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Kanes v. Czech


May 6, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Claudia Wilken United States District Judge



Plaintiff Ronald G. Kanes is confined at Napa State Hospital (NSH). The reason for his confinement is unknown to the Court. He has filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Venue is proper in this district as the acts complained of occurred in Napa County. 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).


Plaintiff alleges that the trust account officer at NSH, Al Czech, is unlawfully withholding Plaintiff's veteran's benefits from him in order to pay the costs of Plaintiff's care, and will not allow Plaintiff access to his funds. Plaintiff maintains that he was informed by the Office of Veterans' Affairs in Sacramento that NSH could not use his funds in this way. Plaintiff has addressed this issue to the Office of Patient's Rights at NSH and to his social worker, apparently to no avail. He seeks injunctive relief.



To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege two essential elements: (1) that a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States was violated, and (2) that the alleged violation was committed by a person acting under the color of State law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). "'[A] complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Terracom v. Valley National Bank, 49 F.3d 555, 558 (9th Cir. 1995) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). Pro se pleadings must be liberally construed. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1988).


The Court liberally construes Plaintiff's claim as one that the trust account office at NSH is in violation of Title 38 U.S.C. § 5301(a), which provides that veteran's disability benefits are not assignable, and that such payments made to a beneficiary are exempt from taxation and claims of creditors and "shall not be liable to attachment, levy, or seizure by or under any legal or equitable process whatever, either before or after receipt by the beneficiary." 38 U.S.C. § 5301(a).

The Ninth Circuit has held that § 5301 prohibits prison officials from placing holds on veteran's benefits in an inmate's account. See Nelson v. Heiss, 271 F.3d 891, 894-96 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 690-91 (3d Cir. 2002) (following Nelson). At this juncture in the proceedings, the Court assumes without deciding that the rationale set forth in Nelson is applicable equally in Plaintiff's situation.

Accordingly, the Court will order Defendant Al Czech, in his official capacity as the trust account officer at NSH, to respond to the complaint.


For the foregoing reasons, the Court orders as follows:

1. Leave to proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED (docket no. 3).

2. The Clerk of the Court shall mail to Defendant Al Czech a Notice of Lawsuit and Request for Waiver of Service of Summons, two copies of the Waiver of Service of Summons, a copy of the complaint and all attachments thereto (docket no. 1), and a copy of this Order. The Clerk of Court shall also mail a copy of the complaint and a copy of this Order to the State Attorney General's Office in San Francisco. Additionally, the Clerk shall mail a copy of this Order to Plaintiff.

3. Defendant is cautioned that Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires him to cooperate in saving unnecessary costs of service of the summons and complaint. Pursuant to Rule 4, if Defendant, after being notified of this action and asked by the Court, on behalf of Plaintiff, to waive service of the summons, fails to do so, he will be required to bear the cost of such service unless good cause be shown for his failure to sign and return the waiver form. If service is waived, this action will proceed as if Defendant had been served on the date that the waiver is filed, except that pursuant to Rule 12(a)(1)(B), Defendant will not be required to serve and file an answer before sixty (60) days from the date on which the request for waiver was sent. (This allows a longer time to respond than would be required if formal service of summons is necessary.) Defendant is asked to read the statement set forth at the foot of the waiver form that more completely describes the duties of the parties with regard to waiver of service of the summons. If service is waived after the date provided in the Notice but before Defendant has been personally served, the Answer shall be due sixty days from the date on which the request for waiver was sent or twenty days from the date the waiver form is filed, whichever is later.

4. Defendant shall answer the complaint in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The following briefing schedule shall govern dispositive motions in this action:

a. No later than thirty (30) days from the date his answer is due, Defendant shall file a motion for summary judgment or other dispositive motion. The motion shall be supported by adequate factual documentation and shall conform in all respects to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. If Defendant is of the opinion that this case cannot be resolved by summary judgment, he shall so inform the Court prior to the date the summary judgment motion is due. All papers filed with the Court shall be promptly served on Plaintiff.

b. Plaintiff's opposition to the dispositive motion shall be filed with the Court and served on Defendant no later than forty-five (45) days after the date on which Defendant's motion is filed. The Ninth Circuit has held that the following notice should be given to pro se plaintiffs facing a summary judgment motion:

The defendants have made a motion for summary judgment by which they seek to have your case dismissed. A motion for summary judgment under Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure will, if granted, end your case.

Rule 56 tells you what you must do in order to oppose a motion for summary judgment. Generally, summary judgment must be granted when there is no genuine issue of material fact--that is, if there is no real dispute about any fact that would affect the result of your case, the party who asked for summary judgment is entitled to judgment as a matter of law, which will end your case. When a party you are suing makes a motion for summary judgment that is properly supported by declarations (or other sworn testimony), you cannot simply rely on what your complaint says. Instead, you must set out specific facts in declarations, depositions, answers to interrogatories, or authenticated documents, as provided in Rule 56(e), that contradict the facts shown in the defendant's declarations and documents and show that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. If you do not submit your own evidence in opposition, summary judgment, if appropriate, may be entered against you. If summary judgment is granted in favor of defendants, your case will be dismissed and there will be no trial.

See Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952, 963 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc).

Plaintiff is advised to read Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed. 2d 265 (1986) (party opposing summary judgment must come forward with evidence showing triable issues of material fact on every essential element of his claim).

Plaintiff is cautioned that because he bears the burden of proving his allegations in this case, he must be prepared to produce evidence in support of those allegations when he files his opposition to Defendants' dispositive motion. Such evidence may include sworn declarations from himself and other witnesses to the incident, and copies of documents authenticated by sworn declaration. Plaintiff will not be able to avoid summary judgment simply by repeating the allegations of his complaint.

c. If Defendant wishes to file a reply brief, he shall do so no later than fifteen (15) days after the date Plaintiff's opposition is filed.

d. The motion shall be deemed submitted as of the date the reply brief is due. No hearing will be held on the motion unless the Court so orders at a later date.

5. Discovery may be taken in this action in accordance with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

6. All communications by Plaintiff with the Court must be served on Defendant, or Defendant's counsel once counsel has been designated, by mailing a true copy of the document to Defendant or Defendant's counsel.

7. It is Plaintiff's responsibility to prosecute this case. Plaintiff must keep the Court informed of any change of address and must comply with the Court's orders in a timely fashion.

8. Extensions of time are not favored, though reasonable extensions will be granted. Any motion for an extension of time must be filed no later than seven days prior to the deadline sought to be extended.



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