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Higdon v. Ryan

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

June 26, 2013

David A. Higdon, Plaintiff,
Charles L. Ryan, et al., Defendants.


DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

Plaintiff David A. Higdon, who is currently confined in the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis Rast Unit in Buckeye, Arizona, filed a complaint in Maricopa County Superior Court, matter No. CV2012-018711. In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserted violations of his constitutional rights (Doc. 1-2, Ex. C, Attach. 1 at 10) ("Compl."). Plaintiff sued six Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) officials: Director Charles Ryan, General Counsel Karen Klausner, Deputy Warden Dorsey, Captain Summers, Sergeant Trujillo, and Correctional Officer II Stapleton (id. at 2). Defendant Ryan timely removed the case to federal court based on federal question subject matter jurisdiction on March 7, 2013.[1]

The Complaint facially supports that subject matter jurisdiction is proper in federal court and that the case was timely removed. 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b). The Court will dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint and this action.

I. Statutory Screening of Prisoner Complaints

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or an employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), (e)(2). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if a plaintiff has raised claims that are legally frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1), (2).

A pleading must contain a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) (emphasis added). While Rule 8 does not demand detailed factual allegations, "it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id.

"[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Id . (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A claim is plausible "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." 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. at 1950. Thus, although a plaintiff's specific factual allegations may be consistent with a constitutional claim, a court must assess whether there are other "more likely explanations" for a defendant's conduct. Id. at 1951.

But as the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has instructed, courts must "continue to construe pro se filings liberally." Hebbe v. Pliler , 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). A "complaint [filed by a pro se prisoner] must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Id . (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) ( per curiam )).

II. Complaint

Plaintiff alleges violations of his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights (Compl. at 10). He presents the following facts: on December 4, 2011, Plaintiff received a visit from his wife, father, and three children, which was supervised by Stapleton (id. at 3). While standing in the outside visitation area, Plaintiff was holding his six-month-old baby while his wife stood next to him. Plaintiff's father and other two children (ages six and seven) were standing in front of Plaintiff. Plaintiff and his visitors were in direct view of a video surveillance camera as well as other visitors and inmates (id.).

At approximately 11:50 a.m., Stapleton came outside and ordered Plaintiff and his family to come inside. Stapleton informed them that their visit was terminated but she would not explain why (id. at 3-4). Before exiting the unit, CO Card detained Plaintiff's wife for approximately 15 minutes and repeatedly asked her to "just admit what she'd done wrong and that way it would go easier on her" (id. at 4).

On December 5 at 10:00 a.m., Trujillo delivered to Plaintiff a misconduct report for Sexual Abuse (id.). Trujillo explained that Stapleton reported that she observed Plaintiff's erect penis being manually manipulated by Plaintiff's wife while they were standing outside. Plaintiff told Trujillo that there were numerous witnesses who could controvert Stapleton's allegations and that the videotape surveillance would similarly disprove the allegations. Trujillo gave Plaintiff two witness statement forms, one for Stapleton and one for inmate Tony Brown and informed Plaintiff that he (Trujillo) would investigate the incident thoroughly and refer the case to a Disciplinary Hearing Officer (id. at 4-5). Plaintiff contacted his wife later that day, explaining the situation. She, in turn, contacted CIU Officer Williams and informed him of the incident and the falsity of the allegations. She asked Williams to review the videotape evidence and to help exonerate Plaintiff (id. at 5).

At 7:30 a.m. on December 7, Plaintiff was directed to turn in his witness statement forms; Plaintiff complied at 8:00 a.m. Summers conducted Plaintiff's disciplinary hearing at 12:00 p.m. on December 7 (id. at 5-6). Summers denied Plaintiff the right to present witnesses, was not given 48 hours to prepare for the hearing, and known witnesses were not called or interviewed. Trujillo failed to conduct a minimal investigation by not contacting known civilian and inmates witnesses and by failing to review the video surveillance evidence. Plaintiff also learned that Stapleton had the misconduct report returned to her three times for rewriting and/or to change details contained therein (id. at 6).

Plaintiff was found guilty of Sexual Abuse and lost 90 days Earned Release Credits (id. at 6-7). Plaintiff also was sanctioned to 30 days in Parole Class III, which deprived him of the right to earn release credits, visitation, and all other privileges (id. at 7). Plaintiff appealed the disciplinary charge through two levels of appeal, but ...

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