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Rodriguez v. Astrue

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


April 27, 2009

JIMMY RODRIGUEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, DEFENDANT.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sandra M. Snyder United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S CLAIM AGAINST THE ADMINISTRATIVE LAW JUDGE WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND, FIND A COGNIZABLE CLAIM AGAINST DEFENDANT COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, AND DIRECT SERVICE OF THE COMPLAINT

Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis with an action seeking judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying Plaintiff's application for benefits.

I. Screening the Complaint

A. Legal Standards

In cases wherein the plaintiff is proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court is required to screen cases and shall dismiss the case at any time if the Court determines that the allegation of poverty is untrue, or the action or appeal is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2).

Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) provides:

A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain:

(1) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support;

(2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief; and

(3) a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief.

Rule 8(a)'s simplified pleading standard applies to all civil actions, with limited exceptions," none of which applies to section 1983 actions. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N. A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002); Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). Pursuant to Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief . . . ." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). "Such a statement must simply give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Swierkiewicz, 534 U.S. at 512. However, "the liberal pleading standard... applies only to a plaintiff's factual allegations." Neitze v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 330 n.9 (1989).

In reviewing a complaint under this standard, the Court must accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question, Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Trustees of Rex Hospital, 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976), construe the pro se pleadings liberally in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000), and resolve all doubts in the Plaintiff's favor, Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969).

Although a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff does not meet his or her obligation to provide the grounds of entitlement to relief by supplying only conclusions, labels, or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a claim. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65 (2007). Factual allegations must be sufficient, when viewed in light of common experience, to raise a right to relief above the speculative level and to provide plausible grounds to suggest and infer the element, or to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the required element. Bell, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations of the complaint, and it may not be dismissed based on a court's assessment that the plaintiff will fail to find evidence to support the allegations or prove the claim to the satisfaction of the finder of fact. Bell, 127 S.Ct. at 1969.

If the Court determines that the complaint fails to state a claim, leave to amend should be granted to the extent that the deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by amendment. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Dismissal of a pro se complaint for failure to state a claim is proper only where it is obvious that the Plaintiff cannot prevail on the facts that he has alleged and that an opportunity to amend would be futile. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d at 1128.

A claim is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis either in law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989). A frivolous claim is based on an inarguable legal conclusion or a fanciful factual allegation. Id. A federal court may dismiss a claim as frivolous if it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or if the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Id.

The test for malice is a subjective one that requires the Court to determine whether the applicant is proceeding in good faith. Kinney v. Plymouth Rock Squab. Co., 236 U.S. 43, 46 (1915); see Wright v. Newsome, 795 F.2d 964, 968 n. 1 (11th Cir. 1986). A lack of good faith is most commonly found in repetitive suits filed by plaintiffs who have used the advantage of cost-free filing to file a multiplicity of suits. A complaint may be inferred to be malicious if it suggests an intent to vex the defendants or abuse the judicial process by relitigating claims decided in prior cases, Crisafi v. Holland, 655 F.2d 1305, 1309 (D.C.Cir. 1981); if it threatens violence or contains disrespectful references to the Court, id.; or if it contains untrue material allegations of fact or false statements made with knowledge and an intent to deceive the Court, Horsey v. Asher, 741 F.2d 209, 212 (8th Cir. 1984).

B. Plaintiff's Complaint

Plaintiff's signed complaint consists of one page of allegations with 166 pages of attached documents, consisting of documents associated with a Social Security proceeding. Indulging all inferences in favor of the pro se plaintiff, the Court concludes that Plaintiff alleges that an administrative law judge abused his discretion in rendering a decision finding Plaintiff not disabled that was not supported by substantial evidence. The complaint refers to a final decision from the Social Security Administration (SSA), to new and material evidence contrary to the weight of the decision, and to a treating doctor's opinion that Plaintiff was disabled.

B. Wrong Defendant

The only claim stated by Plaintiff is a claim for review of the Commissioner's denial of Plaintiff's application for benefits.

The Commissioner, currently Michael J. Astrue, is the proper defendant in a 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) action seeking this Court's review of a final decision to deny Social Security benefits. Butler v. Apfel, 144 F.3d 622, 624 (9th Cir. 1998). The statute does not permit a plaintiff to name as defendant the administrative law judge (ALJ) who issued a decision to deny Social Security benefits; there is no Bivens claim for the denial of Social Security benefits. Id.

Here, Plaintiff names as defendants not only the Commissioner of Social Security, but also the Honorable Bert C. Hoffman, an administrative law judge of the SSA.

Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim against the administrative law judge, and Plaintiff's claim against the ALJ must be dismissed without leave to amend.

C. Order to Serve the Commissioner

The Court concludes that Plaintiff has stated a claim against the Commissioner of Social Security, one of the named defendants, for review of a final decision concerning a claim that Plaintiff was disabled and was entitled to Social Security Benefits.

Therefore, service is appropriate with respect to Defendant Commissioner of Social Security.

D. Recommendations

Accordingly, it IS RECOMMENDED that

1) Plaintiff's claim against Administrative Law Judge Bert C. Hoffman BE DISMISSED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND; and

2) The Court FIND that Plaintiff states a claim against the Commissioner of Social Security for review of a decision denying Plaintiff's claim for benefits, and that thus service upon the Commissioner is appropriate; and

3) The Court ISSUE DIRECTIONS to Plaintiff, the Clerk, and the Marshal, as follows:

a) The Clerk of the Court shall send Plaintiff one USM-285 form, one summons, an instruction sheet, a notice of submission of documents, and two copies of the complaint filed in this Court.

b) Within thirty days from the date of service of the order, Plaintiff shall complete the attached Notice of Submission of Documents and submit the completed Notice to the Court with the following documents:

1. Completed summons;

2. One completed USM-285 form for each defendant listed above; and

3. Two copies of the endorsed complaint filed in this Court.

Plaintiff need not attempt service on defendants and need not request waiver of service;

c) Upon receipt of the documents described above, the Clerk of the Court SHALL FORWARD them to the United States Marshal to serve the above-named defendants pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 without payment of costs.

d) Upon receipt of the documents described above, the Marshal SHALL SERVE the above-named Defendants.

Plaintiff's failure to comply with this order will result in a recommendation to dismiss this action for failure to obey this Court's order. Local Rule 11-110.

This report and recommendation is submitted to the United States District Court Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(B) and Rule 72-304 of the Local Rules of Practice for the United States District Court, Eastern District of California. Within thirty (30) days after being served with a copy, 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." Replies to the objections shall be served and filed within ten (10) court days (plus three days if served by mail) after service of the objections. The Court will then review the Magistrate Judge's ruling pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(C). 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 (9th Cir. 1991).

IT IS SO ORDERED.

20090427

© 1992-2009 VersusLaw Inc.



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