
file a First Amended Complaint, or (2) advise the Court that
Plaintiff does not intend to file a First Amended Complaint.
PLAINTIFF'S ALLEGATIONS AND CLAIMS
Complaint is filed against: (1) Correctional Sergeant D.
Godfrey, (2) Correctional Sergeant R. Aguirre, (3)
Correctional Lieutenant G. Marshall, and (4) Correctional
Lieutenant B. Legier (each a "Defendant" and
collectively, "Defendants"). (Compl.
Each Defendant is sued in his individual capacity.
(Id. at 11.)
Complaint contains the following allegations and
claims: This lawsuit arises out of a July 11, 2018
altercation between inmates Castro and Jackson, which
culminated in inmate Castro stabbing inmate Jackson in the
neck. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff alleges that he was not
involved in the incident, was locked in his assigned cell at
the time, and "was oblivious to what was going on."
night, Plaintiff received a rules violation report
("RVR"), which charged Plaintiff with soliciting
inmate Castro to murder inmate Jackson, and was placed into
administrative segregation ("ad seg") by Defendant
Marshall. (Id. at 4-5.) Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants conspired with each other to fabricate documents
and information relative to the RVR. (Id. at 4.)
According to Plaintiff, there was no evidence of Plaintiff s
personal involvement in the incident. (Id. at 5.)
voiced his concerns about the flaws in his administrative
segregation notice to a classification committee.
(Id.) Instead of taking note of the misinformation
given by a confidential informant and dropping the false
charges against Plaintiff, Defendant Legier issued a second
ad-seg notice to Plaintiff on July 20, 2018. (Id. at
7.) The second ad-seg notice stated that
'"confidential information' was received
indicating you may have played a role in the attempted murder
of inmate Jackson." (Id. at 5-6.) Plaintiff
contends that this is a "very serious allegation to
'presume' without an eye witness account, [sic] the
only thing left is a presumption of guilt."
(Id. at 6.)
Aguirre was replaced as a senior hearing officer on
Plaintiffs investigative employee report. (Id. at
3.) Plaintiff asserts that this was improper because a senior
hearing officer must be a lieutenant or higher.
(Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Aguirre
denied all of Plaintiff s questions-which would have
exonerated Plaintiff completely-and deemed them irrelevant.
(Id.) Defendant Aguirre asserted that he did not
decline Plaintiffs questions, as that could only be done by a
senior hearing officer. (Id.) Plaintiff contends
that Defendant Aguirre denied Plaintiffs due process rights
to fully cross-examine the victim and others involved in the
Godfrey compounded the problem by denying Plaintiffs
first-level appeal on August 16, 2018. (Id. at 9.)
alleges that he has been in the security housing unit
("SHU") for 365 days, and has another 180 days
remaining in SHU. (Id. at 3.) As a result, Plaintiff
asserts that he has not been able to practice his religion
and attend the classes he needs; is confined in a cell twenty
hours per day with two hours of daily exercise in a separate,
slightly larger cell; is only permitted three showers per
week; is not allowed phone calls; and has suffered severe
emotional distress. (Id. at 4.)
on the foregoing, Plaintiff asserts four claims for violation
of the Eighth Amendment's Cruel and Unusual Punishments
Clause. (Id. at 3-10.) Plaintiff also alleges that
his Sixth Amendment, due process, and equal protection rights
were violated. (Id. at 3, 6.) Plaintiff seeks: (1)
restoration of his good-time credits; (2) $200, 000 in
damages; and (3) unquantified punitive damages. (Id.
courts must conduct a preliminary screening of any case in
which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or
officer or employee of a governmental entity (28 U.S.C.
§ 1915A), or in which a plaintiff proceeds in forma
pauperis (28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)). The court
must identify cognizable claims and dismiss any complaint, or
any portion thereof, that is: (1) frivolous or malicious, (2)
fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or
(3) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from
such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A(b), 1915(e)(2)(B).
screening a complaint to determine whether it fails to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted, courts apply the
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) ("Rule
12(b)(6)") standard. See Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680
F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012) (applying the Rule 12(b)(6)
standard to 28 U.S.C. § Section 1915A); Watison v.
Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012) (applying
the Rule 12(b)(6) standard to 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)). "Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is
appropriate only where the complaint lacks a cognizable legal
theory or sufficient facts to support a cognizable legal
theory." Hartmann v. Cal. Dep't of Corr. &
Rehab., 707 F.3d 1114, 1122 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Mendiondo v. Centinela Hosp. Med. Ctr., 521 F.3d
1097, 1104 (9th Cir. 2008)).
12(b)(6) is read in conjunction with Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 8(a) ("Rule 8"), "which requires not
only 'fair notice of the nature of the claim, but also
grounds on which the claim rests.'" See Li v.
Kerry, 710 F.3d 995, 998 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Bell At!. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 n.3
(2007)). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court will
accept the plaintiffs factual allegations as true and view
them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Park
v. Thompson, 851 F.3d 910, 918 (9th Cir. 2017). Although
"detailed factual allegations" are not required,
"[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). "Conclusory allegations of law ... are
insufficient to defeat a motion to dismiss."
