(PC) Daniels v. Sherman, No. 1:2016cv01312 - Document 25 (E.D. Cal. 2018)

Court Description: FINDINGS and RECOMMENDATIONS to Dismiss Claims as Barred by Doctrine of Res Judicata; Objections, if any, Due within Twenty-One (21) Days signed by Magistrate Judge Erica P. Grosjean on 4/17/2018. Referred to Judge Lawrence J. O'Neill. (Sant Agata, S)
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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 NORMAN GERALD DANIELS, III, Plaintiff, 12 v. 13 14 STU SHERMAN, Defendant. 15 Case No. 1:16-cv-01312-LJO-EPG (PC) FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO DISMISS CLAIMS AS BARRED BY DOCTRINE OF RES JUDICATA (ECF No. 1) OBJECTIONS, IF ANY, DUE WITHIN TWENTY-ONE (21) DAYS 16 17 I. BACKGROUND 18 Norman Gerald Daniels, III (“Plaintiff”) is a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in 19 forma pauperis in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges he was 20 denied access to the law library at his institution because Stu Sherman (“Defendant”), in his 21 official capacity as Warden of California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in Corcoran, 22 California (“SATF”), declined to make the computers in the law library more accessible. 23 Plaintiff filed the Complaint commencing this action on September 6, 2016. (ECF No. 1). 24 The Complaint alleges facts that are substantially similar to those alleged in Daniels v. Allison 25 (the “545 Action”), which was dismissed by District Judge Lawrence J. O’Neill with prejudice 26 on February 21, 2014. See First Amended Complaint, Case No. 1:12-CV-00545-LJO-GSA (E.D. 27 Cal. Jan. 10, 2013), ECF No. 25; Daniels v. Allison, No. 1:12-CV-00545-LJO-GS, 2013 WL 28 1 1 5305744 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 19, 2013), adopted by Daniels v. Allison, No. 1:12-CV-00545 LJO 2 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 21, 2014), ECF Nos. 26, 33. On October 17, 2016, the Court issued an Order to Show Cause why this action should 3 4 not be dismissed as barred by the doctrine of res judicata. (ECF No. 9).The Court provided 5 Plaintiff two extensions of time to respond to the Order to Show Cause and his response was due 6 on February 17, 2017. (ECF Nos. 11, 13). The Court provided Plaintiff with an explanation of 7 the res judicata doctrine, and explained what Plaintiff should do to respond to the Order to Show 8 Cause. (ECF No. 13.) Plaintiff did not file a response to the Order to Show Cause in this case.1 9 On March 10, 2017, the Court screened the Complaint, and dismissed it as barred by the 10 doctrine of res judicata. (ECF No. 14). Plaintiff filed an appeal. (ECF No. 16). On March 19, 11 2018, the Ninth Circuit vacated the screening order and remanded the case to the district court, 12 finding that the Court lacked jurisdiction to dismiss the Complaint, under Williams v. King, 875 13 F.3d 500, 503 (9th Cir. 2017), because not all named parties had consented to the Magistrate 14 Judge’ s jurisdiction. (ECF Nos. 21, 24). 15 The Complaint is again before the Court for screening. As described below, the Court 16 recommends that the assigned district judge dismiss this action as Plaintiff’s claims are barred by 17 the doctrine of res judicata. Plaintiff may file objections to the findings and recommendations 18 within twenty-one days of service thereof. II. 19 SCREENING REQUIREMENT The Court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a 20 21 governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. §1915A(a). The 22 Court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are 23 legally “frivolous or malicious,” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or 24 that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. 25 § 1915A(b)(1), (2). As Plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, (ECF No. 8), the Court may 26 also screen the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. “Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any 27 28 1 Plaintiff did file a response to an Order to Show Cause in another case before this Court. See Daniels v. Sherman, Case No. 1:16-cv-01313-EPG (E.D. Cal. Jan. 17, 2017), ECF No. 17. 