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Williams v. Simon

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 30, 2018



          Ann Aiken United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, an inmate at Oregon State Penitentiary, filed suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging numerous violations of his constitutional rights. Defendants now move for summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 on plaintiffs remaining claims.[1] For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion is granted.


         On September 5, 2015, I granted summary judgment on several of plaintiffs claims.[2](ECF No. 135) Defendants now move for summary judgment on plaintiffs remaining claims, as follows: 1) Claim I - conspiracy; 2) Claim IV - disciplinary proceedings conducted in violation of plaintiff s due process and equal protection rights; 3) Claim V - confiscation and censorship of plaintiffs mail in violation of his First Amendment rights; 4) Claim VI - denial of legal envelopes in violation of plaintiff s First Amendment right of access to the courts; and 5) Claim IX - arbitrary transfer to segregated housing in violation of plaintiff s due process rights.

         To prevail on their motion for summary judgment, defendants must show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The court must construe the evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Torres v. City of Madera, 648 F.3d 1119, 1123 (9th Cir. 2011).

         A. Conspiracy

         Plaintiff alleges that Drs. Vargo, Shelton, Hanson; Assistant Attorneys General Aaron Sprague and Andrew Hallman; and U.S. District Judge Simon conspired against him by submitting false declarations and making misrepresentations in a prior lawsuit. Am. Compl. at 7- 11 (ECF No. 55); see Williams v. Or. Dep't Corr., Case No. 3:10-cv-00730-SI. In previous opinions, the Court dismissed all claims against, Sprague, and Hallman, and Judge Simon has not been served. (ECF Nos. 13, 80) Regardless, Judge Simon's actions in a judicial proceeding are entitled to absolute immunity. Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 418 (1976) (stating that the "absolute immunity of judges for 'acts committed within their judicial jurisdiction'" is "preserved under § 1983"). With respect to the remaining defendants, plaintiff alleges that Drs. Vargo, Shelton, and Hanson colluded and intentionally submitted false declarations, which led to the dismissal of plaintiff s claims.

         Defendants argue that plaintiffs conspiracy claim should be dismissed because conspiracy is a state criminal offense and plaintiff has no standing to raise this claim in federal court. Construing plaintiffs claim liberally, I find that plaintiff arguably invokes the federal constitution and alleges conspiracy to violate his civil rights. See 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3). Nonetheless, defendants are entitled to summary judgment.

         In his response, plaintiff simply repeats his allegations regarding Sprague and Hallman and argues that former Governor Kitzhaber was obligated to review his complaints. Pl'.s Reply at 15, 20 (ECF No. 168). I dismissed plaintiffs claims against Sprague, Hallman, and Kitzhaber (ECF No. 80), and plaintiff presents no evidence to support an inference that Drs. Vargo, Shelton, and Hanson conspired to deny him the equal protection of the law. See Addisu v. Fred Meyer, Inc., 198 F.3d 1130, 1141 (9th Cir. 2000) (elements of a § 1985(3) claim are: "(1) the existence of a conspiracy to deprive the plaintiff of the equal protection of the laws; (2) an act in furtherance of the conspiracy; and (3) a resulting injury"). Moreover, Judge Simon addressed plaintiffs allegations in his prior action and found no misrepresentation. Case No. 3:10-cv-00730-SI (ECF No. 166). Accordingly, summary judgment is granted on this claim.

         B. Disciplinary Hearing and Sanctions

         Plaintiff also alleges that a disciplinary proceeding violated his rights to due process and discriminated against him on the basis of his race. Am. Compl. at 15-20.

         On March 14, 2012, plaintiff received a Misconduct Report accusing him of Inmate Assault in the First Degree and Disrespect in the First Degree based on the assault of plaintiffs cellmate. Thornton Decl. at 2 & Att. 2 at 29. On March 20, 2012, Hearings Officer Nancy Thornton conducted a disciplinary hearing and found that plaintiff had committed the charged offenses. Thornton imposed sanctions of 120 days in the Disciplinary Segregation Unit (DSU) with an additional 60 days in the DSU due to the aggravating factor of "persistent involvement in similar misconduct or repetitive assaults." Thornton Decl. Att. 1 at 3. Thornton also imposed a monetary fine, loss of privileges, and restitution for medical expenses.[3] Id. Plaintiff maintains that Thornton did not comply with due process requirements and discriminated against him.

         "Prison disciplinary proceedings are not part of a criminal prosecution, and the full panoply of rights due a defendant in such proceedings does not apply." Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 556 (1974). Instead, due process requirements are met if the inmate receives: 1) advance written notice of the charges and the evidence against him; 2) an opportunity to present documentary evidence and witnesses; 3) legal assistance if the charges are complex or the inmate is illiterate; 4) a written statement describing the reasons for the disciplinary action; and 5) a disciplinary decision supported by "some evidence" in the record. Id. at 563, 566, 570; Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454-55 (1985). Generally, judicial review of a prison disciplinary decision is limited to whether there is a denial of procedural due process or evidence of an arbitrary and capricious action. Hill, 472 U.S. at 454-55; Cato v. Rushen, 824 F.2d 703, 705 (9th Cir. 1987). A court must defer to prison officials' judgments and cannot substitute its view of the facts presented in a prison disciplinary hearing. See Hill, 472 U.S. at 455 (the "some evidence" standard does not "require examination of the entire record, independent assessment of the credibility of witnesses, or weighing of the evidence").

         Plaintiff first argues that he was not given adequate notice of the charges and evidence against him. Plaintiff maintains that the Misconduct Report merely stated that plaintiffs cellmate reported that he fell from his bunk and that correctional officers later found blood on plaintiffs shoes and clothes; plaintiff contends that the evidence presented at the hearing was "totally different." Pl'.s Reply at 8.

         I find that plaintiff received sufficient notice of the charges against him. Plaintiff received the Misconduct Report more than twenty-four hours prior to his hearing. The report stated that plaintiffs cellmate "looked as he had been hit numerous times in the face" and referenced the blood found in the cell and on plaintiffs clothing and shoes. Thornton Decl. Att. 2 at 29. Granted, plaintiff apparently learned that he was accused of committing the assault because of his cellmate's Muslim practices on the day of the disciplinary hearing. Id. Att. 1 at 20, Att. 2 at 16; Pl'.s Ex. 15 (ECF No. 168-1). However, I find that the Misconduct Report sufficiently notified plaintiff of the charges and the physical evidence against him. Moreover, by plaintiffs own admission, he challenged his cellmate's version of events, suggested that his cellmate took drugs, provided an alternative explanation for his cellmate's injuries, and described his own long-standing Muslim faith.

         Plaintiff next argues that Thornton's decision was not supported by reliable evidence. As noted above, "the requirements of due process are satisfied if some evidence supports the decision" of prison officials. Hill, 472 U.S. at 455 (emphasis added). Here, Thornton noted the blood found on plaintiffs clothing and shoes, blood found in the cell, and the injuries to plaintiffs cellmate. Thornton Decl. Att. 1 at 2-3. While plaintiff takes issue with Thornton's interpretation of the evidence, the only question before this court is whether "some evidence" supported her decision. This "standard is 'minimally stringent' only requiring 'any evidence in the record that could support'" the disciplinary decision. Cato, 824 F.2d at 705 (quoting Hill, ...

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