Park, 851 F.3d at 918 (alteration in original)
(quoting Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668,
679 (9th Cir. 2001)). Rather, a complaint must "contain
sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'"
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when
the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
663. "If there are two alternative explanations, one
advanced by defendant and the other advanced by plaintiff,
both of which are plausible, plaintiffs complaint survives a
motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)." Starr v.
Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011).
"Plaintiffs complaint may be dismissed only when
defendant's plausible alternative explanation is so
convincing that plaintiffs explanation is
plaintiff is pro se, particularly in civil rights
cases, courts should construe pleadings liberally and afford
the plaintiff any benefit of the doubt. Wilhelm, 680
F.3d at 1121. "[B]efore dismissing a pro se complaint
the district court must provide the litigant with notice of
the deficiencies in his complaint in order to ensure that the
litigant uses the opportunity to amend effectively."
Akhtar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 1212 (9th Cir. 2012)
(quoting Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261
(9th Cir. 1992)). A court should grant apro se
plaintiff leave to amend a defective complaint "unless
it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint
could not be cured by amendment." Akhtar, 698
F.3d at 1212 (quoting Shucker v. Rockwood, 846 F.2d
1202, 1203-04 (9th Cir. 1988) (per curiam)).
Plaintiffs Claims Potentially Are Heck-Barred.
law opens two main avenues to relief on complaints related to
imprisonment: a petition for habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. §
2254, and a complaint under [Section 1983]. Challenges to the
validity of any confinement or to particulars affecting its
duration are the province of habeas corpus; requests for
relief turning on circumstances of confinement may be
presented in a § 1983 action." Muhammad v.
Close, 540 U.S. 749, 750 (2004) (per curiam) (citations
Section 1983 complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Heck
v. Humphrey if judgment in favor of the plaintiff would
undermine the validity of his conviction or sentence, unless
the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence
already has been invalidated, either through state litigation
or federal writ of habeas corpus. 512 U.S. at 477, 486-87
(1994). However, the Heck bar applies only
"where success would necessarily imply the
unlawfulness of a (not previously invalidated) conviction or
sentence." Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81
Edwards v. Balisock, the Supreme Court applied
Heck to bar a Section 1983 action involving
allegedly defective prison disciplinary procedures resulting
in a loss of good time credits. 520 U.S. 641, 648 (1997). The
Supreme Court later clarified in Muhammad v. Close
that an inmate's Section 1983 challenge to disciplinary
proceedings are not barred by Heck if the challenge
"threatens no consequence for [the] conviction or the
duration of [the] sentence." 540 U.S. at 751. If the
invalidity of the disciplinary proceedings, and therefore the
restoration of good time credits, would not necessarily
affect the length of time to be served, then the claim falls
outside the core of habeas and may be brought pursuant to
Section 1983. See Id. at 754-55.
that limitation, the Ninth Circuit concluded in Nettles
v. Grounds that Heck did not bar a California
inmate serving a life sentence from bringing a Section 1983
challenge to a disciplinary hearing that resulted in the loss
of good time credits. 830 F.3d 922, 934-36 (9th Cir. 2016)
(en banc). Because Nettles was serving a life sentence,
success on the merits of his claim "would not
necessarily lead to immediate or speedier release because the
expungement of the challenged disciplinary violation would
not necessarily lead to a grant of parole." Id.
at 934-35. "Under California law, the parole board must
consider '[a] 11 relevant, reliable information' in
determining suitability for parole." Id. at 935
(quoting Cal. Code Regs. Tit. 15, § 2281(b)). "A
rules violation is merely one of the factors shedding light
on whether a prisoner 'constitutes a current threat to
the public safety." Nettles, 830 F.3d at 935
(quoting In re Lawrence, 44 Cal.4th 1181, 1191
(2008)). The parole board may deny parole "on the basis
of any of the grounds presently available to it."
Nettles, 830 F.3d at 935 (quoting Ramirez v.
Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 859 (9th Cir. 2003)). Thus,
"the presence of a disciplinary infraction does not
compel the denial of parole, nor does an absence of an
infraction compel the grant of parole."
Nettles, 830 F.3d at 935.
Plaintiff seeks restoration of lost good-time credits (Compl.
11), which could lead to an earlier release date depending on
Plaintiffs sentence. If Plaintiff s sentence has a
determinate term, restoration of lost good-time credits
necessarily would result in a speedier release and would fall
within the "core of habeas." If so, the lawsuit
should be brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, not
Section 1983. See Muhammad, 540 U.S. at 750.
However, if Plaintiff is facing an indeterminate life
sentence, the restoration of good-time credits would not
necessarily result in an earlier release and Plaintiffs
claims could be brought pursuant to Section 1983. See
Nettles, 830 F.3d at 934-36.
Court makes no ruling on the potential applicability of
Heck at this time. If Plaintiff files an amended
complaint, he should include the term of his prison sentence.
The Complaint Does Not State a Section 1983 Claim.
1983 provides a cause of action against "every person
who, under color of any statute . . . of any State ...
subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen ... to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured
by the Constitution and laws . . . ." Wyatt v.
Cole,504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992) (alteration in original)
(quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1983). The purpose of Section 1983
is "to deter state actors from using the badge of their
authority to deprive individuals of their federally
guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such
deterrence fails." Wyatt, 504 U.S. at 161. To
state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege:
(1) a right secured by the Constitution ...