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Hayes v. Diaz

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 18, 2019

RALPH DIAZ, et al., Defendants.




         Plaintiff Henry C. Hayes, aka Henry M. Mitchell, Jr., alleges that staff at Pelican Bay State Prison violated his First Amendment right to receive and possess mail. The complaint containing these allegations does not attach liability to any named defendant, with one possible exception. Accordingly, the complaint is DISMISSED with leave to file an amended complaint on or before December 16, 2019.


         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 be liberally construed. See Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).

         A “complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “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.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Furthermore, a court “is not required to accept legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations if those conclusions cannot reasonably be drawn from the facts alleged.” Clegg v. Cult Awareness Network, 18 F.3d 752, 754-55 (9th Cir. 1994).

         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. Legal Claims

         Hayes alleges that in February 2019, defendants interfered with his First Amendment rights by refusing him a package that exceeded the prison's weight limit. He names as defendants Ralph Diaz, the Secretary of the CDCR; Jim Robertson, the warden of Pelican Bay; D. Wilcox, a correctional captain at Pelican Bay; and Z. Love, also a Pelican Bay employee.

         Hayes fails to state plausible facts that would state a claim against any defendant. In fact, he does not reference liability in connection with anyone other than Robertson, who is the only defendant whose actions related to the actual deprivation of the package are described with any specificity. (Compl., Dkt. No. 1 at 3-4.) The complaint is DISMISSED with leave to amend to cure these deficiencies.

         The pleading standard “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “A person deprives another ‘of a constitutional right, within the meaning of section 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts, or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which [the plaintiff complains].” Leer v. Murphy, 844 F.2d 628, 633 (9th Cir. 1988) (quoting Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir.1978)). The inquiry into causation must be individualized and focus on the duties and responsibilities of each individual defendant whose acts or omissions are alleged to have caused a constitutional deprivation. Id. Hayes must pay attention to those requirements.

         In addition, he premises Diaz's liability on his role as supervisor. This is insufficient. It is very difficult to plead claims against persons based on their role as supervisors, especially where, as here, there are no facts showing that any of these defendants had a personal involvement in any of the allegedly unconstitutional acts. There is no respondeat superior liability under § 1983, see Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989), which means that a person is not automatically held responsible simply because he or she is a supervisor of an employee who commits a wrong. It is not enough that the supervisor merely has a supervisory relationship over the defendants; the plaintiff must show that the supervisor “participated in or directed the violations, or knew of the violations and failed to act to prevent them.” Id. (emphasis added). Furthermore, supervisor defendants are entitled to qualified immunity where the allegations against them are simply “bald” or “conclusory” because such allegations do not “plausibly” establish the supervisors' personal involvement in their subordinates' constitutional wrong. Iqbal, 129 U.S. at 675-82. There is nothing in the complaint that indicates Diaz's personal knowledge or involvement.

         It is also difficult to state claims against grievance reviewers. Mere involvement in reviewing an inmate's administrative grievance does not necessarily demonstrate awareness of an alleged violation, or contribute to the underlying violation. George v. Smith, 507 F.3d 605, 609 (7th Cir. 2007). “Only persons who cause or participate in the violations are responsible.” Id. “Ruling against a prisoner on an administrative complaint does ...

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