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Bradley v. Nooth

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 27, 2018

MARK NOOTH, et al., Defendants.



         United States Magistrate Judge Paul Papak issued Findings and Recommendation in this case on December 12, 2017. ECF 58. Judge Papak recommended that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment be denied and Defendants' motion for summary judgment be granted.

         Under the Federal Magistrates Act (“Act”), the Court may “accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). If a party files objections to a magistrate's findings and recommendations, “the court shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).

         For those portions of a magistrate's findings and recommendations to which neither party has objected, the Act does not prescribe any standard of review. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 152 (1985) (“There is no indication that Congress, in enacting [the Act], intended to require a district judge to review a magistrate's report to which no objections are filed.”); United States. v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (holding that the court must review de novo magistrate's findings and recommendations if objection is made, “but not otherwise”). Although in the absence of objections no review is required, the Act “does not preclude further review by the district judge[] sua sponte . . . under a de novo or any other standard.” Thomas, 474 U.S. at 154. Indeed, the Advisory Committee Notes to Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b) recommend that “[w]hen no timely objection is filed, ” the Court review the magistrate's recommendations for “clear error on the face of the record.”

         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, timely filed an objection (ECF 61). Plaintiff objects to all of the findings and conclusions in the Findings and Recommendations. Accordingly, the Court reviews the pending motions de novo.


         Plaintiff Ronald E. Bradley originally brought pro se a claim against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting that Defendants violated Plaintiff's due process rights. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants deprived Plaintiff of his personal property without proper process by considering Plaintiff's move from Snake River Correctional Institution (“SRCI”) to county jail after Plaintiff had obtained a partial remand from the appeal of his original criminal conviction to be a “transfer” instead of a “transport.” As a result, after Plaintiff left SRCI in January 2013, his property was disposed of under Oregon Administrative Rule 291-117-0110(6) (the “Transfer Rule”) instead of Rule 291-117-0120(6) (the “Transport Rule”). Plaintiff's property was shipped to his mother's residence and when Plaintiff was moved back to SRCI in December 2013, he no longer had access to his property. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants acted with disregard in interpreting and applying the Oregon Administrative Rules for handling personal property with respect to inmate transfers and transports.

         Plaintiff further alleged that upon his return to SRCI, he filed grievances relating to his property. He then filed a small claims action in state court. Although the state court judge ruled in favor of SRCI, the state court judge noted that the Transport Rule (under which property is stored) had been poorly written.

         On July 28, 2016, the Court sua sponte dismissed Plaintiff's claims. ECF 6. The Court dismissed Plaintiff's claims for two reasons. First, because Plaintiff had already unsuccessfully adjudicated his loss of personal property in an Oregon small claims action, Plaintiff could not challenge in federal court the unfavorable decision by the small claims court. Second, the Court found that because the Oregon Tort Claims Act provides an adequate postdeprivation process and remedy, the alleged lack of predeprivation process was not actionable under Section 1983.

         On August 25, 2016, Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(a). ECF 8. Plaintiff again noted that the small claims judge had commented that the rule was poorly written. Plaintiff questioned the adequacy of the postdeprivation remedy provided by the Oregon Administrative Rules. Construing Plaintiff's motion liberally, the Court interpreted the motion to clarify the claim Plaintiff intended to allege in his complaint. Based on this construction, the Court understood Plaintiff to be alleging that Defendants followed their usual administrative practice in disposing of Plaintiff's property without predeprivation process and that Plaintiff sought injunctive relief to require that Defendants' administrative process for disposing of inmate property when “transferring” or “transporting” inmates comply with due process requirements. The Court granted Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration, finding that as so clarified, Plaintiff was alleging that the disposition of Plaintiff's property was not a “random and unauthorized” deprivation of property such that postdeprivation process would suffice but was instead alleging deprivation of property from an administrative process that did not provide adequate process. Under this type of alleged conduct, postdeprivation remedies could not save an otherwise unconstitutional act. See Quick v. Jones, 754 F.2d 1521, 1524 (9th Cir. 1985) (noting that when “the prison officials' actions followed an administrative process” that did not provide adequate process, it is “not the kind of ‘random and unauthorized conduct' at issue in Parratt and Hudson, and therefore, unlike in those two cases . . . the state could have provided predeprivation processes”); see also Zimmerman v. City of Oakland, 255 F.3d 734, 738 (9th Cir. 2001) (“But the [Supreme] Court made it clear that the holdings in both cases [Parratt and Hudson] were restricted to cases in which prison officials acted in random, unpredictable, and unauthorized ways. The Court stated explicitly that postdeprivation remedies could not save an otherwise unconstitutional act from unconstitutionality in cases in which the state officer acted pursuant to some established procedure.”).

