Evans v. Lopez, Case No. 1:17-cv-00719-AWI-JLT (PC)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Eastern District of California
PartiesTHOMAS EVANS, Plaintiff, v. D. LOPEZ, Defendant.
Docket NumberCase No. 1:17-cv-00719-AWI-JLT (PC)
Decision Date15 September 2017

THOMAS EVANS, Plaintiff,
D. LOPEZ, Defendant.

Case No. 1:17-cv-00719-AWI-JLT (PC)


September 15, 2017


(Doc. 1)


Plaintiff claims that in June 2016, D. Lopez denied him Ramadan meals which Plaintiff, a devoted Muslim, was approved to receive. Plaintiff has stated one cognizable claim and may be able to correct the deficiencies in his pleading on other claims. Thus, Plaintiff may either file a first amended complaint correcting the deficiencies or advise the Court that he is willing to proceed only on the claims identified as cognizable.

A. Screening Requirement

The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally frivolous, malicious, 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); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii).

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B. Summary of Plaintiff's Complaint

Plaintiff alleges that, on June 19, 2016 and June 20, 2016, Officer Lopez denied him, a devoted Muslim, Ramadan meals which Plaintiff was approved to receive. This resulted in Plaintiff going without food for over 48 hours. Plaintiff states that "two known Supervisors" knew about Officer Lopez's reputation for discriminating, retaliating, and harassing Muslim inmates and at least one of them ignored this and did nothing to protect Muslim inmates from Officer Lopez's acts.

Plaintiff has stated some cognizable claims and may be able to amend to correct the deficiencies in his pleading as to other claims. Thus, the Court provides the applicable standards related to Plaintiff's purported claims and leave to file a first amended complaint. Alternatively, Plaintiff may notify the Court that he wishes to proceed only on the claims now cognizable as discussed below.

C. Pleading Requirements

1. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)

"Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions," none of which applies to section 1983 actions. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a). A complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 8(a). "Such a statement must simply give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512.

Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Plaintiff must set forth "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Factual allegations are accepted as true, but legal conclusions are not. Iqbal. at 678; see also Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009); Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556-557.

While "plaintiffs [now] face a higher burden of pleadings facts . . . ," Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft,

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580 F.3d 949, 977 (9th Cir. 2009), the pleadings of pro se prisoners are still construed liberally and are afforded the benefit of any doubt. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). However, "the liberal pleading standard . . . applies only to a plaintiff's factual allegations," Neitze v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989), "a liberal interpretation of a civil rights complaint may not supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled," Bruns v. Nat'l Credit Union Admin., 122 F.3d 1251, 1257 (9th Cir. 1997) quoting Ivey v. Bd. of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982), and courts are not required to indulge unwarranted inferences, Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The "sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully" is not sufficient, and "facts that are 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability" fall short of satisfying the plausibility standard. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 129 S. Ct. at 1949; Moss, 572 F.3d at 969.

If he chooses to file a first amended complaint, Plaintiff should make it as concise as possible. He should simply state which of his constitutional rights he feels were violated by each Defendant and its factual basis.

2. Linkage Requirement

The Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 1983) requires that there be an actual connection or link between the actions of the defendants and the deprivation alleged to have been suffered by Plaintiff. See Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978); Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362 (1976). The Ninth Circuit has held that "[a] person 'subjects' another to the deprivation of a constitutional right, within the meaning of section 1983, if he does an affirmative act, participates in another's affirmative acts or omits to perform an act which he is legally required to do that causes the deprivation of which complaint is made." Johnson v. Duffy, 588 F.2d 740, 743 (9th Cir. 1978). In order to state a claim for relief under section 1983, Plaintiff must link each named defendant with some affirmative act or omission that demonstrates a violation of Plaintiff's federal rights.

