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Drennon v. Blades

United States District Court, D. Idaho

December 26, 2019

RICHARD DRENNON, Plaintiff,
v.
RANDY BLADES, S. BROOD, JULIE BRYANT, DISTRICT FOUR PROBATION, ANGEL DOBREV, IDAHO BOARD OF CORRECTIONS, IDAHO COMMISSION OF PARDONS AND PAROLE, M. MASON, and JANE VORHES, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          HONORABLE RONALD E. BUSH CHIEF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Randy Blades, Steve Brood, Julie Bryant, District Four Probation, Angel Dobrev, Montelito Mason, Idaho Board of Corrections, Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole, and Janae Vorhes. Plaintiff Richard Drennon, a prisoner in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction (IDOC), has filed an “Objection” and “Declaration.” (Dkt. 22.) Defendants have filed a Reply (Dkt. 25), and Plaintiff has filed a “Supplement” and a Sur-reply (Dkts. 26, 27.) The Motion is now fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.

         All named parties have consented to the jurisdiction of a United States Magistrate Judge to enter final orders in this case. (Dkt. 15.) See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. Accordingly, having considered the submissions of the parties and finding oral argument unnecessary, the Court enters the following Order.

         BACKGROUND

         On July 22, 2016, Plaintiff Richard Drennon and three other plaintiffs filed a civil rights action against a multitude of defendants under Case No. 1:16-cv-00329-REB. The Idaho state defendants filed an Answer. (Dkt. 8.) The Ada County defendants and Meridian City defendants filed Rule 12(b) Motions to Dismiss. (Dkt. 6, 7, 30.) On September 19, 2017, the Court granted in part and denied in part the Ada County defendants' Motions to Dismiss, and granted the Meridian City defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Dkt. 59.) The claim of all plaintiffs were dismissed with the exception of Plaintiffs Drennon and Robert Coy. The year 2018 was dominated by disputes over discovery and access to the courts.

         On January 18, 2019, the Court entered an Amended Case Management Order. (Dkt. 138.) For clarity and case management purposes, the Court severed Plaintiff Drennon's claims from Plaintiff Robert Coy's claims and ordered the Clerk of Court to file Plaintiff Drennon's Amended Complaint in a new action (this action). The Court further ordered Plaintiff Drennon's claims severed into different lawsuits, grouped by related claims and defendants, as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 20. (Id.)

         Pursuant to the Amended Case Management Order, this lawsuit encompasses only those claims in the Amended Complaint that correspond to the same claims in the original Complaint. (Id., p. 11.)

         To the extent that the original Complaint asserted claims against other Defendants that Plaintiff was ordered to, but did not, pursue in new, separate lawsuits, those claims will be dismissed without prejudice. Those claims include the following: (1) the claim that Plaintiff was not provided with proper medical care at ISCI and ISCC during the time period he was detained for the parole violations; (2) the claim that he was not provided with proper medical care at the Ada County Jail; (3) the claim that a state statute violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights; (4) the claim that certain Defendants colluded or conspired to deprive him of his protected rights; (5) all the access to courts and grievance claims against Ada County Defendants; (6) all the access to courts and grievance claims against the ISCC and ISCI, defendants and their attorneys; (7) medical and optical care claims for treatment that occurred since Plaintiff's new convictions; and (8) any ADA/RA claims against the state of Idaho or a state entity. (Id., pp. 12-14.)

         PRELIMINARY MATTERS

         Plaintiff asserts that he informed Defendants' counsel prior to his scheduled deposition that he was “taking several mind altering medications but she [Defendants' counsel] chose to continue with the deposition.” (Dkt. 22-1, p. 4.) Plaintiff says he has very little memory of the deposition, and the deposition should have been halted and rescheduled. This characterization is not reflective of what happened at the deposition:

Q. Are you on any medications or substances that can impair your ability to testify truthfully here today?
A. Maybe, it depends. I take a plethora of medication. Okay? But I intend to be as truthful as possible to what I know. So it's not going to be intentional if it's not.
Q. What medications are you on that may impair your ability to testify truthfully?
A. There is an antidepressant. I don't remember the name of it. It's a new one that they put me on. And then there is the - it's a medication for pain, for neuropathy. It will come to me in a minute. And then there is some blood pressure meds that kind of kept me in a loop, so -- but I should be okay.
Q. Do you have any mental impairments that affect your memory?
A. Mental impairments?
Q. That affect your memory?
A. Other than medication, no.

