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Gonzales v. California Department of Corrections

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

January 15, 2014

Ricky GONZALES, Plaintiff-Appellant,

Argued and Submitted Nov. 5, 2013.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Ryan S. Killian (Certified Law Student) and Zach Tafoya (Certified Law Student), Pepperdine University School of Law Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinc, Malibu, CA, argued the cause and Jeremy B. Rosen, Horvitz & Levy LLP, Encino, CA, filed the briefs for the Plaintiff-Appellant.

Kenneth T. Roost, Deputy Attorney General, San Francisco, CA, argued the cause and filed the brief for the Defendant-Appellee. With him on brief were Kamala D. Harris, Attorney General of California, Jonathan L. Wolff, Senior Assistant Attorney General, and Thomas S. Patterson, Supervising Deputy Attorney General, San Francisco, CA.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of California, Susan Illston, Senior District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. 3:10-cv-01317-SI.



O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judge:

We must decide whether a state court decision on a California prisoner's habeas corpus petition precludes any claims he might have under federal law.



Ricky Gonzales has been in custody of the California Department of Corrections at Pelican Bay State Prison since 2004, when he was found guilty of two counts of attempted murder and assault with a semi-automatic firearm, and given an enhanced sentence for discharge of the firearm and possession of a firearm by a gang member. In January 2007, Gonzales was moved from the general population into administrative segregation and the Institutional Gang Investigators (" IGI" ) began an inquiry into his possible gang affiliation.

In early May, IGI presented Gonzales with four pieces of evidence indicating his affiliation with the Northern Structure prison gang. First, during a search of his cell, prison staff found a typed letter dated April 5, 2007, identifying other validated gang members at Pelican Bay and informing him of gang activity at other prisons. Two other letters, both dated March 28, 2007, also related to gang activity and were used to corroborate the April letter.

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Second, prison staff found two pieces of artwork depicting the " Huelga Bird," a symbol associated with Northern Structure. One of the pieces of artwork came from the magazine Lowrider.

Third, prison staff discovered an address card containing the name and contact information of Jeremy Louden, an inmate at Pelican Bay who had been validated as a member of Northern Structure. Gonzales asserts that he and Louden were former cellmates and communicated " strictly for the purpose of assisting ... with legal aid." According to CDC, the card not only demonstrated Gonzales's ability to communicate with a gang member, but also could be used as a token to enhance Gonzales's reputation within the gang.

Fourth, a confidential memorandum from an informant indicated that Gonzales had " intimate knowledge" of assaults planned within the prison by Northern Structure. This final piece of evidence was determined not to meet departmental standards because the informant had not specifically identified Gonzales as a member of the gang.

Gonzales disputed each piece of evidence. IGI sent a validation package containing the evidence and Gonzales's response to the Office of Correctional Safety, which validated Gonzales as a member of Northern Structure. Because he had " proven a threat to the security of the institution by his association with a prison gang engaged in a criminal conspiracy against the safety of others," Gonzales was transferred to the Secured Housing Unit (" SITU" ) for an indeterminate term.


After exhausting all administrative remedies, Gonzales filed a state habeas petition challenging the evidentiary basis for his confinement in the SITU and seeking release from such confinement. After ordering and receiving a response from the state, the Superior Court denied the petition. It concluded that the source documents constituted " some evidence" that Gonzales was a gang associate, which was sufficient for due process purposes, see Toussaint v. McCarthy, 801 F.2d 1080, 1105 (9th Cir.1986), and that the documents constituted three independent sources indicative of association with a validated gang member or associates as required by 15 California Code of Regulations § 3378(c)(4). Subsequently, the California Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District and the Supreme Court of California rejected his appeals.


On March 29, 2010, Gonzales filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the district court. His complaint asserted twenty causes of action, which include: (1) the gang validation violated his rights to free speech and association under the First Amendment; (2) the validation regulations were applied in a racially discriminatory manner; (3) he was classified as a gang member as retaliation for refusing to waive his right to medical treatment; (4) his validation based on documents that did not constitute " some evidence" violated his due process rights; and (5) the prison's debriefing [1] procedures violated the Eighth Amendment.

Before the complaint was answered, the district court ordered Gonzales to show cause why his complaint should not be dismissed as barred by claim or issue preclusion and to file copies of both his state habeas petition and the Superior Court's disposition. After receiving such filings,

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the district court concluded that Gonzales's § 1983 action was barred by claim preclusion.[2] The court also denied Gonzales's request, conditioned on his complaint surviving the show cause order, to amend his complaint to add an Eighth ...

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