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Williams v. Fox

United States District Court, D. Idaho

March 7, 2017

KENT WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
GUARD FOX, Defendant. KENT WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
GUARD BROOKS; GUARD NETTLETON; GUARD HANSEN; GUARD CULBERTSON; and GUARD JENSEN, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Edward J. Lodge United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Kent Williams, a prisoner currently in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction (“IDOC”), is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this consolidated civil rights action. The events giving rise to Plaintiff's claims arose while he was incarcerated at the Ada County Jail.

         Currently pending is Plaintiff's motion requesting “permission to resubmit Plaintiffs' first amended complaint, ” which the Court construes as a motion for leave to file a second amended complaint in Case No. 1:16-cv-00143-EJL (the lead case). (Dkt. 42.) He has also filed a proposed amendment, which the Court will identify as Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint. (Dkt. 43.) Also pending are the following: (1) Defendant Fox's Motion to Stay (Dkt. 33); (2) Plaintiff's Request for Sanctions, Motion to Strike and Seal Discovery (Dkt. 46); (3) Plaintiff's Motion for Additional Interrogatories and Motion to Strike from the Record Discovery Submitted by Defendant (Dkt. 51); and (4) Plaintiff's objections to the Order of Reassignment and Consolidation, construed as motions to sever the lead and consolidated cases (Dkt. 54; and Dkt. 8 in the consolidated case.)

         Additionally, in Case No. 1:16-cv-00478-EJL, the Court must engage in the initial screening process as required by the Prison Litigation Reform Act. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A.

         1. Standard of Law for Review of Prisoner Complaints

         The Court is required to review complaints filed in forma pauperis, or complaints filed by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity, to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. The Court must dismiss a complaint, or any portion thereof, that states a frivolous or malicious claim, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(d)(2) & 1915A(b).

         A complaint fails to state a claim for relief under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure if the factual assertions in the complaint, taken as true, are insufficient for the reviewing court plausibly “to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. In other words, although Rule 8 “does not require detailed factual allegations, . . . it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). If the facts pleaded are “merely consistent with a defendant's liability, ” the complaint has not stated a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Plaintiff brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the civil rights statute. To state a valid claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege a violation of rights protected by the Constitution or created by federal statute proximately caused by the conduct of a person acting under color of state law. Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991). Prison officials generally are not liable for monetary damages in their individual capacities under § 1983 unless they personally participated in the alleged constitutional violations. Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989); see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 677 (“[E]ach Government official, his or her title notwithstanding, is only liable for his or her own misconduct.”). However, “[a] defendant may be held liable as a supervisor under § 1983 ‘if there exists . . . a sufficient causal connection between the supervisor's wrongful conduct and the constitutional violation.'” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1207 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Hansen v. Black, 885 F.2d 642, 646 (9th Cir. 1989)).

         A plaintiff can establish this causal connection by alleging that a defendant (1) “set[] in motion a series of acts by others”; (2) “knowingly refus[ed] to terminate a series of acts by others, which [the supervisor] knew or reasonably should have known would cause others to inflict a constitutional injury”; (3) fail[ed] to act or improperly acting in “the training, supervision, or control of his subordinates”; (4) “acquiesc[ed] in the constitutional deprivation”; or (5) engag[ed] in “conduct that showed a reckless or callous indifference to the rights of others.” Id. at 1205-09. A plaintiff cannot simply restate these standards of law in a complaint; instead, a plaintiff must provide specific facts supporting the elements of such a claim, and he must allege facts showing a causal link between each defendant and Plaintiff's injury or damage. Alleging “the mere possibility of misconduct” is not enough. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.

         Rule 15(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that leave to amend a complaint should be freely given “when justice so requires.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). A liberal amendment policy is especially important with respect to pro se litigants. Courts must liberally construe civil rights actions filed by pro se litigants so as not to close the courthouse doors to those truly in need of relief. Eldridge v. Block, 832 F.2d 1132, 1135, 1137 (9th Cir. 1995).

         2. Background

         In Case No. 1:16-cv-00143 (the lead case), United States Magistrate Judge Candy W. Dale reviewed Plaintiff's initial Complaint, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A, and allowed Plaintiff to proceed on his First Amendment claim alleging that Defendant Deputy Fox retaliated against Plaintiff for filing jail grievances containing disrespectful language; Fox allegedly threatened to injure Plaintiff if he continued to file such grievances. The Court did not allow Plaintiff to proceed on a freestanding free speech claim. (Dkt. 8.)