(Dkt. 13-4, Deposition of Richard Drennon (hereinafter “Depo.”), pp. 5-6.)

         Plaintiff had an opportunity to request a review of the deposition, to make any changes with an explanation for each change, and to sign the deposition. The copy lodged with the Court does not contain a signature or any changes. (Depo., pp. 183-84.) Nothing in the transcript demonstrates that Plaintiff was not able to understand and respond appropriately to the questions posed. The Court will not now entertain Plaintiff's complaints about how his mental or physical infirmities may have affected the deposition. Plaintiff's objections are overruled.

         SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD OF LAW

         Summary judgment is appropriately entered when a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, “there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). “[T]he mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment ....” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). Rather, a case will survive summary judgment only if there is a genuine dispute as to a material fact. Material facts are those “that might affect the outcome of the suit.” Id. at 248.

         If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, then the burden shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine dispute as to any material fact actually does exist. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the non-moving party's position is insufficient. Rather, “there must be evidence on which [a] jury could reasonably find for the [non-moving party].” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. If a party “fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly address another party's assertion of fact, ” the Court may consider that fact to be undisputed. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)(2).

         The Court does not determine the credibility of affiants or weigh the evidence set forth by the parties. Although all reasonable inferences which can be drawn from the evidence must be drawn in a light most favorable to the non-moving party, T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc., 809 F.2d at 630-31, the Court is not required to adopt unreasonable inferences from circumstantial evidence, McLaughlin v. Liu, 849 F.2d 1205, 1208 (9th Cir. 1988).

         Pro se inmates are exempted “from strict compliance with the summary judgment rules, ” but not “from all compliance.” Soto v. Sweetman, 882 F.3d 865, 872 (9th Cir. 2018). In opposing a motion for summary judgment, a pro se inmate must submit at least “some competent evidence, ” such as a “declaration, affidavit, [or] authenticated document, ” to support his allegations or to dispute the moving party's allegations. Id. at 873 (upholding grant of summary judgment against pro se inmate because the “only statements supporting [plaintiff's] ... argument are in his unsworn district court responses to the defendants' motion for summary judgment and to the district court's show-cause order”).

         The content of a verified amended complaint can serve as an affidavit in opposition to a motion for summary judgment to the extent the plaintiff's allegations are based on personal knowledge. See Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 923 (9th Cir. 2004) (allegations in a pro se plaintiff's verified pleadings must be considered as evidence in opposition to summary judgment); Schroeder v. McDonald, 55 F.3d 454, 460 (9th Cir. 1995) (verified complaint may be used as an affidavit opposing summary judgment if it is based on personal knowledge and sets forth specific facts admissible in evidence). However, “if a defendant moving for summary judgment has produced enough evidence to require the plaintiff to go beyond his or her pleadings, the plaintiff must counter by producing evidence of his or her own.” Butler v. San Diego Dist. Attorney's Office, 370 F.3d 956, 965 (9th Cir. 2004).

         In addition, the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA)[1] requires the Court to screen all pro se prisoner pleadings to determine whether they have stated a claim upon which relief can be granted before such complaints are served on the defendants. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 & 1915A. The Court retains screening authority to dismiss claims at any time during the litigation under §1915(e).[2]

         DISCUSSION OF MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT: PART ONE, PLAINTIFF'S TWELVE CLAIMS FOR RELIEF

         1. First Claim for Relief

         Plaintiff alleges that the Idaho parole statutes authorizing his placement in jail pending resolution of his parole violation charge, including Idaho Code § 20-229B, are unconstitutional because they allow parole officers to decide the length of time offending parolees must spend in jail (up to 90 days for a first violation, and up to 180 days for a second) and do not make allowances for disabled parolees to receive “the identical medical treatment Plaintiff received on the street under private care.” (Dkt. 1, p. 16.) Plaintiff was ordered to bring this claim in a separate lawsuit if he desired to pursue it. He did not. This claim is subject to dismissal without prejudice.

         2. Second Claim for Relief

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendants intentionally interfered with his access to courts rights, resulting in the loss of three legal actions and the loss of over $200, 000 in property. Plaintiff was ordered to bring this claim in a separate lawsuit if he desired to pursue it. He did not. This claim is subject to dismissal without prejudice.

