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Mendez v. Ryan

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

December 4, 2013

Sergio Mendez, Plaintiff,
Charles L. Ryan, et al., Defendants.



Plaintiff Sergio Mendez, who is a prisoner in the custody of the Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) at the maximum-custody Browning Unit in Florence, Arizona, brought this civil rights case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against various ADC employees regarding his classification as a Security Threat Group (STG) member. (Doc. 1.) The remaining Defendants-Director Ryan; STG Committee members Freeland, Mendoza, McCarville; and Appeals Officer Herman-move for summary judgment, which Plaintiff opposes.[1] (Docs. 36, 39.)

The Court will grant the motion and terminate the action.

I. Background

Plaintiff alleges that the conditions of his confinement in the STG unit are atypical and, therefore, they require due process for placement and that his due process rights were violated during his STG validation proceedings because his validation was based entirely on hearsay evidence lacking indicia of reliability. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Ryan establishes STG validation policy for ADC, that Freeland, Mendoza, and McCarville are responsible for validating him based on unreliable evidence, and that Herman denied his appeal of the validation. ( Id. )

II. Motion for Summary Judgment

A. Legal Standards

1. Summary Judgment

A court "shall grant 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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). Under summary judgment practice, the moving party bears the initial responsibility of presenting the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record, together with affidavits, which it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. at 323. If the moving party meets its initial responsibility, the burden then shifts to the opposing party who must demonstrate the existence of a factual dispute and that the fact in contention is material, i.e., a fact that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law, Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986), and that the dispute is genuine, i.e., the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 250; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586-87 (1986). The opposing party need not establish a material issue of fact conclusively in its favor; it is sufficient that "the claimed factual dispute be shown to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial." First Nat'l Bank of Arizona v. Cities Serv. Co., 391 U.S. 253, 288-89 (1968).

When considering a summary judgment motion, the court examines the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits or declarations, if any. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). At summary judgment, the judge's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. The evidence of the non-movant is "to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Id. at 255. But, if the evidence of the non-moving party is merely colorable or is not significantly probative, summary judgment may be granted. Id. at 248-49. Conclusory allegations, unsupported by factual material, are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Taylor v. List, 880 F.2d 1040, 1045 (9th Cir. 1989). See Soremekun v. Thrifty Payless, Inc., 509 F.3d 978, 984 (9th Cir. 2007) (A[c]onclusory, speculative testimony in affidavits and moving papers is insufficient to raise genuine issues of fact and defeat summary judgment@).

2. Due Process and Maximum Custody

It is well-settled that placement in maximum security segregation units implicates a liberty interest requiring due process protections. Wilkinson v. Austin, 545 U.S. 209, 224 (2005). An inmate may be deprived of his liberty interest as long as he is accorded the proper procedural protections. For the initial decision to place an inmate in maximum custody, due process is generally satisfied by notice of the factual basis for the placement and an opportunity to be heard, as these procedural mechanisms serve to avoid the risk of erroneous deprivation. Id. at 224-26; Hewitt v. Helms, 459 U.S. 460, 476 (1983), overruled in part on other grounds by Sandin v. Connor, 515 U.S. 472 (1995).

The validation as an STG member must be supported by some evidence in the record. Bruce v. Ylst, 351 F.3d 1283, 1287-88 (9th Cir. 2003); see also Cato v. Rushen, 824 F.2d 703, 706 (9th Cir. 1987) (applying the "some evidence" standard of Superintendent v. Hill, 472 U.S. 445, 454 (1985).) In Hill, the Supreme Court stated that "the relevant question is whether there is any evidence in the record that could support the conclusion reached by the disciplinary board." Hill, 472 U.S. at 455-56. When examining the record, the court is not to make its own assessment of the credibility of witnesses or reweigh the evidence. Id. at 455. But the evidence must have some indicia of reliability. Cato, 824 F.2d at 705 (9th Cir. 1987).

After an inmate is placed in maximum security segregation, he is entitled to "some sort" of periodic review of his status. See Hewitt, 459 U.S. at 477, n. 9 ("administrative segregation may not be used as a pretext for indefinite confinement of an inmate. Prison officials must engage in some sort of periodic review of the confinement of such inmates"). To determine whether the annual reviews afforded an STG-validated inmate conform to due process requirements, the Court must consider the Mathews factors. Wilkinson, 545 U.S. at 224-25 (citing Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 335 (1976)).

B. Background ...

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