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Turner v. Munoz

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 24, 2019

STEVEN DEON TURNER, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
M. MUNOZ, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER SCREENING PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT, AND GRANTING PLAINTIFF LEAVE TO FILE A FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT (ECF No. 1) THIRTY (30) DAY DEADLINE

         Plaintiff Steven Deon Turner, Jr. is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Currently before the Court for screening is Plaintiff's complaint, filed on May 21, 2019. (ECF No. 1.)

         I. SCREENING REQUIREMENT

         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 on which relief may be granted, ” or that “seek[] monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b).

         A complaint must 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)). Moreover, Plaintiff must demonstrate that each defendant personally participated in the deprivation of Plaintiff's rights. Jones v. Williams, 297 F.3d 930, 934 (9th Cir. 2002).

         Prisoners proceeding pro se in civil rights actions are entitled to have their pleadings liberally construed and to have any doubt resolved in their favor. Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012) (citations omitted). To survive screening, Plaintiff's claims must be facially plausible, which requires sufficient factual detail to allow the Court to reasonably infer that each named defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79; Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009). The “sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully” is not sufficient, and “facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability” falls short of satisfying the plausibility standard. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Moss, 572 F.3d at 969.

         II. SUMMARY OF ALLEGATIONS

         The Court accepts Plaintiff's allegations in his complaint as true only for the purpose of the sua sponte screening requirement under 28 U.S.C. § 1915.

         Plaintiff names M. Munoz, A. Gray, Frye, Vasquez, and John Doe Correctional Officer as Defendants.

         Plaintiff alleges that, on April 6, 2018, Defendant Munoz opened Plaintiff's confidential mail from the Superior Court of California, County of Kern outside of Plaintiff's presence.

         On August 7, 2018, Defendant Munoz opened Plaintiff's confidential mail from the Council on American Islamic Relations outside of Plaintiff's presence.

         On September 17, 2018, the California Supreme Court sent confidential mail to Plaintiff, but Plaintiff never received the piece of mail. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Gray, the legal mail officer, and Defendant Munoz are both responsible and contractually bound to make sure that Plaintiff receives his confidential/legal mail. Further, Plaintiff alleges that “the acts under the color of state law perpurtrated (sic) by Defendants M. Munoz and A. Gray, was no less than sabotage with malice intent and a criminal and chain conspiracy, to prevent Plaintiff, from exercising his right to petition the government for redress of grievance.” (ECF No. 1, at 5.)

         On March 3, 2019, Plaintiff sent confidential mail to various individuals, including “Daniel K. Greene for the United States No. 19-141C[.]” (Id. at 6.) Correctional Officer Chavez signed Plaintiff's 22 form, which Plaintiff converted to a proof of service, confirming that Plaintiff sent out the mail as confidential mail. Plaintiff sent the 22 form to mailroom staff E. Atencio and Defendant Munoz. The mail room staff informed Plaintiff that the confidential mail addressed to Daniel K. Greene did not go out. Plaintiff alleges that, on March 3, 2019, Defendant John Doe stole Plaintiff's confidential mail addressed to Daniel K. Greene in case # 19-141C, with the malicious intent to sabotage Plaintiff's case. Plaintiff further asserts that “this is reprisal and retailiation (sic) by all defendants, demonstrating the[ir] active ca[m]paign of harrassment (sic) against the plaintiff, in the form of a chain conspiracy, due to pending appeals & civil litigation. (Id.) On March 7, 2019, Plaintiff turned in an emergency appeal for mail theft, log number CCI-0-19-00798.

         On May 15, 2019, Plaintiff sent his appeals, log number CCI-0-19-00978 for mail theft and log number CCI-0-19-00472 for a yard issue, to the Chief, Inmate Appeals Branch, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Frye signed Plaintiff's 22 form in front of Defendant Vasquez, “which he converted into a proof of service, confirming Plaintiff sent out” the two appeals as confidential mail. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff then sent the 22 form to the mail room. Mail room staff member E. Atencio informed Plaintiff that one of the two appeals was sent out. Plaintiff alleges that, since only one of the two appeals was sent out, Defendants Frye and Vasquez committed confidential mail theft by stealing one of the two appeals in order to prevent Plaintiff's appeal from reaching the third level of review in an attempt to hide the misconduct of their fellow officers, thinking that their act would prevent Plaintiff's complaint from being successful. Plaintiff asserts that Defendants Frye's and Vasquez's actions were a conspiracy that was designed to prevent Plaintiff from exercising his right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

         On April 25, 2019, at 9:45 a.m., Islamic services were called and all buildings were released. Defendant Vasquez was working in the tower on that date and time and was responsible for releasing Plaintiff for Islamic service. However, Defendant Vasquez did not allow Plaintiff to attend Islamic services. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Vasquez discriminated against Plaintiff by not allowing Plaintiff to attend Islamic services in retaliation for Plaintiff's exercise of his right to petition and pending litigation against individuals and California Correctional Institution as a whole.