         The Court further held that although the availability of a postdeprivation remedy may not be dispositive of Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief regarding the alleged unconstitutional administrative process, Plaintiff would have standing to bring such a claim only if he could demonstrate a realistic threat of repeated future injury. The Court noted that it appears that the only way to demonstrate such a threat in this case would be for Plaintiff to allege that he is likely to win another appeal and again be transferred to county jail, which the Court found to be unlikely. Nonetheless, because it was not absolutely clear that Plaintiff could not allege sufficient facts to establish standing, the Court allowed Plaintiff to replead this claim.

         With respect to Plaintiff's claim for money damages, however, the Court reaffirmed its previous holding that this claim was fully and finally litigated in small claims court and that Plaintiff was thus precluded from adjudicating that claim in federal court. The Court thus declined to reconsider its dismissal of Plaintiff's claim for money damages with prejudice.

         Plaintiff then filed his First Amended Complaint. In this complaint, similar to Plaintiff's original complaint, it is not clear that Plaintiff is alleging an administrative process that violates inmates' constitutional rights. Plaintiff's claim for relief alleged in his amended complaint is that the named defendants acted with disregard to the proper interpretation and application of the administrative procedures adopted in relation to the disposition of inmate property. This mirrors what Plaintiff had alleged in his original complaint, which is the claim the Court had originally interpreted as a claim for a random and unauthorized deprivation of property rather than a claim of a constitutionally-deficient administrative process.

         Plaintiff added allegations, however, relating to how he is facing repeated threat of future injury. Plaintiff alleges that he filed another appeal, the second appeal was granted, he will thus be “going back to Washington County jail” for further court proceedings, and his personal property will again have to be disposed of in some manner. Plaintiff alleges that he therefore faces a threat of repeated harm that is not conjectural or hypothetical.

         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Plaintiff lacks standing; that he fails to state a claim because there is an adequate postdeprivation remedy; that even if Plaintiff does challenge Oregon's administrative system, the Oregon Administrative Rules at issue are constitutional and comport with due process; that Plaintiff fails to state a claim against Defendants in their personal capacity because injunctive and declaratory relief cannot be sought against them in that capacity; and that Defendants are protected by qualified immunity when sued in their official capacity. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on his due process claim.


         A. Article III Standing

         The U.S. Constitution confers limited authority on the federal courts to hear only active cases or controversies brought with standing. See Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1546-47 (2016); Already, LLC v. Nike, Inc., 133 S.Ct. 721, 726 (2013). Standing “limits the category of litigants empowered to maintain a lawsuit in federal court to seek redress for a legal wrong.” Spokeo, 136 S.Ct. at 1547.

         To have standing, a plaintiff must have a “personal interest . . . at the commencement of the litigation.” Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envtl. Servs. (TOC), Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 189 (2000). The constitutionally required personal interest must satisfy three elements: (1) an injury-in-fact, i.e., an invasion of a legally protected interest that is concrete and particularized, as well as actual or imminent; (2) a causal connection between the injury-in-fact and the defendant's challenged behavior; and (3) likelihood that the injury-in-fact will be redressed by a favorable ruling. Id. at 180-81, 189; see also Spokeo, 136 S.Ct. at 1547 (reiterating that the “irreducible constitutional minimum” of standing consists of “an injury in fact . . . fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and . . . likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision”).

         An injury is “particularized” if it “affect[s] the plaintiff in a personal and individual way.” Spokeo, 136 S.Ct. at 1548 (quoting Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560 n.1 (1992)). An injury is “concrete” if it is “‘de facto'; that is, it must actually exist, ” meaning that it is “‘real' and not ‘abstract.'” Id. “‘Concrete' is not, however, necessarily synonymous with ‘tangible.' Although tangible injuries are perhaps easier to recognize, [the Supreme Court has] confirmed in many . . . previous cases that intangible injuries can nevertheless be concrete.” Id. at 1549.

