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Brooks v. State of Hawaii

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

September 12, 2013

Donimic T. Brooks, Plaintiff,
State of Hawaii, et al., Defendants.


ROBERT C. BROOMFIELD, Senior District Judge.

I. Procedural History

On January 10, 2013, Plaintiff Donimic T. Brooks, a State of Hawaii inmate who is confined in the Corrections Corporation of America's Saguaro Correctional Center, filed a document entitled "HRPP Rule 40(c)(2)(3) Form and content, (2) Nonconforming Petition, (3) Separate Cause of Action" ("Complaint") and a Motion for Summary Judgment in the Circuit Court of the First Circuit of the State of Hawaii. On January 18, 2013, the Hawaii Circuit Court ordered all documents in the case to be reassigned as a civil proceeding and served on Defendant State of Hawaii Department of Public Safety. On March 4, 2013, Defendant State of Hawaii filed a Notice of Removal, removing the case to the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii.

In a March 7, 2013 Order, United States District Court Judge Leslie E. Kobayashi concluded that removal was appropriate because Plaintiff was alleging that Defendants had violated the United States Constitution and laws. Judge Kobayashi transferred the case to the United States District Court for the District of Arizona pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). The case was assigned to the undersigned.

On March 20, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Default Judgment. Defendant State of Hawaii filed a Response and Plaintiff filed a Reply. On April 18, 2013, Plaintiff filed a "Motion to Show Cause for Preliminary Injunction and or a Temporary Restraining Order." Defendant State of Hawaii filed a Response and Plaintiff filed a Reply.

In a May 13, 2013 Order, the Court dismissed the Complaint because it was not filed on a court-approved form and denied the Motion for Summary Judgment, Motion for Default Judgment, and Motion to Show Cause. The Court gave Plaintiff 30 days to file an amended complaint on a court-approved form.

On May 24, 2013, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint (Doc. 15). On June 13, 2013, he filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 16) and a Memorandum of Law.

II. 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). 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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (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 679. 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 681.

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 )).

III. First Amended Complaint

In his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff names as Defendants Warden Todd Thomas, Assistant Warden Benjamin Griego, Administrator/Contract Monitor Shari Kimoto, and Segregation Unit Contract Monitor Scott Jinbo.

In Count One, Plaintiff alleges violations of his First Amendment rights to free speech and the free exercise of religion. He claims that he studies both the Christian and Muslim religions and voluntarily participated in the "life principle/faith pod program, " which he knew at the outset was Christian-based but accepted inmates of all faiths. Plaintiff contends that he asked the program leader why the prison only offered a Christian-based program, but did not offer programs based on other faiths. Plaintiff states that the program leader did not know, but said that he would ask "the higher ups." Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Griego told him that the curriculum came from the Corrections Corporation of America, the program was voluntary, and Plaintiff could leave the program if he did not like it. Plaintiff did not leave the program.

Plaintiff contends that the following day, Defendant Thomas told Plaintiff that he had better stop asking questions or he would be kicked out of the program or thrown into segregation. Plaintiff alleges that he perceived this to be a personal threat to prevent Plaintiff from exercising his First Amendment rights, documented the incident, and then filed an inmate request, again inquiring as to why there were no faith-based programs for a myriad of other religions.

Plaintiff asserts that his unit manager responded to the inmate request, but the response was actually delivered by Defendant Griego, who handed Plaintiff the response and told Plaintiff that he was being kicked out of the faith pod and that Plaintiff was lucky he was not being placed into segregation. Plaintiff perceived this to be a personal threat and documented it. He then submitted an informal resolution form, claiming that his right to practice and study Islam was being hindered in the faith pod, that Defendant Griego had kicked him out of the pod, and that Defendants Griego and Thomas had threatened him. Unhappy with the grievance officer's response, Plaintiff proceeded to the next step of the grievance process by filing a grievance.

Plaintiff states that while waiting for the response to his grievance, he met with Defendant Griego for an "interview." At that time, Defendant Griego placed Plaintiff into segregation and charged him with hindering and "failure to follow" for attempting to provide false information and hindering the staff by lying. Plaintiff asserts that the charges stem from the contents of his grievance.

Plaintiff claims he was found guilty of the charges and, as a result, lost pay for six months and was placed in segregation for 60 days. Plaintiff appealed and the hearing officer upheld the findings and penalty. Plaintiff submitted to Defendant Thomas an appeal and a request that explained some the inconsistencies he believed were in the reports. Plaintiff claims that Defendant Thomas denied the request, stating that he had spoken to Plaintiff and that Plaintiff had lied to him, and denied Plaintiff's appeal. Plaintiff submitted a "second request, " which Defendant Thomas also denied.

Plaintiff claims he next wrote a letter to Defendant Kimoto about the situation, but Defendant Kimoto did not respond. Plaintiff asserts he subsequently requested that Defendant Kimoto answer his letter, but she has not responded to that request.

Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Griego violated Plaintiff's rights to free speech and his right to "participate and or practice ...

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