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Fletcher v. Lomeli

United States District Court, N.D. California

December 23, 2019

GREGORY L. FLETCHER, Plaintiff,
v.
CORRECTIONAL COUNSELOR I BRENDA LOMELI, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; AND DENYING THEIR MOTION TO DISMISS AS MOOT

          YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Gregory L. Fletcher, a state prisoner currently incarcerated at California State Prison - Corcoran (“CSP - Corcoran”) brings the instant pro se action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, stemming from constitutional violations resulting during his previous incarceration at Salinas Valley State Prison (“SVSP”), where he claims he had safety concerns. The time frame of the alleged violations is from when Plaintiff was first endorsed to be transferred from the California Health Care Facility (“CHCF”) to SVSP on May 22, 2017 through December 8, 2017[1], when Plaintiff was transferred out of SVSP to the Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (“SATF”). Dkt. 1 at 1.[2]

         The operative pleading is Plaintiff's original complaint (dkt. 1), in which he sought monetary damages against the following Defendants at SVSP: the Warden; Correctional Counselor I (“CCI”) Brenda Lomeli[3]; former CCI Garcia; Captain N. Gonzalez[4]; Sergeant R. Gomez; and various Doe Defendants.

         The following summary of Plaintiff's claims is taken from the Court's January 16, 2019 service order, which states as follows:

Plaintiff's claims arise from Defendants' alleged deliberate indifference to his safety needs stemming from an incident on November 30, 2017 in which Plaintiff claims that he “had an attempt[ed] assassination made on his life” (apparently he suffered a blow to the head, which rendered him unconscious) even after Plaintiff requested that Defendants remove him from being housed SVSP because he claimed his life was in danger. Dkt. 1 at 9. Plaintiff claims that for the “next 6 1/2 to seven months [he] still suffer[red] from severe pain [and] head injurie[s], blurry vision in [his] right eye, severe headaches, . . . fear for his safety, anxiety and despo[n]dency.” Id. at 10.

Dkt. 9 at 2. The Court found that, liberally construed, Plaintiff stated a cognizable Eighth Amendment claim that Defendants Garcia, Lomeli, Gonzalez, and Gomez were deliberately indifferent to his safety needs. Id. The Court dismissed without prejudice Plaintiff's remaining claims of retaliation, supervisory liability against the SVSP Warden, and those against the Doe Defendants. Id. at 2-4. The Court directed the Clerk of the Court to serve the complaint and issued a briefing schedule for the served Defendants to file a dispositive motion. See Id. at 4-7.

         On March 19, 2019, Defendants Garcia, Lomeli, Gonzalez, and Gomez (hereinafter “Defendants”) filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion to Dismiss. Dkt. 21. They argue that (1) Plaintiff's claims fail because he only partially exhausted his administrative remedies; (2) there is no evidence that Defendants violated Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment rights; and (3) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. Id. at 6-7. Specifically, Defendants argue that: (a) Plaintiff “failed to properly exhaust his available administrative remedies against Defendants Lomeli and Gomez in accordance with California Code of Regulations, Title 15, § 3084.3(d), because he failed to identify them in his inmate appeals before filing this lawsuit”; (b) Plaintiff “has failed to allege facts that would demonstrate that Defendants had sufficient knowledge of any known risk”; and (c) Defendants are entitled to qualified immunity for Plaintiff's damages claims because a reasonable officer in each Defendant's position would not have believed that he had sufficient information to conclude Plaintiff faced an unreasonable risk of harm. Id. at 6-8.

         Plaintiff filed an opposition, and Defendants filed their reply. Dkts. 24, 25.

         For the reasons outlined below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motion for summary judgment and DENIES their motion to dismiss as moot.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Background[5]

         1. The Parties

         At the time of the events set forth in his complaint, Plaintiff was an inmate housed in SVSP. Dkt. 1 at 8.

         Defendants Garcia, Lomeli, Gonzalez, and Gomez are, or were at the time of the events alleged in Plaintiff's complaint, members of the custody staff at SVSP. See Id. at 2-3.

         2. Relevant SVSP Policies[6]

         a. Facility Security Levels

         The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”) designates “[e]ach camp, facility, or area of a facility complex” “at a security level based on its physical security and housing capability.” Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, § 3377. The classification or “security” levels are as follows:

(a) Level I facilities and camps consist primarily of open dormitories with a low security perimeter.
(b) Level II facilities consist primarily of open dormitories with a secure perimeter, which may include armed coverage.
(c) Level III facilities primarily have a secure perimeter with armed coverage and housing units with cells adjacent to exterior walls.
(d) Level IV facilities have a secure perimeter with internal and external armed coverage and housing units described in section 3377(c), or cell block housing with cells non-adjacent to exterior walls.

