United States District Court, D. Arizona
Honorable Diane J. Humetewa United States District Judge
On November 18, 2014, Plaintiff Sheldon Walker, who is confined in the Arizona State Prison Complex-Eyman, filed a pro se civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983. (Doc. 1.) On January 28, 2015, after screening Plaintiff’s Complaint, the Court granted his Application to Proceed in Forma Pauperis, and dismissed without prejudice Counts One and Six, the RFRA claims in Counts Two through Five, and Defendants Crabtree, Han, and McLaughlin. (Doc. 7.) The Court also ordered Defendants Ryan, Vicklund, and Linderman to answer Counts Two, Three, Four, and Five. (Id.)
On February 5, 2015, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 9.) On April 23, 2015, the Court struck Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint for his failure to comply with Rule 15.1 of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 15.) On April 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to File his First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 17.) On May 18, 2015, Defendants filed a Response to Plaintiff’s Motion, indicating that they do not object to his request for leave to amend, but they request the Court screen Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 19.)
As detailed below, the Court will grant Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Amend and order the Clerk of Court to file Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint lodged at Doc. 18. Further, after screening the First Amended Complaint, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s claims in Counts One and Two, and order Defendants Ryan, Vicklund, and Linderman to answer the remaining portions of the First Amended Complaint.
I. Motion for Leave to Amend
Rule 15(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “a party may amend its pleading . . . with the opposing party’s written consent or the court’s leave. The court should freely give leave when justice so requires.” Further, Rule 15.1(a) of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure provides the following:
(a) Amendment by Motion. A party who moves for leave to amend a pleading must attach a copy of the proposed amended pleading as an exhibit to the motion, which must indicate in what respect it differs from the pleading which it amends, by bracketing or striking through the text to be deleted and underlining the text to be added. The proposed amended pleading must not incorporate by reference any part of the preceding pleading, including exhibits.
Here, Defendants have no objection to Plaintiff’s request for leave to file his First Amended Complaint. (Doc. 19.) The Court further finds that Plaintiff has complied with Rule 15.1 of the Local Rules of Civil Procedure. (See Docs. 17, 18.) Accordingly, the Court will grant Plaintiff’s Motion for Leave to Amend and order the Clerk of Court to file Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint lodged at Doc. 18. Below, the Court screens Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.
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)).
a. Plaintiff’s First Amended Complaint
In his six-count, First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts violations of his rights under the First, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Plaintiff names as Defendants Charles L. Ryan, Mike Linderman, Ralph McLaughlin, Stacey Crabtree, D. Han, Jerry Dunn, and Chaplain Vicklund. Plaintiff sues these Defendants in their individual and official capacities, and he seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief.
i. Count One
In Count One, Plaintiff asserts a due process claim relating to his maximum custody placement after being found guilty of a disciplinary violation and being removed from the “Step[-]Down Program.” Plaintiff alleges that on or about March 10, 1999, he was validated as a member of a STG at an STG hearing. Consequently, Plaintiff claims, he was placed in the maximum security Browning Unit. Plaintiff asserts that the only way he could be removed from administrative segregation is for him to disassociate with the STG through either “debriefing” or the Step-Down process. Plaintiff alleges that the Step-Down Program allows STG members a way to leave Browning Unit by giving members the opportunity to demonstrate that they are no longer involved with the STG.
Plaintiff asserts that on June 6, 2012, he completed the Step-Down Program and became eligible to relocate from the Browning Unit to close custody housing and, on June 12, 2012, Plaintiff was transferred to close custody housing. However, Plaintiff asserts that on January 9, 2013, during a classification hearing held by D. Han, Plaintiff was reclassified to maximum custody, because he was “found guilty of fighting with another inmate.” Plaintiff alleges that the Maximum Custody Placement Form states that his “violent behavior is detrimental to the safe and secure operation of the institution, ” and Plaintiff was terminated from the Step-Down ...