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Turner v. Munoz

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 29, 2019

M. MUNOZ, et al., Defendants.


         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. On October 24, 2019, the Court screened Plaintiff's complaint and found that Plaintiff had failed to state a cognizable claim. (ECF No. 12.) Plaintiff was provided with the legal standards that applied to his claims and granted leave to amend. (Id.)

         Currently before the Court for screening is Plaintiff's first amended complaint, filed on November 8, 2019. (ECF No. 13.)



         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.


         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 Chavez 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 Patricia Shnell, civil rights attorney, with the Council on American-Islamic Relations outside of Plaintiff's presence.

         On September 17, 2018, the California Supreme Court sent confidential mail to Plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges that this piece of confidential mail was stolen by Defendant Gray.

         On March 3, 2019, Plaintiff sent confidential mail to various individuals, including “Attorney Daniel K. Greene for the United States No. 19-141C[.]” (ECF No. 13, at 8.) Defendant 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 Chavez stole Plaintiff's confidential mail addressed to Daniel K. Greene in case # 19-141C.

         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-0-19-00798 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 [Plaintiff] converted into a proof of service, confirming [Plaintiff] sent out” the two appeals as confidential mail. (Id. at 8.) 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 mailed out from California Correctional Institution. 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 and destroy Plaintiff's administrative appeal remedy, thinking that their act would prevent Plaintiff's complaint from being successful.

         On May 18, 2019, in the Facility B 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 alleges that Defendants Chavez, Munoz, Gray, Frye, and Vasquez are guilty of a chain conspiracy and deliberate indifference, which was the moving factor in their decision to deprive Plaintiff of his guaranteed right to correspond confidentially. Plaintiff also asserts the Defendants have maintained a consistent pattern and disregard for his right to petition the government for redress of grievances. Specifically, Plaintiff states 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 or more, and some still have 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. (Id. at 10.)

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

         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.


         A. 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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