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Lennie Hopkins v. Michael J. Astrue


January 9, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jennifer L. Thurston United States Magistrate Judge


Lennie Hopkins ("Plaintiff") seeks judicial review of a determination of the Social Security Administration denying his claim for benefits. Pending before the Court are the complaint and application to proceed in forma pauperis filed by Plaintiff on January 8, 2013. (Docs. 1-2).


The Court may authorize the commencement of an action without prepayment of fees "but a person who submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all assets such person . . . possesses [and] that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). The Court has reviewed Plaintiff's application and has determined that it satisfies the requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Accordingly, Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED.


When an individual seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is required to review the complaint and shall dismiss a complaint, or portion of the complaint, if it is "frivolous, malicious or 4 fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or . . . seeks monetary relief from a defendant 5 who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). A claim is 6 frivolous "when the facts alleged rise to the level of the irrational or the wholly incredible, whether or 7 not there are judicially noticeable facts available to contradict them." Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32-33 (1992). 9


General rules for pleading complaints are governed by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

A pleading stating a claim for relief must include a statement affirming the court's jurisdiction, "a short and plain statement of the claim showing the pleader is entitled to relief; and . . . a demand for the relief sought, which may include relief in the alternative or different types of relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a). The Federal Rules adopt a flexible pleading policy, and pro se pleadings are held to "less stringent standards" than pleadings by attorneys. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521-21 (1972).

A complaint must give fair notice and state the elements of the plaintiff's claim in a plain and succinct manner. Jones v. Cmty Redevelopment Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). The purpose of the complaint is to give the defendant fair notice of the claims against him, and the grounds upon which the complaint stands. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002). The Supreme Court noted:

Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.

Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Conclusory and vague allegations do not support a cause of action. Ivey v. Board of Regents, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982). The Court clarified further,

[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." [Citation]. A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. [Citation].

The plausibility standard is not akin to a "probability requirement," but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully. [Citation]. Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with" a defendant's liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of 'entitlement to relief.'

Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (citations omitted). When factual allegations are well-pled, a court should 5 assume their truth and determine whether the facts would make the plaintiff entitled to relief; 6 conclusions in the pleading are not entitled to the same assumption of truth. Id. The Court may grant 7 leave to amend a complaint to the extent deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by an amendment.

Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127-28 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). 9


Here, Plaintiff's complaint indicates his application and appeal for Social Security benefits have been denied, and he seeks review of the decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying benefits. (Doc. 1 at 2). The Court has jurisdiction over such claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides in relevant part:

Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner made after a hearing to which he was a party, irrespective of the amount in controversy, may obtain a review of such decision by a civil action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to him of such decision or within such further time as the Commissioner may allow. Such action shall be brought in the district court of the United States for the judicial district in which the plaintiff resides, or has his principal place of business . . . The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Commissioner of Social Security, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing.

Id. Except as provided by statute, "[n]o findings of fact or decision of the Commissioner shall be reviewed by any person, tribunal, or governmental agency." 42 U.S.C. § 405(h). The Supreme Court noted the purpose of the legislation was "to forestall repetitive or belated litigation of stale eligibility claims." Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 108 (1977).

Plaintiff asserts an administrative law judge ("ALJ") issued a decision denying his claim for benefits, and that he timely filed a request for review of the decision with the Appeals Council. (Doc. 1 at 2). According to Plaintiff, the Appeals Council denied his request for review, at which time the ALJ's determination became a final decision of the Commissioner. Id. However, Plaintiff has not provided any information regarding when his application date, nor has he provided the date upon which the Appeals Council notified him that his request for review was denied. Accordingly, the Court is unable to determine whether Plaintiff's request for judicial review is timely, and the Court 2 may not have jurisdiction over the action. 3


The Court cannot find with certainty that Plaintiff cannot allege facts, consistent with allegations, in support of the claim or claims that would entitle him to relief. Accordingly, the Court 6 will grant Plaintiff leave to amend the complaint to cure the deficiencies of this complaint by stating 7 the necessary information. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000) (leave to amend 8 should be granted to the extent that the deficiencies of the complaint can be cured by amendment). 9

Plaintiff is informed that the Court cannot refer to a prior pleading in order to make her amended complaint complete. Local Rule 220 requires that an amended complaint be complete in itself without reference to any prior pleading. As a general rule, an amended complaint supersedes the original complaint. See Loux v. Rhay, 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Consequently, once Plaintiff files an amended complaint, the original pleading no longer serves any function in the case.

The amended complaint must bear the docket number assigned this case and must be labeled "First Amended Complaint." Failure to file an amended complaint will be considered to be a failure to comply with the Court's order, and may result in dismissal of this action pursuant to Local Rule 110.


1. Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Doc. 2) is GRANTED;

2. Plaintiff's complaint IS DISMISSED with leave to amend; and

3. Plaintiff SHALL file an amended complaint within twenty-one (21) days from the date of service of this Order.



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