2 1 portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court 2 determines that the action or appeal fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” 28 3 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). A complaint is required to contain “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that 4 5 the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not 6 required, but “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere 7 conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell 8 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Plaintiff must set forth “sufficient factual 9 matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.’” Id. (quoting 10 Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). The mere possibility of misconduct falls short of meeting this 11 plausibility standard. Id. at 679. While a plaintiff’s allegations are taken as true, courts “are not 12 required to indulge unwarranted inferences.” Doe I v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 572 F.3d 677, 681 13 (9th Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Additionally, a plaintiff’s legal 14 conclusions are not accepted as true. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. 15 Pleadings of pro se plaintiffs “must be held to less stringent standards than formal 16 pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (holding that 17 pro se complaints should continue to be liberally construed after Iqbal). 18 19 III. SUMMARY OF ALLEGATIONS IN THE COMPLAINT In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he is incarcerated at SATF, and is legally blind. 20 (ECF No. 1). The sole named defendant in the Complaint is Stu Sherman, the current warden of 21 SATF. Plaintiff alleges that the computers in the prison law library do not provide him equal and 22 effective access to the courts. In particular, he contends that the library should install software 23 that magnifies the computer screen and adds dictation capabilities. Plaintiff also alleges that the 24 prison workers who are assigned to assist him “are nearly illiterate and cannot even follow 25 simple instructions without some form of complications.” Plaintiff asks for relief in the form of a 26 court order requiring the prison to place certain software on all computers, to allow blind inmates 27 to have access to accessible computers in their housing units, that paper and ink be sold to 28 inmates at cost, and that all CDCR personnel take disability sensitivity training. Plaintiff also 3 1 requests ten million dollars in compensatory damages. He further notes that he previously filed a 2 complaint on “this same issue, but failed to state a claim.” 3 4 IV. SUMMARY OF THE PRIOR 545 ACTION In his first amended complaint in the 545 Action, Plaintiff alleged that he was 5 incarcerated at SATF. Plaintiff named, among other defendants, Katherine Allison (“Allison”), 6 the then acting warden of SATF. See First Amended Complaint, Case No. 1:12-cv-00545-LJO- 7 GSA (E.D. Cal. Jan. 10, 2013), ECF Nos. 25. He similarly alleged that the computers in the 8 prison law library had not been modified to make them accessible to disabled inmates. In 9 particular, Plaintiff wanted the law library computers to use software that would magnify the text 10 in Microsoft Word. Plaintiff alleged that the current magnifying device, an Optelec magnifier 11 with dictation capabilities, was not an adequate accommodation for vision-impaired inmates. 12 Plaintiff asked that, among other things, all inmate accessible computers be “loaded with the 13 appropriate software as to allow access to visually impaired inmates,” that all prison staff “be 14 required to take se[n]sitivity training,” that printer ink and paper be given to disabled inmates at 15 their wholesale cost, and that computers be made available to disabled inmates during all non- 16 emergency situations. Plaintiff also asked for ten million dollars in compensatory damages. 17 On September 19, 2013, the assigned magistrate judge in that case issued findings and 18 recommendations recommending that the amended complaint be dismissed for failure to state a 19 claim. Daniels v. Allison, No. 1:12-CV-00545-LJO-GS, 2013 WL 5305744 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 19, 20 2013), ECF No. 26. The magistrate judge identified potential claims arising out of the Americans 21 with Disabilities Act, the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and denial of access 22 to courts. Id. After analyzing each of these respective theories, however, the magistrate judge 23 found that Plaintiff had failed to state any claims and recommended that the case be dismissed. 