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Gatewood v. McNeil

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

November 29, 2018

JOHN LEON GATEWOOD, Plaintiff,
v.
APRIL McNEIL; TUI FAATEA, Defendants.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT TUI FAATEA'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          Leslie E. Kobayashi, United States District Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Tui Faatea's (“Faatea”) Motion to Dismiss (“Motion”), filed on June 25, 2018.[1] [Dkt. no. 135.] Pro se Plaintiff John Leon Gatewood (“Plaintiff”) filed his memorandum in opposition on July 6, 2018, and Defendant April McNeil (“McNeil”) filed her statement of no opposition on August 2, 2018. [Dkt. nos. 143, 159.] The Court finds this matter suitable for disposition without a hearing pursuant to Rule LR7.2(d) of the Local Rules of Practice of the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii (“Local Rules”). Faatea's Motion is hereby denied for the reasons set forth below.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his original complaint on March 2, 2017, and he filed an amended complaint on April 24, 2017. [Dkt. nos. 1, 8.] On April 30, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Prisoner Civil Rights Complaint - Second Amended Complaint (“Second Amended Complaint”), alleging a retaliation claim against McNeil and Faatea, in their individual capacities. [Dkt. no. 102.] This claim has been construed as a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim alleging a violation of Plaintiff's First Amendment rights. See Order Dismissing Complaint in Part and Denying Assistance of Counsel, filed 4/11/17 (dkt. no. 6) (“4/11/17 Order”), at 6, 12-13 (discussing retaliation claim in Plaintiff's original complaint).[2]

         Plaintiff's claim arises from an altercation between him and Faatea on September 18, 2015 (“Incident”), when Plaintiff was an inmate at the Waiawa Correctional Facility (“WCF”). [Second Amended Complaint at pg. 5.] Plaintiff alleges McNeil and Faatea were both employed by and stationed at WCF, as Adult Correctional Officers (“ACO”). [Id. at pgs. 1-2.] Plaintiff alleges McNeil “maliciously retaliated against [Plaintiff]” after he informed her and the WCF staff that he intended to press charges against Faatea for “striking and pushing [him].” [Id. at pg. 5.] At an unspecified time thereafter, Plaintiff alleges the Honolulu Police Department (“HPD”) came to WCF to investigate the charges. Thereafter, McNeil and Faatea allegedly falsified certain documents to ensure that Plaintiff received “unfair disciplinary proceedings.” [Id.] According to Plaintiff, as a result of the Incident and proceeding, Plaintiff was locked up in solitary confinement where he suffered a nervous breakdown and fainted. [Id. at pg. 5.] Faatea filed her answer to the Second Amended Complaint on June 22, 2018. [Dkt. no. 128.]

         Faatea filed the instant Motion seeking a dismissal with prejudice of all claims against her pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b). Faatea asserts that: Plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies; Plaintiff's claims are barred by the statute of limitations and the doctrine of qualified immunity; and Plaintiff's claims are moot, not ripe, or otherwise not justiciable. [Motion at 2.]

         DISCUSSION

         I. Plaintiff's Retaliation Claim

         Prisoners have the constitutional right to file prison grievances under the First Amendment, and to “pursue civil rights litigation in the courts.” Schroeder v. McDonald, 55 F.3d 454, 461 (9th Cir. 1995). A viable claim of First Amendment retaliation must allege five elements: “(1) An assertion that a state actor took some adverse action against an inmate (2) because of (3) that prisoner's protected conduct, and that such action (4) chilled the inmate's exercise of his First Amendment rights, and (5) the action did not reasonably advance a legitimate correctional goal.” Rhodes v. Robinson, 408 F.3d 559, 567-68 (9th Cir. 2005) (footnote and citations omitted).

         Taking the allegations in the Complaint as true, Plaintiff has pled sufficient factual allegations to state a plausible retaliation claim. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007))). Plaintiff alleges both McNeil and Faatea “falsified documents” to ensure he had an unfair disciplinary hearing, which occurred after he informed McNeil and the WCF staff of his intent to file a grievance against Faatea, and after Plaintiff contacted HPD to “investigate[] the charges.” [Second Amended Complaint at pg. 5.] Thus, the first three elements of Plaintiff's retaliation claim have been met. See Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 567-68. As a result of the alleged false documentation by McNeil and Faatea and the subsequent “unfair disciplinary proceedings, ” Plaintiff was locked up in solitary confinement where he suffered a nervous breakdown. [Second Amended Complaint at pg. 5.] Both the false documentation and discipline based on incorrect information could reasonably have a “chilling” effect on a prisoner's intent and ability to file a grievance, and there is no penological purpose that could be advanced by either. See Rhodes, 408 F.3d at 567-68. To the extent Faatea argues the Second Amended Complaint fails to allege the elements of a plausible retaliation claim, the Motion is denied.

         II. Other Arguments

         Faatea also argues Plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity, the statute of limitations, his failure to exhaust administrative remedies, and finally, that Plaintiff's claims are “moot, not ripe, or otherwise not justiciable.” [Motion at 2.] The Court addresses each argument in turn.

         A. Qualified Immunity

         The doctrine of qualified immunity “protects government officials ‘from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.'” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 231 (2009) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, ...


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