Uhuru v. Bonnifield, Case No. 2:19-cv-10449-JVS-KES

CourtUnited States District Courts. 9th Circuit. United States District Courts. 9th Circuit. Central District of California
Writing for the CourtKAREN E. SCOTT United States Magistrate Judge
Docket NumberCase No. 2:19-cv-10449-JVS-KES
PartiesKOHEN DIALLO UHURU, Plaintiff, v. JIM BONNIFIELD, et al. Defendants.
Decision Date27 October 2020


Case No. 2:19-cv-10449-JVS-KES


October 27, 2020


This Final Report and Recommendation ("R&R") is submitted to the Honorable James V. Selna, United States District Judge, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 and General Order 05-07 of the United States District Court for the Central District of California.


Kohen Diallo Uhuru ("Plaintiff"), an inmate currently housed at the California Health Care Facility in Stockton ("CHCF"), has filed a civil rights complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), and the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Person's Act ("RLUIPA") against

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staff members at the California Men's Colony in San Luis Obispo ("CMC"), where Plaintiff was previously housed. Generally, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights1 by denying him the ability to practice his Nubian Hebrew Israelite ("NHI") religion, retaliating against him for filing complaints and lawsuits about CMC staff's behavior, and denying him access to the courts.

The Court screened the initial Complaint under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") and dismissed it with leave to amend. (Dkt. 10.) Plaintiff then filed a First Amended Complaint. ("FAC" at Dkt. 20.)

The Magistrate Judge issued an initial R&R finding that: (a) the facts alleged in Plaintiff's FAC fail to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the ADA, or the RLUIPA; (b) leave to amend should be granted as to some claims and denied as futile as to others. (Dkt. 24.) Plaintiff filed Objections to the R&R adding some new facts and legal theories. (Dkt. 26 ["Objs."].) This Final R&R is issued to address the new factual allegations made in the Objections, although the overall recommendations remain largely unchanged.2


A complaint may fail to state a claim for two reasons: (1) lack of cognizable legal theory; or (2) insufficient facts under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990) (as amended). In

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determining whether a complaint states a claim on which relief may be granted, its allegations of material fact must be taken as true and construed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Lazy Y Ranch Ltd. v. Behrens, 546 F.3d 580, 588 (9th Cir. 2008).

Further, where the plaintiff is appearing pro se, the court must construe the allegations of the complaint liberally and must afford the plaintiff the benefit of any doubt. Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't, 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988). However, the liberal pleading standard only applies to a plaintiff's factual allegations. "[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).

With respect to a plaintiff's pleading burden, the Supreme Court has held: "[A] plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do .... Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ... on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)[.]" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citation omitted); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009) (To avoid dismissal for failure to state a claim, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.") (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

Although the scope of review generally is limited to the contents of the complaint, the Court may also consider documents attached to the complaint. United States v. Ritchie, 342 F.3d 903, 908 (9th Cir. 2003). Exhibits that contradict the allegations of a complaint may fatally undermine those allegations. Sprewell v.

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Golden State Warriors, 266 F.3d 979, 988 (9th Cir. 2001), amended by, 275 F.3d 1187 (2001) (noting that a plaintiff can "plead himself out of a claim by including ... details contrary to his claims").


A. Official Capacity Claims and Claims for Injunctive Relief

1. Legal Standard

Official capacity claims against CDCR employees are treated as claims against the CDCR. Monell v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). As a state agency, the CDCR is immune under the Eleventh Amendment from liability for money damages for § 1983 claims. See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64-66 (1989); Holley v. Cal. Dep't of Corrs., 599 F.3d 1108, 1111 (9th Cir. 2010); Brown v. Cal. Dep't of Corrs., 554 F.3d 747, 752 (9th Cir. 2009).

A claim "for prospective injunctive relief provides a narrow, but well-established exception to Eleventh Amendment immunity." Flint v. Dennison, 488 F.3d 816, 825 (9th Cir. 2007) (citing Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908)). To fall under this exception, the complaint must "allege[] on ongoing violation of federal law and seek[] relief properly characterized as prospective." Verizon Md., Inc. v. PSC, 535 U.S. 635, 645 (2002) (citation omitted).