         3. Third Claim for Relief

         Plaintiff asserts that Defendants intentionally interfered with his grievances so as to deprive him of a fair and timely grievance process. There is no constitutional right to a prison grievance system. Only if prison officials' action related to a grievance causes a prisoner to lose a cause of action does an access to courts claim lie. As mentioned directly above, Plaintiff was ordered to bring that claim in a separate lawsuit. He did not. The claim in this lawsuit will be dismissed without prejudice.

         4. Fourth Claim for Relief

         Plaintiff alleges that workers in the IDOC mailroom intentionally interfered with Plaintiff's incoming legal mail from Mrs. Drennon and Plaintiff Coy. Only letters to and from attorneys are classified as legal mail, but Plaintiff does have a right to have contact with the outside world, limited by prison security concerns. The Court previously notified Plaintiff that, if he desired to pursue an interference with mail claim, he must do so in a separate lawsuit. He did not do so. The claim in this lawsuit will be dismissed without prejudice.

         5. Fifth Claim for Relief

         Plaintiff alleges that the entity Defendants intentionally deprived him of necessary and adequate medical care, meaning care equal to that which he received from medical providers outside the jail and prison systems. Plaintiff was ordered to bring such a claim in a separate lawsuit. He did not. The claim in this lawsuit will be dismissed without prejudice.

         6. Sixth Claim for Relief

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants deprived him of the “ability to respond to the pleadings filed by all the initial Defendants in this lawsuit… and, as a result of this interference, Plaintiff Drennon was unable to file responses, objections or any form of challenge to these pleadings, and, as a result, the Court issued decisions without Plaintiff Drennon being able to respond.” (Dkt. 1-1, p. 20.) Plaintiff was ordered to bring such a claim in a separate lawsuit. He did not. The claim in this lawsuit will be dismissed without prejudice.

         7. Seventh Claim for Relief

         The seventh cause of action that Defendant “‘Commission of Paraobation [sic] and Parole' violated Plaintiff Drennon's right to a fair and impartial revocation of parole process by allowing a named Defendant, Brood, to engage Plaintiff in a bogus form of parole hearing.” (Dkt. 1-1, p. 47.) Plaintiff has brought forward insufficient evidence to support his allegation that the parole revocation hearing process was bogus. The parole revocation statutes provide that a parole revocation hearing may be conducted by members of the Commission, a member of the Commission, or a designated Parole Hearing Officer, like Brood. See I.C. § 20-229B.

         Regardless, Plaintiff's claims against the Commission are subject to dismissal. The Eleventh Amendment prohibits litigants from bringing suits for monetary damages against state agencies and state officials acting in their official capacity. Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139 (1993). All claims for monetary damages asserted against the state entities-Idaho Board of Correction (IBOC), District Four Parole, and the Idaho Commission of Pardons and Parole-are barred by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. These claims will be dismissed for failure to state a federal claim upon which relief can be granted.

         In addition, Plaintiff asserts that the parole violation charges were based upon “fabricated, falsified” evidence allowed by the Commission to retaliate against Plaintiff for exercising his right to access the courts. This allegation does not implicate the “form” of the hearing, but the basis of the charges.

         Certain types of parole claims may be brought as § 1983 claims; others must be asserted in habeas corpus actions. In Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74 (2005), the Supreme Court held that an inmate may initiate a § 1983 action to seek invalidation of “state procedures used to deny parole eligibility . . . and parole suitability, ” but he may not seek “an injunction ordering his immediate or speedier release into the community.” Id. at 82. In Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 481 (1994), the Court held that a prisoner in state custody cannot use a civil rights action to challenge the fact or duration of his confinement. Id. at 481. In addition, the Dotson Court further clarified that a state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation)-no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit (state conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings)-if success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration. Id. at 81-82.

         Here, if this Court were to decide that Plaintiff's parole revocation and subsequent re-incarceration were based upon fabrication, falsification, and/or retaliation, that decision would call into question the factual grounds for the parole violation and revocation. Despite the way Plaintiff has framed his claim to bypass the Heck bar, Plaintiff's claims are not among those authorized by Dotson - that is, his claims do not seek invalidation of “state procedures used to deny parole eligibility . . . and parole suitability.” Id. at 82 (emphasis added). The Seventh Claim will be dismissed without prejudice.

         8. Eighth Claim for Relief

         Plaintiff says he notified the Ada County [state] Court of his access to the courts issues caused by the interference of Ada County Jail and IDOC personnel, but the Ada County Court did nothing to remedy the problems. Instead, “Plaintiff Drennon was unconstitutionally convicted.” (Dkt. 1-1, p. 48.) If he refers to his parole conviction, the claim must be brought in habeas corpus. Regardless, Plaintiff was ordered to bring this claim in a separate lawsuit if he desired to pursue it. He did not. This claim in this lawsuit will be dismissed without prejudice.

