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Reed v. Nevada Department of Corrections

United States District Court, District of Nevada

December 3, 2014

MAX REED, II, Plaintiff,
v.
NEVADA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

MIRANDA M. DU UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

Plaintiff, who is a prisoner in the custody of the Nevada Department of Corrections (“NDOC”), has submitted a motion requesting leave to file a first amended complaint, a proposed amended complaint, and a motion for reconsideration. (Dkt. no. 26, 26-1, 27.) In a previous order, this Court granted Plaintiff’s application to proceed in forma pauperis and served a copy of Plaintiff’s original complaint upon the Office of the Attorney General. Defendants have not responded to the original complaint. The Court now screens Plaintiff’s amended civil rights complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

I. SCREENING STANDARD

Federal courts must conduct a preliminary screening in any case in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). In its review, the court must identify any cognizable claims and dismiss any claims that are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted or seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2). Pro se pleadings, however, must be liberally construed. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

In addition to the screening requirements under § 1915A, pursuant to the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), a federal court must dismiss a prisoner’s claim, if “the allegation of poverty is untrue, ” or if the action “is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted is provided for in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and the court applies the same standard under § 1915 when reviewing the adequacy of a complaint or an amended complaint. When a court dismisses a complaint under § 1915(e), the plaintiff should be given leave to amend the complaint with directions as to curing its deficiencies, unless it is clear from the face of the complaint that the deficiencies could not be cured by amendment. See Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995).

Review under Rule 12(b)(6) is essentially a ruling on a question of law. See Chappel v. Lab. Corp. of America, 232 F.3d 719, 723 (9th Cir. 2000). Dismissal for failure to state a claim is proper only if it is clear that the plaintiff cannot prove any set of facts in support of the claim that would entitle him or her to relief. See Morley v. Walker, 175 F.3d 756, 759 (9th Cir. 1999). In making this determination, the court takes as true all allegations of material fact stated in the complaint, and the court construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Warshaw v. Xoma Corp., 74 F.3d 955, 957 (9th Cir. 1996). Allegations of a pro se complainant are held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. See Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980). While the standard under Rule 12(b)(6) does not require detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff must provide more than mere labels and conclusions. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action is insufficient. Id.

Additionally, a reviewing court should “begin by identifying pleadings [allegations] that, because they are no more than mere conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported with factual allegations.” Id. “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

Finally, all or part of a complaint filed by a prisoner may therefore be dismissed sua sponte if the prisoner’s claims lack an arguable basis either in law or in fact. This includes claims based on legal conclusions that are untenable (e.g., claims against defendants who are immune from suit or claims of infringement of a legal interest which clearly does not exist), as well as claims based on fanciful factual allegations (e.g., fantastic or delusional scenarios). See Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989); see also McKeever v. Block, 932 F.2d 795, 798 (9th Cir. 1991).

II. SCREENING OF AMENDED COMPLAINT[1]

In the amended complaint, Plaintiff sues multiple defendants for events that took place while Plaintiff was incarcerated at Ely State Prison (“ESP”) and Northern Nevada Correctional Center (“NNCC”). (Dkt. no. 26-1 at 1, 6.) Plaintiff sues Defendants NDOC Director James Cox, ESP Warden Renee Baker, ESP Associate Warden Adam Watson, ESP Associate Warden Mike Byrnes, ESP Caseworker Travis, ESP Correctional Officer G. Luce, ESP Caseworker Healer, ESP Accounting Staff Isbah, ESP Correctional Officer Wagner, NNCC Associate Warden Lisa Walsh, NNCC Correctional Officer Webb, NNCC Correctional Officer Kraskey, NNCC Correctional Officer Wilson, OMD Staff Rex Reed, and John Does. (Id. at 2-8.) Plaintiff alleges six counts and seeks monetary damages, injunctive relief, and declaratory relief. (Id. at 25, 33.)

A. Count I

In Count I, Plaintiff alleges the following: Cox, Baker, Byrnes, Watson, Travis, and Healer violated Plaintiff’s right to access the courts because they have failed to respond to Plaintiff’s grievances and to court orders demanding Plaintiff’s access to his “media” discovery evidence, i.e. DVDs, VHS tapes, CD-ROMs, and cassettes. (Dkt. no. 26-1 at 10.) Plaintiff’s inability to access his evidence prevented him from attacking his conviction on direct appeal as a pro se litigant because he could not support his grounds. (Id.) Plaintiff was prejudiced because he could not review his transcripts on the disc his appointed appeal counsel provided him. (Id.) ESP staff also confiscated three of Plaintiff’s legal boxes which contained hard copies of Plaintiff’s transcripts and his work product from his criminal trial and civil case no. 3:11-cv-66-HDM-WGC. (Id.) These actions together completely inhibited Plaintiff’s ability to present, litigate, challenge/ attack his conviction on direct appeal, post-conviction writ of habeas corpus, and his civil case. (Id.)

Cox knew about Plaintiff’s media files as early as June 2011. (Id. at 11.) Baker knew that Plaintiff had no access to review or prepare his discovery and failed to correct this error. (Id.) Baker arbitrarily gave some inmates access to laptops for the purpose of reviewing their media evidence and had authorized those inmates to use the single holding cubes with the supervision of CERT officers. (Id.) However, since December 2012, Baker has denied Plaintiff access to his evidence. (Id.) Byrnes knew about Plaintiff’s inability to access his evidence and failed to correct the violation. (Id.) Watson, Travis, and Healer all knew about Plaintiff’s need to access his evidence. (Id. at 12.)

On February 6, 2014, Luce confiscated four of Plaintiff’s legal boxes which contained transcripts and work product needed to litigate Plaintiff’s direct appeal, post- conviction petition, and civil rights appeal. (Id.) Plaintiff’s legal boxes remain confiscated. (Id.) Wagner was present when Luce confiscated Plaintiff’s materials. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment violations. (Id. at 9.)

The Court interprets this count as a claim for denial of access to the courts. Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 346 (1996). This right “requires prison authorities to assist inmates in the preparation and filing of meaningful legal papers by providing prisoners with adequate law libraries or adequate assistance from persons trained in the law.” Bounds v. Smith, 430 U.S. 817, 828 (1977). This right, however, “guarantees no particular methodology but rather the conferral of a capability ― the capability of bringing contemplated challenges to sentences or conditions of confinement before the courts.” Lewis, 518 U.S. at 356. It is this “capability, rather than the capability of turning pages in a law library, that is the touchstone” of the right of access to the courts. Id. at 356-57.

To establish a violation of the right of access to the courts, a prisoner must establish that he or she has suffered an actual injury, a jurisdictional requirement that flows from the standing doctrine and may not be waived. Id. at 349. An “actual injury” is “actual prejudice with respect to contemplated or existing litigation, such as the inability to meet a filing deadline or to present a claim.” Id. at 348. Delays in providing legal materials or assistance that result in actual injury are “not of constitutional significance” if “they are the product of prison regulations reasonably related to legitimate penological interests.” ...


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