         On May 18, 2019, in the mailroom of California Correctional Institution, Defendant Munoz opened Plaintiff's confidential mail from the Clerk of the U.S. Court of Appeals outside of Plaintiff's presence.

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendants Munoz, Gray, Frye, Vasquez, and John Doe are sued in both their individual and official capacities.

         Plaintiff alleges that his confidential mail has been intercepted and trashed, that his appeals get trashed or held for months and are never returned, in hopes that Plaintiff will give up on seeking justice for the wrongs that he has suffered at the hands of officers at California Correctional Institution. Plaintiff asserts that “these appeals have been held for six months, and one still have (sic) not come back[:]” log numbers CCI-0-17-0216, CCI-0-17-00697, CCI-0-17-00778, CCI-0-17-00782, and CCI-0-16-01-540.

         Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief, injunctive relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages, costs of suit, and any additional relief that the Court deems just, proper, and equitable.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Joinder

         A basic lawsuit is a single claim against a single defendant. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 18(a) allows a plaintiff to add multiple claims to the lawsuit when they are against the same defendant. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20(a)(2) allows a plaintiff to join multiple defendants to a lawsuit where the right to relief arises out of the same “transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions” and “any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise in the action.” However, unrelated claims that involve different defendants must be brought in separate lawsuits. See George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 607 (7th Cir. 2007). This rule is not only intended to avoid confusion that arises out of bloated lawsuits, but also to ensure that prisoners pay the required filing fees for their lawsuits and prevent prisoners from circumventing the three strikes rule under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

         In this case, Plaintiff's claims for violating the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause, conspiracy, and retaliation arising out of Defendant Vasquez's decision to not release Plaintiff for Islamic services are not related to Plaintiff's claims involving his mail because Plaintiff's religious claims do not raise out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transaction as Plaintiff's mail claims. If Plaintiff elects to amend his complaint, Plaintiff shall choose which claims he wishes to pursue in this action. If Plaintiff does not do so and his amended complaint against sets forth unrelated claims which violate joinder rules, the Court may dismiss the unrelated claims as improperly joined.

         B. Official Capacity

         Plaintiff asserts that he is suing each of the named Defendants in both their individual and official capacities. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, injunctive relief, and declaratory relief against each of the named Defendants.

         “Suits against state officials in their official capacity … should be treated as suits against the State.” Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991); Holley v. Cal. Dep't of Corr., 599 F.3d 1108, 1111 (9th Cir. 2010) (treating prisoner's suit against state officials in their official capacities as a suit against the state of California). An official capacity suit “represent[s] only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985) (citation omitted). Such a suit “is not a suit against the official personally, for the real party in interest is the entity.” Id. at 166.

         “The Eleventh Amendment bars suits for money damages in federal court against a state, its agencies, and state officials acting in their official capacities.” Aholelei v. Dep't of Public Safety, 488 F.3d 1144, 1147 (9th Cir. 2007). Therefore, Plaintiff's claim for monetary damages against all of the named Defendants in their official capacity is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.

         However, a claim for prospective injunctive relief against a state official in his or her official capacity is not barred by the Eleventh Amendment provided the official has authority to implement the requested relief. Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 92 (1989). Moreover, “[a] plaintiff seeking injunctive relief against the State is not required to allege a named official's personal involvement in the acts or omissions constituting the alleged constitutional violation.” Hartmann v. Cal. Dep't of Corr. & Rehab., 707 F.3d 1114, 1127 (9th Cir. 2013); see Rouser v. White, 707 F.Supp.2d 1055, 1066 (E.D. Cal. 2010) (proper defendant for injunctive relief in suit seeking implementation of CDCR policy is the CDCR Secretary in his official capacity). Instead, Plaintiff need only identify the law or policy challenged as a constitutional violation and name the official or officials within the entity who is or are alleged to have a “fairly direct” ...


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