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Marvin Glenn Hollis v. M.S. Downing

December 8, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kendall J. Newman United States Magistrate Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding without counsel and in forma pauperis. Plaintiff seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. This proceeding was referred to this court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Rule 302. Presently pending before the court is defendants' motion seeking a determination that plaintiff is barred under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) from pursuing this action without payment of the filing fee, thereby revoking plaintiff's in forma pauperis status.

Defendants contend plaintiff has filed over sixty cases and appeals, and argue plaintiff has sustained three dismissals that qualify as strikes under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). Defendants have provided a chart of the cases plaintiff has filed, which sets forth fifteen cases filed in the United States District Courts, thirteen cases filed in the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and a two page list of cases filed in state court. (Dkt. No. 35-1 at 3-7.)*fn1 Plaintiff argues he has not sustained three strikes as defined in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

For the reasons set forth below, the court recommends that defendants' motion be granted, that plaintiff's in forma pauperis status be revoked, and that plaintiff be permitted to proceed in the instant case only if he pays the $350.00 filing fee.

II. Legal Standards

Plaintiff is subject to the "three strikes rule" set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g), which precludes a plaintiff from proceeding in forma pauperis absent a showing he is in imminent danger of serious physical injury. The "three strikes" provision of the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") requires a court to deny in forma pauperis status ("IFP") to a prisoner who "has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).*fn2 Thus, "[p]risoners who have repeatedly brought unsuccessful suits may entirely be barred from IFP status under the three strikes rule[.]" Andrews v. Cervantes, 493 F.3d 1047, 1052 (9th Cir. 2007). The purpose of this rule is to further "the congressional goal of reducing frivolous prisoner litigation in federal court." Tierney v. Kupers, 128 F.3d 1310, 1312 (9th Cir. 1997); accord Rodriguez v. Cook, 169 F.3d 1176, 1180 (9th Cir. 1999) ("Section 1915(g) does not prohibit prisoners from accessing the courts to protect their rights. Inmates are still able to file claims -- they are only required to pay for filing those claims.").

"[T]he district court docket records may be sufficient to show that a prior dismissal satisfies at least one of the criteria under § 1915(g) and therefore counts as a strike. However, in many instances, the docket records will not reflect the basis for the dismissal. In these instances, the [court must examine] . . . court records or other documentation that will allow [it] to determine that a prior case was dismissed because it was 'frivolous, malicious or fail[ed] to state a claim.' § 1915(g)." Andrews v. King, 398 F.3d 1113, 1120 (9th Cir. 2005). In making this determination, the court is guided by the following:

The PLRA does not define the terms "frivolous," or "malicious," nor does it define dismissals for failure to "state a claim upon which relief could be granted." We have held that the phrase "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted," as used elsewhere in § 1915, "parallels the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)." See Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998) (interpreting § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and employing the same de novo standard of review applied to Rule 12(b)(6) motions). Yet there is no Ninth Circuit case law on the 1996 Amendments to the PLRA that explains precisely what the terms "frivolous" or "malicious" mean. In defining these terms, we look to their "ordinary, contemporary, common meaning." Wilderness Soc'y v. United States Fish & Wildlife Serv., 353 F.3d 1051, 1060 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Thus, a case is frivolous if it is "of little weight or importance: having no basis in law or fact." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 913 (1993); see also Goland v. United States, 903 F.2d 1247, 1258 (9th Cir. 1990) (adopting a definition of "frivolous"). A case is malicious if it was filed with the "intention or desire to harm another." Webster's Third New International Dictionary 1367 (1993).

Andrews v. King, 398 F.3d at 1121; see also Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989) (in forma pauperis statute "accords judges not only the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory, but also the unusual power to pierce the veil of the complaint's factual allegations and dismiss those claims whose factual contentions are clearly baseless").

However, in forma pauperis status must be granted to a "three strikes plaintiff" who demonstrates that he or she is in "imminent danger of serious physical injury." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). Application of this exception requires that the complaint, liberally construed, plausibly allege that,at the time of filing the complaint, "prison officials continue with a practice that has injured [plaintiff ] or others similarly situated in the past." Andrews v. Cervantes, 493 F.3d at 1055, 1056-57 (citations omitted).

III. Analysis

A. Alleged Three Strikes

Initially, the court notes that plaintiff's cases filed in state court were not brought "in a court of the United States" as the plain language of the statute requires. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g); see also 28 U.S.C. § 451 (defining "court of the United States"). Therefore, state ...

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