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WALKER v. THOMPSON

October 12, 2005.

CEDRIC WALKER, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRIS THOMPSON, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN HOUSTON, Magistrate Judge

ORDER:
(1) DENYING MOTION FOR APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL; [Doc. No. 17]
(2) GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS, ASSESSING NO INITIAL PARTIAL FILING FEE AND GARNISHING $250 BALANCE FROM PRISONER'S TRUST ACCOUNT [Doc. No. 18]
(3) SUA SPONTE DISMISSING FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) AND § 1915A
Plaintiff, an inmate currently incarcerated at California State Prison in Los Angeles, California and proceeding pro se, filed a civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on February 7, 2005. In his original Complaint, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Chris Thompson provided false testimony at Plaintiff's criminal trial in 1996. See Compl. at 3. Plaintiff also alleged that the Suarez Corporation has failed to provide Plaintiff with records and documents which would establish the "validity of Plaintiff's claims." Id. Claiming violations of his constitutional rights, Plaintiff now sought declaratory and injunctive relief as well as monetary damages. Id. at 7. Plaintiff did not prepay the civil filing fee required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a), but instead submitted a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), as well as a Motion for "Discretionary Appointment of Counsel."

On March 16, 2005, this Court denied Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of Counsel, as well as Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP because Plaintiff failed to submit a certified copy of his trust account statement as required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2). See March 16, 2005 Order at 2. The Court also sua sponte dismissed Plaintiff's Complaint for failing to state a claim upon which relief could be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1). Id. at 7-8. However, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to file a First Amended Complaint to correct all the deficiencies of pleading identified in the Court's Order. Id. at 7-8. After granting Plaintiff several extensions of time to file his amended pleading, Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint ("FAC") on August 4, 2005 [Doc. No. 16]. Along with his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff filed a second Motion for Appointment of Counsel [Doc. No. 17], along with a Motion to Proceed IFP [Doc. No. 18].

  I. Motion to Proceed IFP [Doc. No. 18]

  Effective February 7, 2005, all parties instituting any civil action, suit or proceeding in a district court of the United States, except an application for writ of habeas corpus, must pay a filing fee of $250. See 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). An action may proceed despite a plaintiff's failure to prepay the entire fee only if the plaintiff is granted leave to proceed IFP pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). See Rodriguez v. Cook, 169 F.3d 1176, 1177 (9th Cir. 1999). However, prisoners granted leave to proceed IFP remain obligated to pay the entire fee in installments, regardless of whether their action is ultimately dismissed. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) & (2); Taylor v. Delatoore, 281 F.3d 844, 847 (9th Cir. 2002). Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, as amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), a prisoner seeking leave to proceed IFP must submit a "certified copy of the trust fund account statement (or institutional equivalent) for the prisoner for the six-month period immediately preceding the filing of the complaint." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2); Andrews v. King, 398 F.3d 1113, 1119 (9th Cir. 2005) ("[P]risoners [seeking leave to proceed IFP per § 1915(a)(1) & (2)] must demonstrate that they are not able to pay the filing fee with an affidavit and submission of their prison trust account records."). From the certified trust account statement, the Court must assess an initial payment of 20% of (a) the average monthly deposits in the account for the past six months, or (b) the average monthly balance in the account for the past six months, whichever is greater, unless the prisoner has no assets. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4). The institution having custody of the prisoner must collect subsequent payments, assessed at 20% of the preceding month's income, in any month in which the prisoner's account exceeds $10, and forward those payments to the Court until the entire filing fee is paid. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

  The Court finds that Plaintiff has submitted an affidavit which complies with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), and that he has attached a certified copy of his trust account statement pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2) and S.D. CAL. CIVLR 3.2. Andrews, 398 F.3d at 1119. Plaintiff's trust account statement shows that he has no available funds from which to pay filing fees at this time. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4) (providing that "[i]n no event shall a prisoner be prohibited from bringing a civil action or appealing a civil action or criminal judgment for the reason that the prisoner has no assets and no means by which to pay the initial partial filing fee."); Taylor, 281 F.3d at 850 (finding that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4) acts as a "safety-valve" preventing dismissal of a prisoner's IFP case based solely on a "failure to pay . . . due to the lack of funds available to him when payment is ordered."). In fact, Plaintiff has a negative balance of $6.00 in his trust account due to legal copy and postage charges. Therefore, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP [Doc. No. 18] and assesses no initial partial filing fee per 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). However, the entire $250 balance of the filing fees mandated shall be collected and forwarded to the Clerk of the Court pursuant to the installment payment provisions set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1).

