United States District Court, D. Nevada
GLORIA M. NAVARRO, Chief District Judge.
Pending before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 20) filed by Defendants Brian Williams, Francis Dreesen, Rashonda Smith, and Tiffany Garnett (collectively "Defendants") on June 9, 2014. Plaintiff Robert Holmes, III ("Plaintiff"), who is proceeding pro se, filed an untimely Response to the Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 35) on September 10, 2014. Plaintiff also improperly filed a second copy of his Response as a Motion to Dismiss the Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 36) that same day. Subsequently, on September 29, 2014, Defendants filed a Reply to the Response (ECF No. 37) and a Response to the Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 38).
For the reasons discussed below, the Court Grants Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment and Denies Plaintiff's Motion to Dismiss.
According to the operable First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 13), Plaintiff was an inmate at Southern Desert Correctional Center ("SDCC") between July 13, 2011 and July 3, 2013, the time period relevant to this action. (Am. Compl. at 1, 4-6, ECF No. 13). Plaintiff initiated the present action on July 7, 2013, seeking to bring claims against SDCC and several individuals employed at SDCC in their official and individual capacities. (App. to Proceed in Forma Pauperis, ECF No. 1). Following a Screening Order dismissing with prejudice Plaintiff's claims against SDCC and all the individual defendants in their official capacity, Plaintiff's remaining claims against the individual defendants relate to alleged violations of his First Amendment Right to Receive Mail and Access the Courts (Counts I-IV) and an allegation of First Amendment Retaliation (Count V). (Screening Order, ECF No. 16; Am. Compl., ECF No. 13).
Under Count I, Plaintiff alleges that on July 13, 2011, he received mail from the law library at SDCC that included an order to show cause from the Nevada Supreme Court, which was post-marked June 22, 2011. (Am. Compl. at 4-5, 7-11, ECF No. 13). Plaintiff alleges that because his mail was withheld by prison officials until July 13, 2011, he was unable to respond to the order to show cause and his appeal was dismissed, resulting in the loss of property. ( Id. ). Under Count II, Plaintiff alleges that on July 19, 2011, he received mail from the Nevada Supreme Court, which was post-marked July 6, 2011. ( Id. at 5, 12-14). Plaintiff does not allege any harm that occurred from this delay. ( Id. ). Under Count III, Plaintiff alleges that on June 4, 2013, he received three pieces of legal mail that were post-marked between May 22, 2013 and May 29, 2014. ( Id. at 6, 15-16). Due to this delay, Plaintiff contends his fourteen-day period to file a motion for rehearing had run. ( Id. ). Under Count IV, Plaintiff alleges that on April 25, 2013, he received an opposition to his motion for summary judgment in a breach of contract case that was post-marked April 15, 2013. ( Id. at 6, 17-18). He contends that the SDCC withheld his mail for over ten days, thereby prejudicing his ability to timely reply and defend his claim. ( Id. ). Finally, under Count V, Plaintiff contends that Defendant Smith violated his right of access to the Courts by denying two of his requests to use the prison law library in retaliation for his filing of prior grievances against SDCC employees for withholding his mail. ( Id. at 6, 19-20).
II. LEGAL STANDARD
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide for summary adjudication when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that "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). Material facts are those that may affect the outcome of the case. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A dispute as to a material fact is genuine if there is sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party. See id. "Summary judgment is inappropriate if reasonable jurors, drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor." Diaz v. Eagle Produce Ltd. P'ship, 521 F.3d 1201, 1207 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing United States v. Shumway, 199 F.3d 1093, 1103-04 (9th Cir. 1999)). A principal purpose of summary judgment is "to isolate and dispose of factually unsupported claims." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-24 (1986).
In determining summary judgment, a court applies a burden-shifting analysis. "When the party moving for summary judgment would bear the burden of proof at trial, it must come forward with evidence which would entitle it to a directed verdict if the evidence went uncontroverted at trial. In such a case, the moving party has the initial burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of fact on each issue material to its case." C.A.R. Transp. Brokerage Co. v. Darden Rests., Inc., 213 F.3d 474, 480 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted). In contrast, when the nonmoving party bears the burden of proving the claim or defense, the moving party can meet its burden in two ways: (1) by presenting evidence to negate an essential element of the nonmoving party's case; or (2) by demonstrating that the nonmoving party failed to make a showing sufficient to establish an element essential to that party's case on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323-24. If the moving party fails to meet its initial burden, summary judgment must be denied and the court need not consider the nonmoving party's evidence. See Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 159-60 (1970).
If the moving party satisfies its initial burden, the burden then shifts to the opposing party to establish that a genuine issue of material fact exists. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). To establish the existence of a factual dispute, the opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor. It is sufficient that "the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." T.W. Elec. Serv., Inc. v. P. Elec. Contractors Ass'n, 809 F.2d 626, 631 (9th Cir. 1987). In other words, the nonmoving party cannot avoid summary judgment by relying solely on conclusory allegations that are unsupported by factual data. See Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). Instead, the opposition must go beyond the assertions and allegations of the pleadings and set forth specific facts by producing competent evidence that shows a genuine issue for trial. See Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324.
At summary judgment, a court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. The evidence of the nonmovant is "to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255. But if the evidence of the nonmoving party is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. See id. at 249-50.
A. First Amendment Right to Access the Courts and Mail
Prisoners have a constitutional right of access to the courts. See Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 346 (1996). However, to establish a violation of this right, a prisoner must show that he or she has suffered an "actual injury, " which is defined as "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 348-49; see also Alvarez v. Hill, 518 F.3d 1152, 1155 n.1 (9th Cir. 2008) (explaining that failure to show that a non-frivolous legal claim has been frustrated is fatal to a claim for denial of access to legal materials). Additionally, the right of access to the courts is only a right to bring complaints to the federal court and not a right to discover such claims or to litigate them effectively once filed with a court. Lewis, 518 U.S. at 354. Moreover, the right of access to the courts is limited to non-frivolous direct criminal appeals, habeas corpus proceedings, ...