Plaintiff's allegation that "two known Supervisors" were aware of Officer Lopez's punitive acts towards Muslim inmates is insufficient to link any such supervisor to violations of Plaintiff's rights. Since the two supervisors are known, Plaintiff must identify them by their

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surnames and clearly indicate which Defendant(s) he feels are responsible for each violation of his constitutional rights and the factual basis for his claims. Plaintiff's Complaint must put each Defendant on notice of Plaintiff's claims against him or her. See Austin v. Terhune, 367 F.3d 1167, 1171 (9th Cir. 2004).

D. Claims for Relief

1. Religion Claims

Prisoners "do not forfeit all constitutional protections by reason of their conviction and confinement in prison." Bell v. Wolfish, 441 U.S. 520, 545, 99 S.Ct. 1861, 60 L.Ed.2d 447 (1979). Inmates retain the protections afforded by the First Amendment, "including its directive that no law shall prohibit the free exercise of religion." O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987) (citing Cruz v. Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972) (per curiam)). However, " '[l]awful incarceration brings about the necessary withdrawal or limitation of many privileges and rights, a retraction justified by the considerations underlying our penal system.' " Id. (quoting Price v. Johnston, 334 U.S. 266, 285 (1948)).

a. First Amendment -- Free Exercise

The First Amendment is applicable to state action by incorporation through the Fourteenth Amendment. Everson v. Bd. of Educ. of Ewing Twp., 330 U.S. 1, 8 (1947). "The right to exercise religious practices and beliefs does not terminate at the prison door[,]" McElyea v. Babbitt, 833 F.2d 196, 197 (9th Cir.1987) (citing O'Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 348 (1987)), but a prisoner's right to free exercise of religion "is necessarily limited by the fact of incarceration," Ward v. Walsh, 1 F.3d 873, 876 (9th Cir.1993) (citing O'Lone, 482 U.S. at 348, 107 S.Ct. 2400). The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment is "not limited to beliefs which are shared by all of the members of a religious sect." Holt v. Hobbs, --- U.S. ---, 135 S.Ct. 853, 862 (2015) (quoting Thomas v. Review Bd. of Indiana Employment Security Div., 450 U.S. 707, 715-716 (1981)).

A person asserting a free exercise claim must show that the government action in question substantially burdens the person's practice of her religion. Jones v. Williams, 791 F.3d 1023, 1031 (9th Cir. 2015) citing Graham v. C.I.R., 822 F.2d 844, 851 (9th Cir.1987), aff'd sub nom.

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Hernandez v. C.I.R., 490 U.S. 680, 699, 109 S.Ct. 2136 (1989). "A substantial burden . . . place[s] more than an inconvenience on religious exercise; it must have a tendency to coerce individuals into acting contrary to their religious beliefs or exert substantial pressure on an adherent to modify his behavior and to violate his beliefs." Ohno v. Yasuma, 723 F.3d 984, 1011 (9th Cir.2013) (quoting Guru Nanak Sikh Soc'y of Yuba City v. Cnty. of Sutter, 456 F.3d 978, 988 (9th Cir.2006) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted)).

"To ensure that courts afford appropriate deference to prison officials," the Supreme Court has directed that alleged infringements of prisoners' free exercise rights be "judged under a 'reasonableness' test less restrictive than that ordinarily applied to alleged infringements of fundamental constitutional rights." O'Lone, 482 U.S. at 349. The challenged conduct "is valid if it is reasonably related to legitimate penological interests." Id. (quoting Turner v. Safley, 482 U.S. 78, 89 (1987)). "[T]he availability of alternative means of practicing religion is a relevant consideration" for claims under the First Amendment. Holt v. Hobbs, --- U.S. ---, 135 S.Ct. 853, 862 (2015).

Plaintiff's allegations that Officer Lopez denied him Ramadan meals despite Plaintiff being a devoted follower of Islam and being on the list to receive Ramadan meals states a cognizable claim under the First Amendment against Officer Lopez.


A prisoner's ability to freely exercise his religion is also protected by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA"). 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc-1. RLUIPA protects " 'any exercise of religion, whether or not...

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