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Owens v. Owens

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

April 16, 2018

MYCHAL OWENS, Plaintiff,
v.
JOHN DOE, et al., Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          BRIAN A. TSUCHIDA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Mychal Owens brings claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against John Doe, Daniel White the former Superintendent of Monroe Corrections Complex (MCC), Christopher Bowman the Associate Superintendent of Washington State Penitentiary (WSP), Walla Walla, and Timothy Thrasher a Department of Corrections Manager. See Dkt. 5. Mr. Owens claims John Doe violated his privacy, conducted an unreasonable search, and imposed on him cruel and unusual punishment by placing a secret hidden camera in his cell that took videos of him. He further alleges defendants White, Bowman, and Thrasher, failed to adequately investigate the matter, failed to sufficiently respond to grievances Mr. Owens lodged, and are somehow responsible for the hidden camera in his cell. Id.

         On March 9, 2018, defendants moved for summary judgment. Dkt. 29. In response, Mr. Owens filed a motion for voluntary dismissal without prejudice. Dkt. 33. After careful review, the undersigned recommends Mr. Owens' motion for voluntary dismissal be granted. If the Court concludes the motion for voluntary dismissal should be denied, and that the merits of Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment should be determined, it is recommended summary judgment be granted and the case be dismissed with prejudice.

         THE COMPLAINT'S ALLEGATIONS

         Mr. Owens' complaint alleges “in November and December 2015, in the intensive management unit of Monroe Corrections Complex, John Doe placed my cell under surveillance in secret through use of hidden cameras.” Dkt 5 at 3. He contends the secret camera violated his right to privacy, constitutes an unreasonable search, and constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Id. at 3-4. The complaint also alleges defendants White, Bowman, and Thrasher are liable for “Failure to Act.” Id. at 4. In specific, Mr. Owens alleges Mr. White “through deliberate indifference allowed this to continue in failing to act, despite his position of authority. He never conducted any meaningful investigation into the matter.” Id. Mr. Owens also alleges he sent letters and grievances to Mr. Bowman “but his refusal to act has allowed the frequency and volume of the violations to increase.” Id. at 5. And finally, Mr. Owens alleges Mr. Thrasher who responded to a grievance “failed to act which symbolizes his implicit authorization.” Id.

         FACTS ASSERTED BY DEFENDANTS

         Defendants acknowledge Mr. Owens was incarcerated in the Intensive Management Unit (IMU) at the MCC during the time period in which the alleged violations occurred. Dkt. 29. In January 2016, Mr. Owens submitted a “level I” grievance claiming he was “watched and recorded on camera while INSIDE my cell, ” . . . and that the “cameras are concealed.” Dkt. 30 (Declaration of White Exhibit 1/1). In response, a Department of Corrections (DOC) grievance coordinator responded indicating “the cameras are not pointed directly into your cell. You do have privacy while in your cell.” Id. Mr. Owens appealed the grievance. Defendant White responded stating:

I have reviewed the level I investigation and concur with the findings. The cameras on the unit are for safety and security. Since they are considered a security device the specific capabilities of our cameras are not made available to offenders. The purpose of the cameras is to monitor offenders while they are outside of their cell. All cameras are mounted in plain view. There are no cameras mounted inside your cell.

Id. at Exhibit 1/3. Mr. White also avers he has no knowledge or reason to believe that there exists any video like the one described by Mr. Owens' grievance and that “if such a video had existed I would have been aware of it given my position at MCC.” Dkt. 30 at 2. Mr. Owens appealed Defendant White's Level II decision and Defendant Thrasher and Scott Russell (non-defendant) oncurred with the previous DOC grievance responses. Id. at Exhibit 1/4.

         In addition to submitting grievances about a secret camera in his cell, Mr. Owens also sent several letters to other DOC employees. Defendant Bowman states that on January 18, 2017, he responded to a letter Mr. Owens mailed to WSP Superintendent Donald Holbrook, and informed Mr. Owens that “the inside of the cells do not have any recording equipment; therefore they are not recorded and there is no video of the nature you suggest.” Dkt. 31, Exhibit 1/2. On January 30, 2017, Mr. Bowman responded to another letter Mr. Owens sent about videos taken from inside his cell. Mr. Bowman stated “Again, we have no such video at WSP.” Id., Exhibit 2/2. On March 29, 2017, Mr. Bowman again responded to a letter Mr. Owens sent about obtaining videos taken by a secret camera in his cell. Mr. Bowman indicated that as noted in his January 30, 2017, letter, Mr. Owens should “follow the public disclosure process outlined in DOC Policy 280.510 Public Disclosure of Records.” Mr. Bowman noted Mr. Owen's struggles with obtaining public records but ended the letter indicating public disclosure is a resource option that is available and as such “I deem the subject closed and will not respond to any further correspondence.” Id. Exhibit 3/2.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Interplay Between Voluntary Dismissal and Summary Judgment

         In response to defendant's summary judgment motion, Mr. Owens filed a “motion to withdraw/voluntarily dismiss.” Dkt. 33. After a motion for summary judgment is filed, and absent a stipulation by all parties who have appeared, “an action may be dismissed at the plaintiff's request, only by court order, on terms that the court considers proper.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(2). A motion for voluntary dismissal under Rule 41(a)(2) “is addressed to the sound discretion of the District Court, and its order will not be reversed unless [it] has abused its discretion.” Hamilton v. Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., 679 F.2d 143, 145 (9th Cir. 1982). Nevertheless, “[a] district court should grant a motion for voluntary dismissal under Rule 41(a)(2) unless a defendant can show that it will suffer some plain legal prejudice as a result.” Smith v. Lenches, 263 F.3d 972, 975 (9th Cir. 2001) (footnote omitted); see also Westlands Water Dist. v. United States, 100 F.3d 94, 96 (9th Cir. 1996).

         The court must therefore determine whether defendants will suffer plain legal prejudice if the case is voluntarily dismissed. Legal prejudice is “prejudice to some legal interest, some legal claim, some legal argument.” Id. at 97. Plain legal prejudice does not result simply because a suit remains unresolved, id., the defendant faces the prospect of a second lawsuit, or the plaintiff stands to gain some tactical advantage, Hamilton, 679 F.2d at 145. The Ninth Circuit has specified that neither the fact that a defendant has incurred substantial expense, nor ...


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