         B. Mootness

         A federal court does not have jurisdiction “to give opinions upon moot questions or abstract propositions, or to declare principles or rules of law which cannot affect the matter in issue in the case before it.” Church of Scientology of Cal. v. United States, 506 U.S. 9, 12 (1992) (quoting Mills v. Green, 159 U.S. 651, 653 (1895)). “A claim is moot if it has lost its character as a present, live controversy.” Rosemere Neighborhood Ass'n v. U.S. Envtl. Prot. Agency, 581 F.3d 1169, 1172-73 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Am. Rivers v. Nat'l Marine Fisheries Serv., 126 F.3d 1118, 1123 (9th Cir. 1997)). To determine mootness, “the question is not whether the precise relief sought at the time the application for an injunction was filed is still available. The question is whether there can be any effective relief.” Nw. Envtl. Def. Ctr. v. Gordon, 849 F.2d 1241, 1244-45 (9th Cir. 1988) (quoting Garcia v. Lawn, 805 F.2d 1400, 1403 (9th Cir. 1986)) (emphasis in original). If a course of action is mostly completed but modifications can be made that could alleviate the harm suffered by the plaintiff's injury, the issue is not moot. Tyler v. Cuomo, 236 F.3d 1124, 1137 (9th Cir. 2000). A case becomes moot “only when it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party.” Chafin v. Chafin, 133 S.Ct. 1017, 1023 (2013) (emphasis added) (citation omitted). The party alleging mootness bears a “heavy burden” to establish that a court can provide no effective relief. Karuk Tribe of Cal. v. U.S. Forest Serv., 681 F.3d 1006, 1017 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Forest Guardians v. Johanns, 450 F.3d 455, 461 (9th Cir. 2006)).

         “Standing and mootness are similar doctrines: Both require some sort of interest in the case, and both go to whether there is a case or controversy under Article III.” Jackson v. Cal. Dept. of Mental Health, 399 F.3d 1069, 1072 (9th Cir. 2005). The doctrines, however, have important differences-standing doctrine ensures that scarce judicial resources are devoted to disputes in which the parties have a concrete stake, and “[m]ootness issues arise later in the case, when the federal courts are already involved and resources have already been devoted to the dispute.” Id. at 1072-73. That is why the Supreme Court recognizes exceptions to mootness that are not allowed as exceptions to standing, such as the exceptions for “voluntary cessation” and “capable of repetition, yet evading review.” See Laidlaw, 528 U.S. at 189-90.

         C. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

         A motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim may be granted only when there is no cognizable legal theory to support the claim or when the complaint lacks sufficient factual allegations to state a facially plausible claim for relief. Shroyer v. New Cingular Wireless Servs., Inc., 622 F.3d 1035, 1041 (9th Cir. 2010). In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint's factual allegations, the court must accept as true all well-pleaded material facts alleged in the complaint and construe them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Wilson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., 668 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir. 2012); Daniels-Hall v. Nat'l Educ. Ass'n, 629 F.3d 992, 998 (9th Cir. 2010). To be entitled to a presumption of truth, allegations in a complaint “may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011). All reasonable inferences from the factual allegations must be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. Newcal Indus. v. Ikon Office Solution, 513 F.3d 1038, 1043 n.2 (9th Cir. 2008). The court need not, however, credit the plaintiff's legal conclusions that are couched as factual allegations. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009).

         A complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations to “plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and continued litigation.” Starr, 652 F.3d at 1216. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)).

         A court must liberally construe the filings of a pro se plaintiff and afford the plaintiff the benefit of any reasonable doubt. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). “‘Unless it is absolutely clear that no amendment can cure the defect, . . . a pro se litigant is entitled to notice of the complaint's deficiencies and an opportunity to amend prior to dismissal of the action.'” Garity v. APWU Nat'l Labor Org., 828 F.3d 848, 854 (9th Cir. 2016) (alteration in original) (quoting Lucas v. Dep't of Corrections, 66 F.3d 245, 248 (9th Cir. 1995) (per curiam)). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), however, every complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” This standard “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations, '” but does demand “more than an unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         D. Summary Judgment

         A party is entitled to summary judgment if the “movant shows 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). The moving party has the burden of establishing the absence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant and draw all reasonable inferences in the non-movant's favor. Clicks Billiards Inc. v. Sixshooters Inc., 251 F.3d 1252, 1257 (9th Cir. 2001). Although “[c]redibility determinations, the weighing of the evidence, and the drawing of legitimate inferences from the facts are jury functions, not those of a judge . . . ruling on a motion for summary judgment, ” the “mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff's position [is] insufficient . . . .” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 252, 255 (1986). “Where ...

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