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Killensworth v. Godfrey

United States District Court, C.D. California

December 19, 2019

D. GODFREY et al. Defendants.




         On July 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.) On October 24, 2019, the Court screened and dismissed the Complaint with leave to file an amended Complaint. (Order Dismiss Compl., ECF No. 13.) Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint on November 6, 2019. (“FAC, ” ECF No. 14 .)

         The Court has screened the FAC as prescribed by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). For the reasons stated below, the FAC is DISMISSED WITH LEAVE TO AMEND. Plaintiff is ORDERED to, within thirty days after the date of this Order, either: (1) file a Second Amended Complaint, or (2) advise the Court that Plaintiff does not intend to file a Second Amended Complaint.


         The FAC is filed against: (1) Sergeant D. Godfrey, (2) Sergeant R. Aguirre, (3) Lieutenant G. Marshall, and (4) Lieutenant B. Legier (each a “Defendant” and collectively, “Defendants”). (FAC 3-4.)[1] Each Defendant is sued in his or her individual capacity. (Id.)

         The FAC and attached exhibits[2] contain the following allegations and claims. The July 13, 2018 Crime/Incident Report authored by Defendant Legier states that on Wednesday, July 11, 2018 at approximately 9:49 a.m., the California State Prison - Los Angeles County Investigative Service Unit responded to a Code 1 alarm in Facility C. (Id. at 20.) Inmate Jackson was the victim of an attempted murder with a weapon by inmate Castro. (Id.)

         On July 11, 2018 at 7:51 p.m., Plaintiff was served an Administrative Segregation Unit Placement Notice (“Ad-Seg Notice”), authored by Defendant Marshall. (Id. at 12.) The Ad-Seg Notice stated that “confidential information was received indicating [Plaintiff] may have played a role in the attempted murder of Inmate Jackson, ” and that Plaintiff “will remain in Ad-Seg pending completion of the investigation” by ISU. (Id.) Plaintiff contends that Defendant Marshall placed him into administrative segregation solely on hearsay and no other evidence, and paperwork was forged and fabricated against Plaintiff. (Id. at 5-6.) Plaintiff asserts that he was in his assigned cell during the incident, “oblivious to what was going on.” (Id. at 3.)

         On July 20, 2018, Plaintiff was served a second Ad-Seg Notice, authored by Defendant Legier. (Id. at 16.) The second Ad-Seg Notice stated that the investigation into Plaintiff's involvement in the attempted murder of inmate Jackson was completed, and “a determination to charge [Plaintiff] with Solicitation of Murder of an Inmate was made on July 19, 2018 based on confidential memorandum dated July 11, 2018, July 12, 2018 and July 13, 2018.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Legier conspired with the other Defendants to fabricate documents and deny Plaintiff an opportunity to defend himself against “trumped up” charges. (Id. at 6.)

         An August 8, 2018 RVR Supplemental Investigative Report (“Report) stated that on July 31, 2018, J. Aparicio was assigned as the investigative employee for Plaintiff's Rules Violation Report (“RVR”). (Id. at 9.) The Report listed the “reporting employee” as Defendant Aguirre. (Id.)

         Plaintiff contends that Defendant Aguirre was his senior hearing officer. (Id. at 5.) Plaintiff alleges that he asked to question the two inmates involved in the incident, but Defendant Aguirre deemed all of Plaintiff's questions irrelevant. (Id.) Plaintiff believes that if he had been allowed to question the inmates, he would have been able to prove that he had nothing to do with the incident. (Id.)

         On November 1, 2018, Plaintiff filled out a grievance directed towards Defendant Aguirre, asking Defendant Aguirre why he was involved in Plaintiff's RVR and why he declined Plaintiff's questions on his investigative report. (Id. at 11.) On November 2, 2018, Defendant Aguirre responded that he only entered the RVR on behalf of Correctional Officer Camacho because he was on vacation, and Defendant Aguirre did not decline Plaintiff's questions because that can only be done by the hearing officer. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Godfrey compounded the problem by denying Plaintiff the fair chance to use the prison grievance system, discriminating against Plaintiff, and not giving him the same treatment as others. (Id. at 3, 6.)

         Based on the foregoing, Plaintiff asserts violations of the following rights: (1) due process (id. at 5.); (2) Fourteenth Amendment equal protection (id.); and (3) Eighth Amendment (id. at 7.). Plaintiff seeks $200, 000 in damages and restoration of his good-time credits. (Id. at 8.)


         Federal 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).

         When 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)).

         Rule 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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 n.3 (2007)). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, the court will accept the plaintiff's 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, plaintiff's complaint survives a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). “Plaintiff's complaint may be dismissed only when defendant's plausible alternative explanation is so convincing that plaintiff's explanation is implausible.” Id.

         Where a 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 a pro 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)).

         IV. ...

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