24 Id. Plaintiff filed objections to the findings and recommendations. See Objections to Findings 25 and Recommendations, Daniels v. Allison, No. 1:12-CV-00545-LJO-GS, 2013 WL 5305744 26 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 13, 2014), ECF No. 32. On February 21, 2014, the assigned district judge (who is 27 also the District Judge in this case, Judge O’Neill) adopted the findings and recommendations in 28 full, dismissed the case with prejudice, and found that the dismissal should constitute a strike 4 1 under the “three-strikes” provision in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). See Order Adopting Findings and 2 Recommendations, Daniels v. Allison, No. 1:12-CV-00545 LJO (E.D. Cal. Feb. 21, 2014), ECF 3 No. 33. Final judgment was entered in the case shortly thereafter. Judgment, Daniels v. Allison, 4 No. 1:12-CV-00545 LJO (E.D. Cal. Feb. 21, 2014), ECF No. 34. V. 5 DISCUSSION A. Legal Standards 6 The doctrine of res judicata2 bars the re-litigation of claims previously decided on their 7 8 merits. Headwaters, Inc. v. U.S. Forest Serv., 399 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir. 2005). Under the 9 doctrine of claim preclusion, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or 10 persons in privity with them from litigating the same claim that was raised in that action and all 11 claims arising out of the same transaction or occurrence. See Taylor v. Sturgell, 128 S.Ct. 2161, 12 2171 (2008); Rest.2d Judgments § 18. “The elements necessary to establish [claim preclusion] 13 are: ‘(1) an identity of claims, (2) a final judgment on the merits, and (3) privity between 14 parties.’” Headwaters, Inc., 399 F.3d at 1052 (quoting Tahoe-Sierra Pres. Council, Inc. v. Tahoe 15 Reg=l Planning Agency, 322 F.3d 1064, 1077 (9th Cir. 2003)). “[T]he doctrine of [claim 16 preclusion] ‘bars all grounds for recovery which could have been asserted, whether they were or 17 not, in a prior suit between the same parties . . . on the same cause of action.’” Costantini v. 18 Trans World Airlines, 681 F.2d 1199, 1201 (9th Cir. 1982) (quoting Ross v. IBEW, 634 F.2d 453, 19 457 (9th Cir. 1980)) (emphasis added). “[I]f a court is on notice that it has previously decided the issue presented, the court may 20 21 dismiss the action sua sponte, even though the defense has not been raised,” Arizona v. 22 California, 530 U.S. 392, 416 (2000), provided that the parties have an opportunity to be heard 23 prior to dismissal. Headwaters, Inc., 399 F.3d at 1055. “As a general matter, a court may, sua 24 sponte, dismiss a case on preclusion grounds ‘where the records of that court show that a 25 26 27 28 2 The Supreme Court has clarified that the terms “claim preclusion” and “issue preclusion” are collectively referred to as “res judicata.” Taylor v. Sturgell, 128 S.Ct. 2161, 2171 (2008). 5 1 previous action covering the same subject matter and parties had been dismissed.’” Id. at 1054- 2 1055(quoting Evarts v. W. Metal Finishing Co., 253 F.2d 637, 639 n. 1 (9th Cir. 1958)). 3 4 B. Analysis Plaintiff’s claims are barred by the doctrine of claim preclusion. First, the present action 5 concerns the same claims as those in the 545 Action. When determining whether a latter 6 litigation concerns the same claims as a former litigation, the Ninth Circuit considers: “(1) 7 whether rights or interests established in the prior judgment would be destroyed or impaired by 8 prosecution of the second action; (2) whether substantially the same evidence is presented in the 9 two actions; (3) whether the two suits involve infringement of the same right; and (4) whether 10 the two suits arise out of the same transactional nucleus of facts,” which is the most important 11 factor. Headwaters, Inc., 399 F.3d at 1052. 12 As laid out above, the allegations in this action all arise out of the same nucleus of facts 13 and allege violations of the same right as those in the 545 Action. Both cases are based on 14 SATF’s failure to make a series of requested accommodations involving law library computers 15 for disabled inmates. In particular, Plaintiff alleges that he is being denied access to the court 16 system because SATF has failed to make the appropriate accommodations to his disability in its 17 law library. In both cases, Plaintiff alleges the same accommodations have been denied. And in 18 both cases, he asks for the same relief. Thus, the claims constitute the “same claim.” Stavrinides 19 v. PG&E, Case No. C 16-00433 WHA, 2016 WL 3345426, at *1 (N.D. Cal. June 16, 2016) 20 (“Res judicata thus precludes claims that could have been raised in the previous action but were 21 not.”) (citing Hiser v. Franklin, 94 F.3d 1287, 1290-91 (9th Cir. 1996)); Pedrina v. Chun, 906 22 F.Supp. 1377, 1400 (D. Haw. 1995) (“a plaintiff cannot avoid the bar of claim preclusion merely 23 by alleging conduct that was not alleged in his prior action or by pleading a new legal theory.”) 