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Gonzalez v. Cate

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 28, 2016

JOSE GONZALEZ, JR., Plaintiff,
CATE, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding without counsel in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. His third amended complaint (ECF No. 62) centers on his challenge to a determination validating him as a gang member, and his resultant assignment to a security housing unit. Defendants Brackett, Cate, Fernberg, Gamburg, Gower, Harrison, Marquez and Miner move to dismiss. ECF No. 73.[1] Plaintiff has filed an opposition (ECF No. 76) and defendants have filed a reply (ECF No. 81). For the reasons that follow, defendants’ motion should be granted.

         I. Defendants’ Request to Seal Documents

         Before addressing the substantive issues, the court will address defendants’ notice of request to seal documents (ECF No. 73-10) which they rely on in their motion to dismiss.

         Pursuant to that notice, defendants have requested that the court seal three documents - defendants’ exhibits X, Y & Z - which were used as source items in plaintiff’s gang validation. These documents are:

Exhibit X- a June 2, 2008 confidential memorandum documenting a debriefing report;
Exhibit Y- a February 14, 2007 confidential memorandum documenting a debriefing report; and
Exhibit Z- a September 10, 2001 confidential memorandum documenting a debriefing report.

         Defendants rely on these documents in their motion, but note that the information contained therein is deemed confidential by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The rationale for this confidentiality is both well supported and compelling. Notably, the declaration of A. Murphy states that these debriefing report memoranda should be kept confidential because their dissemination would pose a potential safety risk to the debriefing inmates who provided gang-related intelligence. ECF No. 73-9 ¶¶ 9-10. Accordingly, defendants’ request is granted.

         II. Background

         After review of plaintiff’s third amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the court determined that it raised two potentially cognizable claims: (1) a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim against defendants Gamberg, Brackett, Marquez, and Harrison for validating plaintiff as a gang member; and (2) that defendants Cate, Gower, Fernberg, and Miner violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and Eighth Amendment right to be free of cruel and unusual punishment by assigning him to the Security Housing Unit (“SHU”) for an extended period of time. ECF No. 65. The relevant facts alleged in support of these claims are as follows:

         A. Due Process Claim for Gang Member Validation

         Plaintiff was housed at the High Desert State Prison (“HDSP”) in July of 2010. ECF No. 62 at ¶17. On July 20, 2010, plaintiff’s property was confiscated because of an ongoing investigation into his alleged overfamiliarity with a member of the unit kitchen staff. Id. ¶¶ 20-21. He alleges that later that day, he was interviewed by defendant Gamberg who threatened him with gang validation and a transfer to the SHU if he did not confess the specifics of this overfamiliarity. Id. ¶¶ 22-23, 28-29. Plaintiff declined to confess and stated that he did not know what overfamiliarity Gamberg was talking about. Id. ¶ 24.

         Defendants Gamberg and Brackett began reviewing evidence in preparation for plaintiff’s validation. Id. ¶¶ 31-32. On August 5, 2010, plaintiff attended a classification hearing and was assigned to administrative segregation pending the outcome of his validation. Id. ¶ 33. Plaintiff was interviewed by defendant Brackett on August 17, 2010 and copies of the source documents used in the validation were to be issued to plaintiff. Id. ¶ 34. He claims, however, that Brackett did not provide the information[2] he relied on to reach a validation decision. Id. Now, plaintiff alleges that the source items are false and unreliable and that defendants Gamberg and Brackett failed to investigate the reliability of each item. Id. ¶¶ 35-43. Regardless, he was validated as a member of the Northern Structure (“NS”) gang on September 3, 2010 by defendants Marquez and Harrison. Id. ¶ 45. Plaintiff contends that the procedure and evidence used to validate him was inadequate. Id. ¶¶ 34-44.

         B. Due Process and Cruel and Unusual Punishment Claims Related to SHU Assignment

         On November 4, 2010, plaintiff appeared at a classification hearing where defendant Gower assigned him to an indeterminate term in the SHU as a result of his validation. Id. ¶ 52. He states that he was unable to comply with defendants Gower and Cate’s requirement that he ‘debrief’ or reveal all gang-related knowledge because he was wrongly validated. Id. ¶ 53.

         Plaintiff was transferred to the California Correctional Institution (“CCI”) SHU on June 30, 2011. Id. ¶ 84. On October 18, 2012, a gang investigator at CCI determined that plaintiff had no current gang activity that warranted continued assignment to the SHU. Id. ¶ 89. Plaintiff was not assigned back to general population until September 11, 2013, however. Id. ¶ 110. He claims that this delay was caused by defendants Fernberg and Miner’s failure to refer his case to the Departmental Review Board in a timely manner. Id. ¶¶ 97-103. Plaintiff alleges that his prolonged assignment to the SHU caused him severe physical and mental pain due to: (1) sensory deprivation and lack of human contact; (2) inability to use recreational equipment; (3) inadequate access to the library; and (4) inadequate nutrition. Id. ¶ 74.

         Defendants deny that their actions violated plaintiff’s constitutional rights and argue that his complaint fails to allege facts sufficient to state a claim for relief.

         III. Rule ...

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