         9. Ninth Claim for Relief

         Plaintiff alleges that IDOC Defendants, counsel, and paralegals engaged in intentional acts to deprive Plaintiff of attending scheduled telephonic hearings in this lawsuit, unnecessarily interfering with Plaintiff's right to access the Court. The Court does not condone any circumstances in which the IDOC failed to ensure that Plaintiff was at the right location at the right time so as to participate telephonically in a scheduled telephone hearing, but in each such case the hearing was either rescheduled or some other accommodation was made to ensure that he suffered no prejudice to his case. There is no showing that he suffered any harm from those instances where the originally scheduled hearing did not go forward because IDOC failed to make certain the Plaintiff was where he needed to be at the time of the telephone hearing. In any event, here also the Court ordered Plaintiff to bring such claims in a separate lawsuit if he desired to pursue them. He did not. This claim will be dismissed without prejudice.

         10. Tenth Claim for Relief

         Plaintiff asserts that the ISCC facility is not ADA or RA compliant. The Court ordered Plaintiff to bring such claims in a separate lawsuit against the state or appropriate state entity if he desired to pursue them. He did not. This claim will be dismissed without prejudice.

         11. Eleventh Claim for Relief

         Plaintiff asserts that the IDOC legal resource centers are inadequate in their coverage of foreclosure laws, causing him to lose investment property of over $200, 000. The right to access the courts right does not cover foreclosures, only actions that challenge convictions and prison conditions civil rights claims. This claim will be dismissed for failure to state a federal claim upon which relief can be granted.

         12. Twelfth Claim for Relief

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants caused him to “suffer from the chill effort resulting in Plaintiff Drennon being fearful of pursuing grievances and other avenues of redress of grievances for fear of being verbally, physically & psychologically injured, due to the lack of adequate medications Plaintiff Drennon received prior to incarceration.” Plaintiff was previously instructed to bring all grievance-related claims in a separate lawsuit. He did not. This claim will be dismissed without prejudice.

         DISCUSSION OF MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT: PART TWO, PLAINTIFF'S UNIDENTIFIED CLAIMS ARISING FROM HIS “SUPPORTING FACTS” ALLEGATIONS IN THE AMENDED COMPLAINT

         If only the twelve “Claims for Relief” set forth in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Dkt. 1) were to be decided, the Court would end its analysis now and dismiss the Amended Complaint. However, the Court has liberally construed the Amended Complaint to contain “claims” that can be extrapolated from the “Supporting Facts” section of the Amended Complaint, supplemented by Plaintiff's explanations he gave in deposition in March 2019.

         1. Absolute Quasi-Judicial Immunity: Actions related to Hearing

         Plaintiff was charged with violating Special Condition #4 of his Parole Agreement, which required that he submit to a polygraph test at the request of treatment providers and/or supervising personnel. On January 20, 2016, Defendant Steve Brood conducted Plaintiff's parole violation hearing. Plaintiff entered a guilty plea.

         Defendant Brood asserts entitlement to absolute quasi-judicial immunity from suit regarding Plaintiff's claims against him. The Ninth Circuit has outlined the absolute immunity analysis to be used for parole board member and parole officer defendants in Swift v. California, 384 F.3d 1184 (9th Cir. 2004):

The Supreme Court has reserved deciding whether members of state parole boards have absolute quasi-judicial immunity for their official actions. Martinez v. California, 444 U.S. 277, 285 n. 11, 100 S.Ct. 553, 62 L.Ed.2d 481 (1980). We have held, however, that parole board members are entitled to absolute immunity when they perform “quasi-judicial” functions. Anderson [v. Boyd], 714 F.2d, 906909-10 (9th Cir. 1983). Thus, parole board officials … are entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity for decisions “to grant, deny, or revoke parole” because these tasks are “functionally comparable” to tasks performed by judges. Sellars, 641 F.2d at 1303; Bermudez v. Duenas, 936 F.2d 1064, 1066 (9th Cir.1991) (holding Sellars immunity encompasses actions “taken when processing parole applications”). Absolute immunity has also been extended to parole officials for the “imposition of parole conditions” and the “execution of parole revocation procedures, ” tasks integrally related to an official's decision to grant or revoke parole. Anderson, 714 F.2d at 909.
We have also explained, however, that parole officials are not “entitled to absolute immunity for conduct not requiring the exercise of quasi-judicial discretion.” Id. “There is no reason to clothe actions taken outside an official's adjudicatory role with the absolute immunity tailored to the demands of that role.” Id. Thus, while parole officials “may claim absolute immunity for those actions relating to their responsibility to determine whether to revoke parole, their immunity for conduct arising from their duty to supervise parolees is qualified.” Id. at 910; see also Sepulveda v. Ramirez, 967 F.2d 1413, 1415-16 (9th Cir. 1992) (holding that a parole officer was not entitled to qualified immunity for depriving a woman of her clearly established due process right to bodily privacy by entering a bathroom stall and watching her urinate). Anderson, therefore, expresses the broad principle that, under a functional analysis, parole officials “may be accorded one degree of immunity for one type of activity and a different degree for a discrete function.” Anderson, 714 F.2d at 910.