24 (citing McClain v. Apodaca, 793 F.2d 1031, 1034 (9th Cir. 1986)). 25 Second, a final judgment on the merits has been entered on the claims alleged in this 26 action. The 545 Action was dismissed for failure to state a claim, and final judgment was entered 27 on February 21, 2014. See Daniels v. Allison, No. 1:12-CV-00545 LJO (E.D. Cal. Feb. 21, 28 2014), ECF No. 34. Thus, it constitutes a final judgment on the merits of the asserted claims. See 6 1 Stewart v. U.S. Bancorp, 297 F.3d 953, 957 (9th Cir. 2002) (“Supreme Court precedent confirms 2 that a dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) is a ‘judgment on the merits’ to 3 which res judicata applies.”) (quoting Federated Dep’t Stores v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 399 n. 3 4 (1981)). 5 Third, there is privity between the parties. Parties are in privity when a party to the latter 6 litigation is “so identified in interest with a party to former litigation that he represents precisely 7 the same right in respect to the subject matter involved.” Headwaters Inc., 399 F.3d at 1052-53 8 (quoting In re Schimmels, 127 F.3d 875, 881 (9th Cir. 1997)); see also Williams v. King, 875 9 F.3d 500, 503 (9th Cir. 2017) (finding that unserved defendants named in a complaint are 10 “parties” to the action). “There is privity between officers of the same government so that a 11 judgment in a suit between a party and a representative of the [government] is res judicata in 12 relitigation of the same issue between that party and another officer of the government.” Scott v. 13 Kuhlmann, 746 F.2d 1377, 1378 (9th Cir. 1984) (citing Sunshine Anthracite Coal Co. v. Adkins, 14 310 U.S. 381, 402-03(1940)). 15 Here, Katherine Allison, the defendant in the 545 Action, and Stu Sherman, the defendant 16 in this action, are identified in interest. Allison and Sherman were both government employees, 17 serving as a warden for SATF. Plaintiff’s claims in both cases are premised on Allison and 18 Sherman’s position as warden. In fact, Sherman is sued in this action in his official capacity. 19 Thus, Sherman represents precisely the same right as Allison with respect to the subject matter of 20 this action. See Brooks v. Alameida, 446 F.Supp.2d 1179, 1183 (S.D. Cal. Aug. 11, 21 2006) (privity existed between prison officials where parties in the present suit held the same 22 positions and stood in the same relation to the inmate-plaintiff as those in the earlier suit); see 23 also Hutchison v. California Prison Indus. Auth., No. 13-cv-04635-CW, 2015 WL 179790, at 24 *3-4 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 14, 2015) (privity existed between state prison system employees who were 25 employed by same state agencies and engaged in the same conduct). 26 Based on this analysis, the Court concludes that the doctrine of claim preclusion prohibits 27 the re-litigation of the claims in the present case as they were previously decided on their merits 28 in the 545 Action. The action should thus be dismissed with prejudice. 7 1 VI. CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATION 2 Based on this analysis, the Court concludes that the doctrine of claim preclusion prohibits 3 the re-litigation of the claims alleged in this action as they were decided on the merits in a 4 previous case. Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY RECOMMENDED that this action be dismissed. 5 These findings and recommendations will be submitted to the United States District 6 Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of Title 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l). Within 7 twenty-one (21) days after being served with these findings and recommendations, Plaintiff may 8 file written objections with the Court. 9 Magistrate Judge’s Findings and Recommendations.” The document should be captioned “Objections to 10 Plaintiff is advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may result in 11 the waiver of rights on appeal. Wilkerson v. Wheeler, 772 F.3d 834, 838-39 (9th Cir. 2014) 12 (citing Baxter v. Sullivan, 923 F.2d 1391, 1394 (9th Cir. 1991)). 13 14 15 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: April 17, 2018 /s/ UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 8