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Valenzuela v. Schmidt

United States District Court, D. Arizona

December 3, 2019

Melinda Gabriella Valenzuela, Plaintiff,
Patricia Schmidt, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Melinda Gabriella Valenzuela, who is confined at the Arizona State Prison Complex (ASPC)-Florence Kasson Unit, brought this pro se civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against former Arizona Department of Corrections (ADC) Director Charles Ryan. (Doc. 10.) Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction. (Doc. 53.) The Court will deny Plaintiff's Motion. The Court will also order that ADC Director David Shinn be substituted as a Defendant in his official capacity for purposes of Plaintiff's claim for injunctive relief.

         I. Background

         In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that beginning in February 2018, Defendant Ryan failed to provide her with safe housing. (Doc. 10 at 4.) According to Plaintiff, she has been the subject of constant abuse and assaults due to her transgender status. (Id.) Plaintiff claimed that Defendant Ryan was personally aware of her issues because inmate letters were sent to him directly; yet, he did nothing. (Id.) Plaintiff sued for injunctive relief and monetary damages. (Id. at 6.) The Court determined that Plaintiff's allegations sufficiently stated a plausible Eighth Amendment failure-to-protect claim, and Defendant Ryan was directed to answer this claim. (Doc. 18 at 6.)

         On August 16, 2019, Plaintiff filed the pending Motion for Preliminary Injunction. (Doc. 53.) Plaintiff asserts that she was recently moved to Kasson Unit, and, upon her arrival at this Unit, she informed multiple staff members-ADC and medical personnel whom she lists by name-that certain prisoners threatened her and plan to harm her. (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff states that she provided the names of these prisoners to staff. (Id.) According to Plaintiff, no staff members took any action in response, and they have left her housed in the pod. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that since June 3, 2019, she has been sexually assaulted, assaulted, and threatened daily by other prisoners. (Id. at 1-2.) Plaintiff asserts that she will continue to suffer and be subject to irreparable harm due to her transgender status as long as she is housed in the Kasson Unit. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff explains that she is currently attempting to get ADC staff to “sign her out of PS [protective segregation], ” and send her to the Integrated Housing Program or a sexual offender yard. (Id.)

         With her Motion, Plaintiff submits over 200 documents, including medical records and inmate letters, many of which are from 2018. (Id., Exs.) The inmate letters report threats, PREA incidents, and staff misconduct; request transfers, medical care, and to see the transgender committee; and complain about certain prison programs. (Id.) With respect to the inmate letters filed since her recent transfer to the Kasson Unit, Plaintiff's complaints include that PS prisoners are with general population prisoners in the same programs and that every day she comes into contact with general population prisoners, STG (security threat group) prisoners, and prisoners who are debriefing. (Id., Exs. G, K (Doc. 53 at 19, 32).)

         In response, Defendant Ryan argues that the Motion should be denied because Plaintiff agreed to dismiss this case in a Settlement Agreement that was entered in another action and that the parties are working on the logistics of dismissing the cases listed in that Agreement. (Doc. 54, citing to CV 18-00555-DLR.)

         Plaintiff filed a Reply, in which she stated that the Settlement Agreement was not accepted, that not all parties have signed the Agreement, and that the defendants in the other action have not complied with terms of the Agreement. (Doc. 56.) Attached to the Reply is a copy of an August 7, 2019 letter Plaintiff wrote to defense counsel informing him that if he sends an email to the Deputy Warden confirming that Plaintiff is to be provided certain items, Plaintiff will sign the Agreement in CV 18-00555. (Id., Attach. (Doc. 56 at 6).)

         To date, there has been no stipulation for dismissal filed by the parties in this action.

         II. Preliminary Injunction Standard

         “A preliminary injunction is ‘an extraordinary and drastic remedy, one that should not be granted unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion.'” Lopez v. Brewer, 680 F.3d 1068, 1072 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Mazurek v. Armstrong, 520 U.S. 968, 972 (1997) (per curiam)); see also Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 555 U.S. 7, 24 (2008) (“[a] preliminary injunction is an extraordinary remedy never awarded as of right”) (citation omitted). A plaintiff seeking a preliminary injunction must show that (1) he is likely to succeed on the merits, (2) he is likely to suffer irreparable harm without an injunction, (3) the balance of equities tips in his favor, and (4) an injunction is in the public interest. Winter, 555 U.S. at 20. “But if a plaintiff can only show that there are ‘serious questions going to the merits'-a lesser showing than likelihood of success on the merits-then a preliminary injunction may still issue if the ‘balance of hardships tips sharply in the plaintiff's favor,' and the other two Winter factors are satisfied.” Shell Offshore, Inc. v. Greenpeace, Inc., 709 F.3d 1281, 1291 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Alliance for the Wild Rockies v. Cottrell, 632 F.3d 1127, 1135 (9th Cir. 2011)). Under this “serious questions” version of the sliding-scale test, the elements of the preliminary injunction test are balanced, so that a stronger showing of one element may offset a weaker showing of another. See Alliance for the Wild Rockies, 632 F.3d at 1135.

         The movant “has the burden of proof on each element of the test.” See Envtl. Council of Sacramento v. Slater, 184 F.Supp.2d 1016, 1027 (E.D. Cal. 2000). There is a heightened burden where a plaintiff seeks a mandatory preliminary injunction, which should not be granted “unless the facts and law clearly favor the plaintiff.” Comm. of Cent. Am. Refugees v. I.N.S., 795 F.2d 1434, 1441 (9th Cir. 1986) (citation omitted).

         The Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) imposes additional requirements on prisoner litigants who seek preliminary injunctive relief against prison officials and requires that any injunctive relief be narrowly drawn and the least intrusive means necessary to correct the harm. 18 U.S.C. § 3626(a)(2); see Gilmore v. People of the State of Cal., 220 F.3d 987, 999 (9th Cir. 2000).

         III. ...

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