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Higdon v. Ryan

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

December 30, 2013

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

ORDER

DAVID G. CAMPBELL, District Judge.

On December 31, 2012, 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, suing six Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) officials (Doc. 1-2, Ex. C, Attach. 1 at 10). Defendant Ryan timely removed the case to federal court based on federal question subject matter jurisdiction on March 7, 2013. By order dated June 26, 2013, the Court screened the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), dismissed the action for failure to state a claim, and entered Judgment against Plaintiff (Docs. 3-4). Plaintiff moves to reconsider that ruling (Doc. 5).

The Court will grant Plaintiff's motion, vacate the Judgment, and provide Plaintiff with 30 days to file an amended complaint.

I. Background

Plaintiff alleged that his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated when allegedly false disciplinary charges were filed against him (Compl. at 10). Specifically, Plaintiff averred that 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.). A short time later, 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 referred 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 Dorsey, Klausner, and Ryan took no action other than to uphold the findings (id. at 7-8).

Plaintiff argues that Defendants actions violated his First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights and seeks costs, compensatory and punitive damages, transfer to an out-of-state facility, and injunctive relief.

The Court dismissed the Complaint, explaining that when success on a claim could potentially affect the duration of confinement, habeas corpus is the appropriate and exclusive vehicle to seek relief; a civil rights action pursuant to § 1983 is not available unless and until the prisoner has obtained a "favorable termination" of the underlying disciplinary action. Docken v. Chase , 393 F.3d 1024, 1031 (9th Cir. 2004) (Doc. 3). The "favorable termination" rule has been extended to prison disciplinary actions, when alleged due process defects, if established, would "necessarily imply the invalidity of the deprivation of [the prisoner's] good-time credits." Edwards v. Balisok , 520 U.S. 641, 646 (1997) (id.).

II. Motion for Reconsideration

In his motion, Plaintiff asserts that because he is serving a natural life sentence, the loss of good-time credits could have no impact on the length of his sentence (Doc. 5). As a result, Plaintiff argues his claim is not barred by Edwards v. Balisok (id. ).

A. Governing Standard

Petitioner has filed a timely motion to alter or amend under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Am. Ironworks & Erectors, Inc. v. N. Am. Contr. Corp. , 248 F.3d 892, 898-99 (9th Cir. 2001) ("a motion for reconsideration is treated as a motion to alter or amend judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 59(e) if it is filed within" the time provided under the rule). A Rule 59(e) motion is appropriate "if the district court: (1) is presented with newly discovered evidence, (2) committed clear error or the initial decision was manifestly unjust, or (3) if there is an intervening change in the controlling law." Circuit City Stores, Inc. v. Mantor , 417 F.3d 1060, 1064 (9th Cir. 2005) (quoting Sch. Dist. No 1J, Multnomah County v. ACandS, Inc. , 5 F.3d 1255, 1263 (9th Cir.1993)). However, generally, motions for reconsideration should be granted only in rare circumstances. Defenders of Wildlife v. Browner , 909 F.Supp. 1342, 1351 (D. Ariz. 1995). Mere disagreement with a previous order is an insufficient basis for reconsideration. See Leong v. Hilton Hotels Corp. , 689 F.Supp. 1572, 1573 (D. Haw. 1988). A motion for reconsideration "may not be used to raise arguments or present evidence for the first time when they could reasonably have been raised earlier in the litigation." Kona Enters., Inc. v. Estate of Bishop , 229 F.3d 877, 890 (9th Cir. 2000).

B. Analysis

Plaintiff is correct that his natural life sentence takes his case outside the ambit of Edwards, whereby success on his due process claim would not necessarily impact the length of his sentence. The Court notes, however, that in his Complaint, Plaintiff alleged multiple times that he lost good time credits as a result of the challenged disciplinary violation (Doc. 1-2, Ex. C, Attach. 1 at 6, 7, 8, 12) and nowhere did he allege that he was serving a natural life sentence. Nevertheless, the Court will grant reconsideration to the ...


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