Sunday, November 15, 2009

Brodheim v. Cry, 584 F.3d 1262 (9th Cir. 2009)

A California state prisoner, Brodheim, filed an action (presumably 42 U.S.C. 1983) alleging prison officials violated his First Amendment rights. "The claimed violation occurred when a prison official denied Brodheim's written 'interview request,' and noted on the denial that Brodheim should be 'careful' what he writes and requests in his administrative grievances. This was also followed by a request from the same official that Brodheim be transferred out of the California Medical Facility (CMF) due to his filing of grievances and this lawsuit;" Brodheim, Id. This "grievance" led the Ninth Circuit into an endless discussion of the law on prison staff retaliation against prisoners exercising First Amendment rights. That this frivolous and innocuous complaint described above against a prison official (Cry) warrants federal court intervention is ludicrous. In effect, that's what the U.S District Court said in dismissing the Complaint, and that's what the California Court of Appeal said on Brodheim's petition for habeas corpus in State court. On appeal from the district court decision, the Ninth Circuit notes that Brodheim had filed sixty complaints against prison officials. According to the the Ninth Circuit panel, the "warning" on the administrative report harmed him by "chilling" his exercise of Constitutional rights to file a Complaint. First, the Ninth Circuit disposes of the prison official's (Cry) contention the case is resolved under the doctrine of res judicata. The panel launches into an incomprehensible discussion of res judicata and the differences in analysis by California courts and federal courts. Second, the Ninth Circuit also states the law of retaliatory action toward a prisoner alleging violation of First Amendment rights is "clearly established." By what court? Not the Supreme Court because all the cases cited for this proposition in Brodheim are Ninth Circuit cases. To the extent the Supreme Court has established a basic First Amendment right of prisoners to file grievances, no one would classify Brodheim's absurd complaint as worthy of litigation. And this is not the first time the Ninth Circuit has heard Brodheim's cases. In a previous decision, the Ninth Circuit actually reversed a different U.S. District Court judge who had ruled that Brodheim was entitled to "work credits" in prison under the Equal Protection and Due Process Clauses. Brodheim is serving a life sentence in prison for murder. California law prohibits awarding work credits for prisoner sentenced for life as it is irrelevant. That District Court judge is the same one now running the California prison system.

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