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White v. Lizaraga

United States District Court, E.D. California

January 13, 2020

JOE LIZARAGA, et al., Defendants.



         I. Introduction

         At all relevant times in this action, plaintiff was a state prisoner under the authority of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). Plaintiff recently informed the court that he has been transferred to Atascadero State Hospital. Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint is before the court for screening. This action is referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302(c). For the reasons that follow, the undersigned recommends that this action be dismissed without leave to amend.

         II. Background

         On March 16, 2017, while a state prisoner at Salinas Valley State Prison, plaintiff filed his original complaint in this action in the Amador County Superior Court. ECF No. 1 at 4-43. On December 7, 2018, defendants paid the filing fee and removed the action to this federal district court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). ECF No. 1 at 1-3; ECF No. 2. Plaintiff filed a motion to remand the case back to the Amador County Superior Court, ECF No. 4, which defendants opposed, ECF No. 5. Thereafter, while a prisoner at California State Prison Corcoran, plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint. ECF No. 6. On July 30, 2019, the undersigned recommended that plaintiff's motion to remand be denied, ECF No. 8, and the district judge adopted that recommendation on September 4, 2019, ECF No. 9.

         The undersigned now screens plaintiff's First Amended Complaint (FAC) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         III. Screening of Plaintiff's Complaint

         A. Legal Standards for Screening Prisoner Civil Rights Complaints

         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 upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984).

         Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly at 555). To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal at 678 (quoting Twombly 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. The plausibility standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (citing Twombly at 556). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of “entitlement to relief.”'” Id. (quoting Twombly at 557).

         “A document filed pro se is ‘to be liberally construed,' and ‘a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976) (internal quotation marks omitted)). See also Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(e) (“Pleadings shall be so construed as to do justice.”). Additionally, a pro se litigant is entitled to notice of the deficiencies in the complaint and an opportunity to amend, unless the complaint's deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. See Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987).

         B. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff's allegations are drawn both from the operative FAC, ECF No. 6, and a copy of the First Level Review (FLR) decision addressing plaintiff's relevant inmate appeal, which was provided as an exhibit to plaintiff's original complaint, ECF No. 1 at 26-7.[1]

         Plaintiff alleges that on June 23, 2015, during his prior incarceration at Mule Creek State Prison (MCSP), he received confidential legal documents through the mail that had been opened outside his presence. On June 26, 2015, plaintiff received a notice via institutional mail stating that the subject legal mail had gone out as “regular” rather than confidential mail. Plaintiff filed an inmate grievance (CDCR 602) on July 10, 2015. On September 8, 2015, the matter was considered at First Level Review (FLR). Plaintiff was interviewed by defendant J. Dowdy, the MCSP Mailroom Supervisor. The FLR decision, signed both by defendant Dowdy and defendant D. Lorey, MCSP Associate Warden for Business Services, made the following findings, ECF No. 1 at 27 (original emphasis):

The incoming address on the original envelope was read as Steve Cole being a lawyer working in the Law Office of the Public Defender. When the state bar was searched there was no listing for Steve Cole, Attorney at Law. As there was no valid attorney's name listed, the envelope was determined to not meet the requirements of Title 15 ยง 3142 and thus not handled as confidential correspondence. However, the paperwork you provided ...

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