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Darrin Armstrong v. Larry Smalls

March 7, 2011

DARRIN ARMSTRONG,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
LARRY SMALLS, FORMER WARDEN; S. ANDERSON, ASSOC. WARDEN;
M. WHITMAN, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, CAPTAIN; J. MONTANO, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, SERGEANT; P. ZILLS, CORRECTIONAL OFFICER, LIEUTENANT; AND DOES 1-5, CORRECTIONAL OFFICERS,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: United States District Judge William Q. Hayes

CDCR #V-00141,

CDCR

ORDER: (1) GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS, IMPOSING INITIAL PARTIAL FILING FEE AND GARNISHING BALANCE FROM PRISONER'S TRUST ACCOUNT PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) [Doc. No. 2]; (2) DENYING MOTION FOR APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) [Doc. No. 3]; AND (3) DIRECTING U.S. MARSHAL TO EFFECT SERVICE OF COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO FED.R.CIV.P. 4(c)(3) & 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d)

Darrin Armstrong ("Plaintiff"), a state prisoner currently incarcerated at Centinela State Prison in Imperial, California, and proceeding in pro se, has filed a civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff claims various Calipatria State Prison officials failed to protect him from a racially motivated attack by fellow inmates on March 20, 2010, despite prior knowledge of the attack. See Compl. at 3-4. As a result, Plaintiff was "stabbed in the face with an inmate manufactured weapon" and now suffers "permanent disfiguration on the right side of his mouth & cheek." Id. at 4. Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 5.

Plaintiff has not prepaid the $350 filing fee mandated by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a); instead he has filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) [Doc. No. 2], as well as a Motion for Appointment of Counsel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) [Doc. No. 3].

I. MOTION TO PROCEED IFP

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 $350. See 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). An action may proceed despite a plaintiff's failure to prepay the entire fee only if he 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, a prisoner granted leave to proceed IFP remains obligated to pay the entire fee in installments, regardless of whether his 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). 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).

In support of his IFP Motion, Plaintiff has submitted 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. This statement shows an available balance of $34.59 as of February 23, 2011, an average monthly balance of $202.86 and average monthly deposits of $64.01 for the 6-month period immediately preceding the filing of his Complaint. Based on this financial information, the Court GRANTSPlaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP [Doc. No. 2] and assesses an initial partial filing fee of $40.57 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1).

However, the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, or his designee, shall collect this initial fee only if sufficient funds in Plaintiff's account are available at the time this Order is executed pursuant to the directions set forth below. 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 v. Delatoore, 281 F.3d 844, 850 (9th Cir. 2002) (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."). The remaining balance 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

Plaintiff requests appointment of counsel because "his imprisonment will greatly limit his ability to litigate," and the issues in his case are "complex" and will "require significant research and investigation." See Pl.'s Mot. [Doc. No. 3] ¶¶ 1-2. Plaintiff claims he is unable to afford counsel, that his case "will likely involve conflicting testimony," and "counsel would be better able to present the evidence and cross-examin[e] [the] witnesses." Id. ¶¶ 1, 3.

Nevertheless, "[t]here is no constitutional right to appointed counsel in a § 1983 action." Rand v. Rowland, 113 F.3d 1520, 1525 (9th Cir. 1997) (citing Storseth v. Spellman, 654 F.2d 1349, 1353 (9th Cir. 1981)); see also Hedges v. Resolution Trust Corp. (In re Hedges), 32 F.3d 1360, 1363 (9th Cir. 1994) ("[T]here is no absolute right to counsel in civil proceedings.") (citation omitted). Federal courts do not have the authority "to make coercive appointments of counsel." Mallard v. United States District Court, 490 U.S. 296, 310 (1989); see also United States v. $292,888.04 in U.S. Currency, 54 F.3d 564, 569 (9th Cir. 1995).

Districts courts do have discretion, however, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(e)(1), to "request" that an attorney represent indigent civil litigants upon a showing of "exceptional circumstances." See Agyeman v. Corrections Corp. of America, 390 F.3d 1101, 1103 (9th Cir. 2004); Rand, 113 F.3d at 1525. "A finding of the exceptional circumstances of the plaintiff seeking assistance requires at least an evaluation of the likelihood of the plaintiff's success on the merits and an evaluation of the plaintiff's ability to articulate his claims 'in light of the complexity of the legal issues involved.'" ...


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