Id. at 1188-1189. Swift overruled any prior interpretation of Anderson v. Boyd that the test for absolute immunity is only whether the act “relates to” the decision to grant, deny, or revoke parole. Id. at 1190.

         The Court will now address Plaintiff's claims for which Defendant Brood asserts absolute quasi-judicial immunity.

         A. Conducting a “Bogus Parole Hearing”

         Plaintiff alleges that he was forced to “engage in a bogus parole hearing at the hands of defendant Brood.” (Depo., p. 177.) This claim centers on the procedures and content of the parole hearing, and, thus, even if it was “bogus, ” Brood is entitled to absolute quasi-judicial immunity. Cf. Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d 1072, 1075 (9th Cir. 1986) (Once it is determined that a judge was acting in his judicial capacity, absolute immunity applies, “however erroneous the act may have been, and however injurious in its consequences it may have proved to the plaintiff.”); Moore v. Brewster, 96 F.3d 1240, 1244 (9th Cir. 1996) (superseded on other grounds by California statute) (quoting Ashelman v. Pope, 793 F.2d at 1078) (judicial immunity is not lost “by allegations that a judge conspired with one party to rule against another party: ‘a conspiracy between judge and [a party] to predetermine the outcome of a judicial proceeding, while clearly improper, nevertheless does not pierce the immunity extended to judges.'”). This claim will be dismissed with prejudice.

         B. Failure to Allow Plaintiff to Call Witnesses

         Plaintiff also alleges that “they” (unclear as to the defendants) denied him the right to call witnesses to challenge his accusers. He alleges he asked Brood or another person in authority if he could call certain witnesses, and “they” said no. (Depo., p. 126.) Plaintiff agreed in his deposition that this course of action was not outside the hearing process. Id. Defendant Brood's (or any other Defendant's) responsibilities and acts in deciding which witnesses to allow, weighing evidence, and deciding the merits of the parole violations arise from the quasi-judicial work as a parole hearing officer. These acts are encompassed by absolute quasi-judicial immunity and will be dismissed with prejudice.

         C. Impartial Hearing Officer

         When asked in deposition why Brood was included in the lawsuit, Plaintiff responded, “I think he lacks complete impartiality when it comes to me.” (Depo., p. 36.) Brood's impartiality as the factfinder in this matter is an integral part of the hearing process. While perhaps Plaintiff is skeptical about Brood's impartiality in not permitting Plaintiff to call the witnesses of his choice, both Ashelman v. Pope and Moore v. Brewster hold that a factfinder's impropriety or bad faith is not considered in the analysis-only whether he or she was functioning in a quasi-judicial role. Because a charge of impartiality is aimed at the factfinding in the quasi-judicial hearing at issue, Brood is entitled to absolute immunity. This claim will be dismissed with prejudice.

         D. Denial of Access to Hearing Panel

         Plaintiff alleges that Brood, along with Defendant Vorhes, “deprived [him] of his adequate access to hearing panel that was impartial and would review the records requested for a determination of plaintiff's claims being accurate, in regards to funding the polygraph test.” (Dkt. 125, p. 17.) Plaintiff explained in deposition that he meant he requested to meet with the Parole Board, rather than have a parole hearing officer decide the violation. (Depo., p. 126.)

         Plaintiff has brought forward nothing showing who assigned his case to be heard by Brood instead of by a Commission member or the entire Commission, why he believes he was entitled to go before the Commission rather than a parole hearing officer, and whether Vorhes and Brood had the authority or acted to have Plaintiff appear before Brood rather than the Commission. The governing statute permits a ...


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