The opinion of the court was delivered by: Irma E. Gonzalez, Chief Judge United States District Court
ORDER: (1) GRANTING MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS, IMPOSING NO INITIAL PARTIAL FILING FEE, GARNISHING $350 FROM PRISONER'S TRUST ACCOUNT [ECF No. 2]; (2) DENYING MOTION FOR APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL [ECF No. 3]; (3) SUA SPONTE DISMISSING FIRST AMENDED COMPLAINT FOR FAILING TO STATE A CLAIM PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) & 1915A(b)
Martin Vazquez ("Plaintiff"), a state prisoner currently incarcerated at Calipatria State Prison located in Calipatria, California and proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 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) [ECF No. 2], along with a Motion to Appoint Counsel [ECF No. 3].
Before the Court could conduct the required sua sponte screening of Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) & 1915A(b), Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint ("FAC") which is permissible pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 15(a). Accordingly, the Court will sua sponte screen Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint as it is now the operative pleading.
I. MOTION TO PROCEED IFP[ECFNO.2]
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 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).
Section 1915, as amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), further requires that each prisoner seeking leave to proceed IFP submit a "certified copy of [his] trust fund account statement (or institutional equivalent) ... for the six-month period immediately preceding the filing of the complaint." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2). Using these certified trust account statements, the Court must assess an initial payment of 20% of (a) the average monthly deposit, or (b) the average monthly balance in the account for the past six months, whichever is greater, and collect that amount as the prisoner's initial partial filing fee, unless he has no current assets with which to pay. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4); Taylor, 281 F.3d at 850. Thereafter, 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 his 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); Taylor, 281 F.3d at 847.
The Court finds that Plaintiff has submitted an affidavit that complies with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1) [ECF No. 2] as well as a certified copy of his prison trust account statement pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2) and Civil Local Rule 3.2. Plaintiff's trust account currently indicates that he has insufficient funds from which to pay an initial partial filing fee.
Accordingly, the Court hereby GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP [ECF No. 2], and assesses no initial partial filing fee at this time. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) (court shall assess initial partial filing fee only "when funds exist"); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4) ("In no event shall a prisoner be prohibited from bringing a civil action . . . 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."). However, Plaintiff is required to pay the full $350 filing fee mandated by 28 U.S.C. §§ 1914(a) and 1915(b)(1), by subjecting any future funds credited to his prison trust account to the installment payment provisions set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).
II. MOTION FOR APPOINTMENT OF COUNSEL [ECF No. 3]
Plaintiff also 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)).
While Plaintiff's ability to articulate his claims is limited, the Court finds, as set forth more fully below, that at this stage of the proceeding he is unlikely to find success on the merits of his claims. Thus, the Court deniesPlaintiff'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. SUA SPONTE SCREENING PER 28U.S.C.§§1915(e)(2) & 1915A
The PLRA also obligates the Court 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,0 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 any IFP or prisoner complaint, or any portion thereof, which is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim, or which seeks damages from defendants who are immune. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A; Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (§ 1915(e)(2)); Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 446 (9th Cir. 2000) (§ 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. An action is frivolous if it lacks an arguable basis in either law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989). However 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A now mandate that the court reviewing an IFP or prisoner's suit make and rule on its own motion to dismiss before effecting service of the Complaint by the U.S. Marshal pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 4(c)(2). Id. at 1127 ("[S]section 1915(e) not only permits, but requires a district court to dismiss an ...