(PC)Tracchia v. Tilton

2:06-cv-02916 | E.D. Cal. | Feb 28, 2008

Case 2:06-cv-02916-GEB-KJM Document 13 Filed 02/28/08 Page 1 of 4

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA GLEN MATTHEW TRACCHIA, Plaintiff, No. CIV S-06-2916 GEB KJM P vs. JAMES TILTON, et al., Defendants. FINDINGS & RECOMMENDATIONS / Plaintiff is a state prison inmate proceeding pro se with a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff alleges that because he is a life term inmate without a parole date, he is not able to participate in the family visiting program, even though he is housed in a low security open dorm facility; he claims this violates his right to equal protection of the laws. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. I. Standards For A Motion For Dismiss

In considering a motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Erickson v. Pardus, U.S. , 127 S. Ct. 2197" date_filed="2007-06-04" court="SCOTUS" case_name="Erickson v. Pardus">127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) and construe the pleading in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). In order to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim a complaint must contain more than “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action;” it must contain

Case 2:06-cv-02916-GEB-KJM Document 13 Filed 02/28/08 Page 2 of 4 factual allegations sufficient “to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, U.S. , 127 S. Ct. 1955" date_filed="2007-05-21" court="SCOTUS" case_name="Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly">127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007). However, “[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement [of facts] need only ‘“give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.”’” Erickson, 127 S. Ct. 2197" date_filed="2007-06-04" court="SCOTUS" case_name="Erickson v. Pardus">127 S.Ct. at 2200. II. Analysis
California prison regulations permit some inmates to have extended, semi-private (called family or overnight) visits with immediate family members, but provide that “family visiting is a privilege.” 15 Cal. Code Regs. § 3177(b). The regulation also provides that family visits are to be provided to eligible inmates commensurate with institutional security and that certain classes of inmates, including prisoners serving life terms who have not been given parole dates, are not eligible for family visits. 15 Cal. Code Regs. § 3177(b)(2).
In his complaint, plaintiff alleges that he is treated the same as other Level II, Medium A Custody inmates in matters of housing, job assignment and privilege group, and [1] differently only with regard to family visiting. Complaint (Compl.) at 4-5. Defendants argue plaintiff is not similarly situated to other Level II inmates because he does not have a parole date and that the policy is rationally related to institutional security. Motion To Dismiss (MTD) at 5-7.
A. Similarly Situated The first step in an equal protection analysis is to determine whether groups of similarly situated people are treated differently. In Freeman v. City of Santa Ana, the Ninth Circuit explained:
The goal of identifying a similarly situated class . . . is to isolate the factor allegedly subject to impermissible discrimination. The similarly situated group is the control group.

68 F.3d 1180" date_filed="1995-12-29" court="9th Cir." case_name="95 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 8179 v. City of Santa Ana Clyde Cronkhite Paul Walters Ken Ice William Scheer Brad Messmer Stephen Gales Ignacio Barranco">68 F.3d 1180, 1187 (9th Cir. 1995) (internal quotation & citation omitted). In this case, plaintiff Case 2:06-cv-02916-GEB-KJM Document 13 Filed 02/28/08 Page 3 of 4 alleges he is the same in all respects to other Level II, Medium A Custody who have been granted family visiting privileges except that he does not have a parole date. For purposes of this motion to dismiss, plaintiff has adequately isolated the factor that he says subjects him to treatment different from those who are like him in all other respects.

B. Rational Basis Plaintiff concedes that he does not have a constitutional right to family visiting. Compl. at 2. Nevertheless, in the face of an equal protection challenge, “[t]here must be a rational basis for distinctions by prison officials in the application of visitation policies to similarly situated inmates.” Africa v. Vaughan, 998 F. Supp. 552" date_filed="1998-03-19" court="E.D. Pa." case_name="Africa v. Vaughan">998 F.Supp. 552, 554 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Relying on Pro-Family Advocates v. Gomez, 46 Cal. App. 4th 1674" date_filed="1996-07-01" court="Cal. Ct. App." case_name="Pro-Family Advocates v. Gomez">46 Cal.App.4th 1674, 1684 (1st Dist. 1996) and Block v. Rutherford, 468 U.S. 576" date_filed="1984-07-03" court="SCOTUS" case_name="Block v. Rutherford">468 U.S. 576 (1984), defendants argue that the restrictions on family visits for inmates serving life sentences who do not have parole dates are justified by considerations of institutional security and bear a rational relationship to those concerns. Block, by which this court is bound, resolved a dispute about visitation policies applicable to pretrial detainees in force at the Los Angeles County Jail.
At this stage of the proceeding, in light of the applicable law, the court cannot say plaintiff will be unable to demonstrate that the connection between the California policy he challenges and his classification is too tenuous to be rational. He alleges that inmates at his security level or higher receive family visits even if they have a conviction for escape or are subject to I.N.S. holds. Compl. at 8. While the court expresses no view on plaintiff’s ultimate success at the summary judgment stage or at trial, at this stage plaintiff has sufficiently pled an equal protection claim.
IT IS HEREBY RECOMMENDED that defendants’ motion to dismiss (doc. 10) be denied. ///// /////
Case 2:06-cv-02916-GEB-KJM Document 13 Filed 02/28/08 Page 4 of 4 These findings and recommendations are submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(l). Within twenty days after being served with these findings and recommendations, any party may file written objections with the court and serve a copy on all parties. Such a document should be captioned “Objections to Magistrate Judge’s Findings and Recommendations.” Any reply to the objections shall be served and filed within ten days after service of the objections. The parties are advised that failure to file objections within the specified time may waive the right to appeal the District Court’s order. Martinez v. Ylst, 951 F.2d 1153" date_filed="1991-12-24" court="9th Cir." case_name="Gilbert B. Martinez v. Eddie Ylst, Superintendent, California Medical Facility South">951 F.2d 1153 (9th Cir. 1991). DATED: February 27, 2008.

NOTES

[1] Citations to the complaint are to the narrative complaint attached to the form complaint.