Monday, March 14, 2011

Northern California Judges Rule in 1983 Cases

Two Judges recently released dispositive rulings in actions initiated under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.  Among them:

Ibanez v. Miller is a pro se priosoner's civil rights claim arising from an attack by other inmates on Mr. Ibanez at High Desert State Prison.  Prior to his term at High Desert, Mr. Ibanez was incarcerated at Pelican Bay State Prison.  He told correction officers there, that he feared for his safety and promptly ratted out other inmates with contraband in his cell block.  He requested placement in the Special Needs Yard (SNY).  The facility held a hearing to evaluate threats to Mr. Ibanez, and determined none existed.  They gave him a choice of a transfer to Salinas Valley State Prison or the California Correctional Institute in Tehachapi. He reiterated his preference for SNY. The defendants felt that Mr. Ibanez was a "sleeper" or an inmate who tries to get into SNY to attack other inmates. For this reason, they transfered Mr. Ibanez to High Desert and was assaulted shortly thereafter.

Judge Marilyn Hall Patel explained that the prison officials did not face liability:
The undisputed evidence shows that (1) Ibanez was promptly put in ad-seg when he expressed concerns about his safety; (2) lieutenant Miller investigated Ibanez's reportedsafety concerns, was unable to verify a danger to Ibanez, and determined that he could be returned to the general population; (3) defendants' committee held a hearing, reviewed Miller's investigation report, expressed concern that Ibanez might be a "sleeper" intent on doing harm if placed in the SNY, and declined to recommend SNY placement; (4) defendants' committee recommended he be transferred to another prison to get a fresh start;and (5) defendants had no further contact with or control over Ibanez's placement. Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Ibanez, no reasonable jury could conclude that themoving defendants knew there was a substantial risk to Ibanez’s safety on the general population yard and acted with deliberate indifference to that risk. This is a case where prison officials are not liable because the undisputed evidence shows that "they responded reasonably" to the reported risk, "even if the harm ultimately was not avoided." Farmer [v. Brennan (U.S. 1994).
She granted summary judgment for the correction officers.

Pete v. Oakland is a night club owner's complaint against the city that this blog previously discussed here.  Plaintiff Geoffrey Pete owns a nightclub called Geoffrey's Inner Circle (GIC) which he claims is unfairly targeted by the Oakland Police Department (OPD).  He has three theories for this 1) a parking lot would not allow his patrons access because an OPD officer lied to the proprietor about alleged drug dealing from GIC 2) OPD overcharged GIC for policing its events 3) OPD cancelled his birthday party because he was not quick enough in apply for a permit.  There are two legal theories worth noting 1) OPD's actions violated Mr. Pete's First Amendment rights to assemble peacefully and 2) The OPD officer's alleged defamation violated Mr. Pete's Procedural Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.  As Judge William H. Alsup explains both claims fail.
Pete argues that because First Amendment protection extends to “live entertainment,such as musical and dramatic works” GIC’s function as a venue for live entertainment isprotected (Opp. 22). Not so. Admittedly a “nightclub,” GIC hosted precisely the type of dance-hall assembly that the [City of Dallas v.] Stanglin [(U.S. 1989)] decision exempted from First Amendment protection. Pete’sattempt to shoe-horn GIC events into another category of expressive activity is unavailing.
The Due Process theory fared no better:
Though perhaps a sad turn in the law, this pronouncement is true: even assuming that Sergeant Thomas’s statements to Kaddoura were bald-faced lies conjured for thesole and specific purpose of disrupting Pete’s business relationship with the garage, the success of Thomas’s scheme would not, as a matter of law, rise to the level of constitutional injury under procedural due process. See Paul v. Davis, (U.S. 1976); WMX Techs., Inc. v. Miller, (9th Cir. 1996). In order to interfere with a constitutionally protected liberty or property interest, a state actor must do more than defame a victim even if the alleged defamation is motivated by the evil intent to disrupt the victim’s business.
Judge Alsup granted the defendants summary judgment on all claims.

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