         Plaintiff filed a motion to reconsider the Court's analysis of his free speech claim, as well as a motion for a preliminary injunction, and the case was reassigned to the undersigned judge. The Court denied both motions. (Dkt. 23.) Plaintiff then filed a request for an “Amended Temporary Restraining Order and/or Preliminary Injunction[] and Updated Information” and a “Request to Amend Complaint and Add an Additional Defendant” (Dkt. 24, 31), both of which the Court construed as seeking leave to amend the initial Complaint. Because it was evident from Plaintiff's filings that he did not intend for his proposed first amended complaint to supersede the initial Complaint-the amendment contained only new allegations and omitted any claims against Defendant Fox-the Court denied the motions to amend without prejudice. (Dkt. 37.) The Court gave Plaintiff 30 days to submit a new motion to amend and a proposed second amended complaint.

         On October 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed a new civil rights action, asserting similar claims against Defendant Deputies Brooks, Nettleton, Hansen, Culbertson, and Jensen. See Case No. 1:16-cv-00478. That case was recently reassigned to the undersigned judge and consolidated with Case No. 1:16-cv-00143, as the cases appear related and would benefit from coordinated processing. (Dkt. 53.)

         Before the expiration of the 30-day amendment period in Case No. 1:16-cv-00143, Plaintiff filed a motion for an extension of time “to submit any matter with the Court which is currently under a time line or which may in the near future arrise [sic].” However, Plaintiff did not attach a certificate of service, nor did he specifically request an extension of time to file a second amended complaint. (Dkt. 38.) Plaintiff filed his latest motion to amend and a proposed second amended complaint on December 20, 2016. (Dkt. 42, 43.) Though the motion and amendment appear to be untimely, the Court will exercise its discretion to accept the filing of the motion to amend and the proposed second amended complaint.

         The Court has reviewed the law regarding prisoner grievances and the First Amendment and will proceed to screen the pleadings in both the lead and consolidated cases. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e) and 1915A.

         In the proposed second amended complaint in the lead case, No. 1:16-cv-00143-EJL, Plaintiff appears to allege that Defendant Fox refused to process Plaintiff's grievances regarding (1) Fox's action in throwing away Plaintiff's outgoing mail, and (2) Plaintiff's classification in administrative segregation. (Dkt. 43-1 at 3-4.) Plaintiff also claims that Defendant Fox threatened Plaintiff with disciplinary action in retaliation for Plaintiff's use of disrespectful language in grievances. (Dkt. 43 at 2, 5-6.) Although Plaintiff previously asserted, in his initial Complaint, that Fox threatened to injure Plaintiff by stating, “[F]irst chance I get at your neck” (Dkt. 3 at 4), he has withdrawn that allegations, as it is not contained in the proposed second amended complaint. (Dkt. 43; see also Dkt. 37 at 3 (informing Plaintiff that an amended pleading supersedes the original pleading and that any claims contained in an initial complaint, but not in an amended complaint, are deemed waived).)

         In the Complaint in the consolidated case, No. 1:16-cv-00478-EJL, Plaintiff asserts that he was accused of and punished for using disrespectful language in two other grievances, again while he was housed at the Ada County Jail:

● “The decision I am grieving is: not to allow me to review my medical file. Really? You people won't even let inmates to review their medical files? You guys got some mental issues. Time for a new sheriff: This one runs a sadistic camp.”
● “You might want to train that mentally handicapped Deputy Brooks and the moron who wrote the inmate handbook. That doesn't trump the constitution.”

(Dkt. 3, in No. 1:16-cv-00478-EJL, at 4-5.) Plaintiffs grievances were rejected. Plaintiff was also charged with a disciplinary violation, found guilty of the violation, and punished with a loss of privileges for five days. Plaintiffs asserts claims of violations of the rights to free speech, to file grievances, and to be free from retaliation for exercising free speech rights.

         3. Discussion of Plaintiffs Claims in Both the Lead and Consolidated Cases

         The standards governing First Amendment claims of incarcerated persons were outlined by the United States Supreme Court in Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78 (1987). The legal standards applicable to First Amendment claims involving prison grievances have been further sharpened and refined in Bradley v. Hall, 64 F.3d 1276 (9th Cir. 1995); Shaw v. Murphy, 532 U.S. 223 (2001); Hargis v. Foster, 312 F.3d 404 (9th Cir. 2002); and Brodheim v. Cry, 584 F.3d 1262 (2009).

         Based upon these cases of precedent, various district courts have forged new ground in addressing claims based on disrespectful language in prison grievances. These decisions are not binding on this Court, but they are cases of interest for the Court to consider in its survey of the evolving law in this area. See, e.g., Richey v. Dahne, No. C12-5060, 2016 WL 7325218 (W.D. Wash. Dec. 15, 2016) (“In this case, [plaintiff] has met his burden to show a violation of his constitutional right. [Defendant] took the adverse action of ordering [plaintiff] to rewrite his grievance because of inappropriate language in the grievance.”), appeal filed Jan. 13, 2017; Calloway v. California Dep't of Corr. & Rehab., No. 116-cv-1305, 2017 WL 220310 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 18, 2017) (“Because there is no right to any particular grievance process, it is impossible for due process to have been violated by ignoring or failing to properly process grievances. Prisoners do, ...


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