A claim for prospective injunctive relief may be mooted by a prisoner's transfer to another prison. Walker v. Beard, 789 F.3d 1125, 1132 (9th Cir. 2015). This is because "[o]nce an inmate is removed from the environment in which he is subjected to the challenged policy or practice, absent a claim for damages, he no longer has a legally cognizable interest in a judicial decision on the merits of his claim." Alvarez v. Hill, 667 F.3d 1061, 1064 (9th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). Injunctive relief is not mooted by a transfer if the prisoner has a "reasonable expectation of returning" to the prison whose conditions he is challenging. Walker,

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789 F.3d at 1132. Additionally, injunctive relief is not mooted by a transfer if "the policy pursuant to which the alleged violation occurred was 'system wide' and one of the defendants was in charge of the policy." Walker v. Beard, 789 F.3d 1125, 1132 (9th Cir. 2015).

2. Analysis

Like the initial Complaint, the FAC brings claims against each Defendant in both their individual and official capacities. (FAC at 3-5, 8.) To the extent Plaintiff's official capacity claims seek damages, they fail to state a claim because CDCR is immune from such damages under the Eleventh Amendment. Plaintiff may seek damages against Defendants in their individual capacities.3

The FAC also seeks the following declarative or injunctive relief:

• "granting the [NHI adherents the right] to receive donations from prisoners through charitable contributions, fundraising through food sales from Black-owned vendors";

• a "court order to CDCR recognizing the [NHI] as a bona fide religion with holy fast days during the entire month of August and celebration of 8-day Passover in the second month"; and

• "church judicatory for the [NHI adherents] with explicit definitions on separation between church and state laws that will distinguish [NHI] vernacular [as] opposed to Eurocentric Jewish Yiddish...."

(FAC at 11.)4 These requests for injunctive relief seek relief against officials at CMC—the only Defendants named in the FAC—and they have been mooted by

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Plaintiff's transfer away from CMC to CHCF. (See id. at 1, 13.)

Although Plaintiff argues that he has a reasonable expectation of returning to CMC, he has not alleged sufficient facts to support this argument. First, although he alleges that he has been transferred back to CMC multiple times in the past, the reasons why remain unclear. Some of his allegations suggest that he was transferred to CMC in order to follow a mental health recommendation that he be assigned to a single cell; yet the FAC contends he was denied a single cell at CMC (as discussed below in section III.F.2.h). (See FAC at 13-14 [alleging he will be transferred back to CMC "for solitary in-cell worship with an open window for Plaintiff's relief of allergies due to past experiences where he has returned five times already even as an override with reconciliation case factors pertinent to single cell recommendations"]; Objs. at 2 [alleging that Plaintiff was "involuntarily returned to [CMC-East] for the fourth time from [the Richard J. Donovan] facility due to housing issues comparable to the court order designating CMC-East for single cell design of one prisoner per cell exempting his psychologist['s] ... and his psychiatrist['s] recommendations for solitary in-cell worship to be continued from the administrative segregation unit at the Richard J. Donovan Facility"].)

Second, Plaintiff alleges that he "has been informed by prison officials that CMC-East will be modified and revised down to a Level II [institution] whereas Plaintiff shall be returned." (Objs. at 9 ¶ 20.) This allegation is "too speculative to overcome mootness." Flowers v. Ahern, 650 F. Supp. 2d 988, 991 (N.D. Cal. 2009); see also Nelsen v. King Cty., 895 F.2d 1248, 1253 (9th Cir. 1990) ("speculative contingencies afford no basis for finding the existence of a continuing controversy as required by article III") (citation omitted). Plaintiff does not allege specific facts demonstrating a reasonable expectation that he will be transferred back to CMC.

Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that he "is being subjected to the same underground rules and policies" at CHCF based on "CHCF's refusal to remove

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crucifix (cross) affixed on top of E-Facility" and "denial of access to the courts with denials of in-presence...

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