Id.

         b. Inmate Transfers and the Classification Process

         Because Plaintiff alleges that he was transferred from CHCF to a prison with safety concerns, the Court also includes the relevant procedure relating to inmate transfers and the classification process. Any inmate transferred from a facility other than a reception center shall require a classification committee action and endorsement by a classification staff representative (“CSR”). Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, § 3379(a)(1). California Code of Regulations, Title 15, § 3379(a)(1) states as follows:

(a) Transfer requirements.
(1) Unless exempted within this subsection, any inmate transfer shall require a classification committee action and endorsement by a classification staff representative (CSR) or expedited transfer approval by the Chief of the Population Management Unit. A classification committee action and CSR endorsement is not required in the cases of illegal aliens transferring for the purpose of deportation proceedings and expedited transfers warranted under emergent circumstances, including but not limited to inmate medical or mental health needs and transfers from one restricted housing unit to a similar restricted housing unit. Additionally, a classification committee action is not required for an inmate transfer from a reception center.

Id.

         As to the classification process, California Code of Regulations, Title 15, § 3375 states in part as follows:

(a) The classification process shall be uniformly applied, commencing upon reception of a person committed to the custody of the Secretary and shall continue throughout the time the individual remains under the Secretary's jurisdiction. Each inmate shall be individually classified in accordance with this article . . . .
(b) The classification process shall take into consideration the inmate's needs, interests and desires, his/her behavior and placement score in keeping with the Department and institution's/facility's program and security missions and public safety.
(c) Each determination affecting an inmate's placement within an institution/facility, transfer between facilities, program participation, privilege groups, or custody designation shall be made by a classification committee composed of staff knowledgeable in the classification process.

Cal. Code Regs., tit. 15, § 3375 (a)-(c).

         3. Background Relating to Plaintiff's Safety Concerns and Placement Decisions

         a. Letters Sent by Plaintiff Relating to Safety Concerns at SVSP

         In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the CCI, Correctional Counselor II (“CCII”), Sergeant, Lieutenant, Captain, and the Warden “all knew that if [they] sen[t] [him] back to [SVSP] that [he] could be killed or murder[ed], because [he] had show[n] them all a letter from Congress of the United States[, ] House of Representatives . . . the Joint Commission . . . and the Substance Abuse and Mental [Health] Service[s] Administration (“SAMHSA”)”. Dkt. 1 at 8, 17, 18, 19. Plaintiff attached to his complaint an April 11, 2016 letter from the United States House of Representatives concerning “situations at [SVSP]” that was responded to by Sam Farr, a member of Congress. Id. at 17. Mr. Farr stated that Plaintiff's concerns involved “an issue that is mo[re] properly within the jurisdiction of state government, ” and he referred Plaintiff to his “representative in the California legislature, Assemblyman Luis Alejo.” Id. at 17. Plaintiff also attached to his complaint an April 12, 2017 letter from The Joint Commission “in response to the concerns [he] shared with The Joint Commission concerning [SVSP], ” and informed Plaintiff that SVSP “is not currently accredited by The Joint Commission.” Id. at 18. Plaintiff was advised to “contact the organization directly for resolution” or the “State Department of Health” because the Joint Commission had “no authority to evaluate the information [Plaintiff] reported.” Id. Finally, Plaintiff attached to his complaint an April 25, 2016 letter from SAMHSA relating to his concerns about “[his] safety and the safety [of] others, as well as prison conditions in [SVSP]” and advised Plaintiff that SAMHSA is “not a direct provider of [such] services” and did not “investigate situations like the one [he] describe[d] . . . .” Id. at 19. Instead, Plaintiff was advised that “[i]f he believe[d] that [his] civil liberties have been violated, [he] may contact the Disability Rights of California (DRC), Office of Clients' Rights.” Id.

         b. Endorsement to SVSP on May 22, 2017

         Plaintiff, who is classified as a “Level II” inmate, states that on May 22, 2017, he was assigned to be housed with “Level IV” inmates at SVSP, thereby placing his safety in jeopardy. Dkt. 1 at 8.

         According to a “Non-Committee Endorsement” dated May 22, 2017, Plaintiff was authorized for transfer from CHCF to SVSP. Id. at 8, 15. The endorsement of Plaintiff to SVSP was based upon a “[d]ouble override” “to facilitate necessary EOP[7] treatment.” Id. at 15 (footnote added). The endorsement further noted “lower bunk concerns” for Plaintiff, who uses a walker and a cane. Id.; see also Id. at 34. The endorsement also noted enemy concerns “at SVSP Facility A, however placement at SVSP Facility D can be accommodated” and instructed that “[s]taff are to house accordingly.” Id. at 15. In addition, the CSR noted that on February 28, 2017, Plaintiff was transferred from CHCF to CHCF Department of State Hospitals (“DSH”). Id. The CSR further noted that Plaintiff was designated as a High Risk Medical based on his Medical Classification Chrono dated April 23, 2017. Id. Plaintiff was “clinically discharged on 5/19/2017 at the EOP [Level of Care].” Id. Finally, the CSR notes as follows:

CHCF recommended [Mule Creek State Prison (“MCSP”)]-II [Sensitive Needs Yard]/EOP [with alternative to] SATF-II SNY/EOP. Placement is based on inmates' case factors, housing and transportation availability, departmental needs and [California Penal Code §] 5068[8] consideration.

Id. (brackets and footnote added).

         c. Placement at SVSP and Plaintiff's ...


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