  II. Motion for Appointment of Counsel [Doc. No. 17]

  Plaintiff requests the appointment of counsel to assist him in prosecuting this civil action. The Constitution provides no right to appointment of counsel in a civil case, however, unless an indigent litigant may lose his physical liberty if he loses the litigation. Lassiter v. Dept. of Social Services, 452 U.S. 18, 25 (1981). Nonetheless, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1), district courts are granted discretion to appoint counsel for indigent persons. This discretion may be exercised only under "exceptional circumstances." Terrell v. Brewer, 935 F.2d 1015, 1017 (9th Cir. 1991). "A finding of exceptional circumstances requires an evaluation of both the `likelihood of success on the merits and the ability of the plaintiff to articulate his claims pro se in light of the complexity of the legal issues involved.' Neither of these issues is dispositive and both must be viewed together before reaching a decision." Id. (quoting Wilborn v. Escalderon, 789 F.2d 1328, 1331 (9th Cir. 1986)).

  Here, it appears that Plaintiff is able to adequately articulate the factual basis of his First Amended Complaint, but for the reasons outlined below, has not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits. Id. Under these circumstances, the Court denies Plaintiff's request without prejudice, as neither the interests of justice nor exceptional circumstances warrant appointment of counsel at this time. LaMere v. Risley, 827 F.2d 622, 626 (9th Cir. 1987); Terrell, 935 F.2d at 1017.

  III. Screening of Amended Complaint per 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b)

  A. Standard of Review

  The Court has carefully reviewed Plaintiff's Amended Complaint as mandated by 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A and, for the reasons set forth below, finds that it is also subject to sua sponte dismissal because: (1) it fails to cure the deficiencies of pleading identified in the Court's March 16, 2005 Order; and (2) it still fails to state a claim upon which § 1983 relief may be granted. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130-31 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (§ 1915(e)(2)); Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 446 (9th Cir. 2000) (§ 1915A).

  The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") requires courts to review complaints filed by all persons proceeding IFP and by those, like Plaintiff, who are "incarcerated or detained in any facility [and] accused of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms or conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program," "as soon as practicable after docketing." See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b). Under these provisions, the Court must sua sponte dismiss prisoner and all other IFP complaints, or any portions thereof, which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or which seek monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A; Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1126-27 (§ 1915(e)(2)); Resnick, 213 F.3d at 446 (§ 1915A).

  Before amendment by the PLRA, the former 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d) permitted sua sponte dismissal of only frivolous and malicious claims. Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1126, 1130. However, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b) now mandate that the court reviewing an IFP or prisoner's suit make and rule on its own motion to dismiss before directing that the Complaint be served by the U.S. Marshal pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 4(c)(2). Id. at 1127 ("[S]ection 1915(e) not only permits, but requires a district court to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim."); see also Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998) (discussing § 1915A).

  "[W]hen determining whether a complaint states a claim, a court must accept as true all allegations of material fact and must construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Resnick, 213 F.3d at 447; Barren, 152 F.3d at 1194 (noting that § 1915(e)(2) "parallels the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)"). However, while liberal construction is "particularly important in civil rights cases," Ferdik v. Bonzelet, 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992), the court may nevertheless not "supply essential elements of the claim that were not initially pled." Ivey v. Board of Regents of the University of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). Moreover, the court is not required to grant leave to amend if it determines that the pleading "could not possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts," Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1130-31 (citing Doe v. United States, 58 F.3d 494, 497 (9th Cir. 1995); Balistreri v. Pacifica Police ...


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