Van Buren v. Waddle et al

Filing 63

ORDER ADOPTING 54 FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS IN FULL; ORDER GRANTING 18 Defendant Lesniak's Motion for Summary Judgment; ORDER DENYING 19 Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment ; and ORDER TERMINATING Defendant Lesniak From Action signed by District Judge Dale A. Drozd on 10/7/2016. (Jessen, A)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 IRVIN VAN BUREN, 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 No. 1:14-cv-01894-DAD-MJS Plaintiff, v. C. WADDLE, J. RONQUILLO, WALINGA, NEIBERT, and C. LESNIAK, Defendants. ORDER ADOPTING FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO GRANT DEFENDANT LESNIAK’S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT, AND DENY PLAINTIFF’S CROSS-MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Doc. Nos. 18, 19, 54) CLERK OF THE COURT DIRECTED TO TERMINATE DEFENDANT LESNIAK 19 20 21 Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action brought pursuant to 22 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 23 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302. The case proceeds on plaintiff’s first amended 24 complaint against defendants Neibert, Ronquillo, and Walinga on plaintiff’s claim of excessive 25 use of force under the Eighth Amendment; on plaintiff’s claim against defendant Waddle for 26 excessive use of force and failure to protect under the Eighth Amendment; and on plaintiff’s 27 claim against defendant Lesniak for violating plaintiff’s procedural due process rights under the 28 Fourteenth Amendment during a rules violation hearing. (Doc. Nos. 7, 9.) 1 1 On August 24, 2016, the assigned magistrate judge issued findings and recommendations, 2 recommending that this court grant defendant Lesniak’s motion for summary judgment with 3 respect to plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment due process claim (Doc. No. 18) and deny plaintiff’s 4 cross-motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. No. 19). (Doc. No. 54.) On September 9, 5 2016, plaintiff filed his objections to the magistrate judge’s findings and recommendations. (Doc. 6 No. 59.)1 Plaintiff’s due process claim arose from alleged procedural deficiencies that occurred 7 8 during a rules violation report (“RVR”) hearing held after plaintiff was issued a RVR for battery 9 on a peace officer. (See Doc. No. 54 at 6.) Defendant Lesniak presided over the hearing and 10 found plaintiff guilty of the prison disciplinary charge. (Id. at 8–9.) In recommending summary 11 judgment in defendant Lesniak’s favor, the assigned magistrate judge found, in relevant part, that 12 defendant Lesniak had afforded plaintiff the minimum procedural requirements mandated under 13 Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 538 (1974): (1) written notice of the charges; (2) at least 24-hours’ 14 advance notice before the hearing; (3) a written statement by the fact finders of the evidence 15 relied on and the reasons for taking disciplinary action; (4) the right of the prisoner to call 16 witnesses in his defense, when permitting him to do so would not be unduly hazardous to 17 institutional safety or correctional goals; and (5) legal assistance to the prisoner where the 18 prisoner is illiterate or the issues presented are legally complex. Id. at 563–71. Plaintiff’s 19 objections focus on the magistrate judge’s rejection of plaintiff’s claim that defendant Lesniak 20 improperly denied plaintiff the opportunity to call witnesses and then failed to document his 21 reasons for doing so. (See Doc. No. 59.) 22 The Supreme Court’s decision in Wolff bestows a substantial amount of discretion upon 23 prison officials to decide whether and when to call live witnesses at a disciplinary hearing. Wolff, 24 418 U.S. at 566. (See also Doc. No. 54 at 17–19 (citing the same).) Prison officials may choose 25 1 26 27 28 Plaintiff attaches to his objections a brief entitled “Plaintiff’s Supplementary Argument to His Surreply to Defendant’s Summary Judgment Motion as to the Claim of Failure to Protect.” (Doc. No. 59 at 9.) The court notes that defendants filed a motion for summary judgment with respect to plaintiff’s failure to protect claim on July 8, 2016. (Doc. No. 46.) That motion is not currently before this court; therefore plaintiff’s “Supplementary Argument” will be disregarded. 2 1 to refuse an inmate’s request to call witnesses for reasons of “irrelevance, lack of necessity, or the 2 hazards presented in individual cases.” See Wolff, 418 U.S. at 566. In Wolff the court suggested 3 that the prison disciplinary committee “state its reason for refusing to call a witness.” Baxter v. 4 Palmigiano, 425 U.S. 308, 321 (1976); but see. 5 In any event, contrary to plaintiff’s arguments, defendant Lesniak did sufficiently state his 6 reasons for denying plaintiff’s request to call witnesses when he recorded in his hearing report 7 that he reviewed plaintiff’s witnesses statements, contained within the investigative employee’s 8 report, and denied plaintiff’s witnesses based on “no further relevance.” (Doc. No. 54 at 17–19.) 9 As such, the evidence on summary judgment establishes that defendant Lesniak did all that due 10 11 process required. In his objections, plaintiff also argues that Wolff grants prisoners the right to call witnesses 12 at a RVR hearing, presumably suggesting that there exists an absolute right to call live witnesses 13 a prison disciplinary hearing. (Doc. No. 59 at 3.) This assertion, however, is incorrect. The right 14 to call witnesses, like the other due process rights delineated in Wolff, is “circumscribed by the 15 necessary ‘mutual accommodation between institutional needs and objectives and the provisions 16 of the Constitution that are of general application.’” Baxter, 425 U.S. at 321 (quoting Wolff, 418 17 U.S. at 566); see also Serrano v. Francis, 345 F.3d 1071, 1077 (9th Cir. 2003. The court is aware 18 of no authorities granting an absolute right to call live witnesses at a prison disciplinary hearing, 19 and plaintiff points to no such authorities. See Santibanez v. Havlin, 750 F. Supp.2d 1121, 1128 20 (E.D. Cal. 2010) (“[A]s a general rule, inmates ‘have no constitutional right to confront and cross- 21 examine adverse witnesses’ in prison disciplinary hearings.”) 22 Plaintiff argues that “a written record helps to insure that administrators, faced with 23 possible scrutiny . . . will act fairly.” (Doc. No. 59 at 2.) Moreover, plaintiff states that several of 24 his proffered witnesses, namely defendants Waddle, Ronquillo, and Walinga, gave 25 “contradictory” responses in his investigative employee’s report. (See id. at 3–4.) In essence, it 26 appears plaintiff believes he should have been given the opportunity to cross-examine these 27 witnesses at his RVR hearing in order to attack their credibility. However, as noted above, due 28 process does not require a written record nor does it provide a prisoner the right to confront and 3 1 cross-examine adverse witnesses during prison disciplinary proceedings. Ponte v. Real, 471 U.S. 2 491, 491, 496 (1985) (finding no need to “‘prescribe’ as constitutional doctrine [a rule] that the 3 disciplinary board must state in writing at the time of the hearing its reasons for refusing to call a 4 witness”); Wolff, 418 U.S. at 568.) 5 In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) and Local Rule 304, the 6 court has conducted a de novo review of this case. Having carefully reviewed the entire file, 7 including plaintiff’s objections, the court finds the findings and recommendations to be supported 8 by the record and by proper analysis. 9 Accordingly, 10 1. The August 24, 2016 findings and recommendations (Doc. No. 54) are adopted in full; 11 2. Defendant Lesniak’s motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 18) is granted; 12 3. Plaintiff’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment (Doc. No. 19) is denied; and 13 4. The Clerk of Court is directed to terminate defendant Lesniak from this action. 14 15 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: October 7, 2016 UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 4

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