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Lonnie Williams v. Higgins

January 24, 2013

LONNIE WILLIAMS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
HIGGINS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Craig M. Kellison United States Magistrate Judge

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Plaintiff, a prisoner proceeding pro se, brings this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pending before the court are defendants' motions to revoke plaintiff's in forma pauperis status and to dismiss this action (Docs. 59 and 64). In their motions, defendants argue: (1) plaintiff has three or more "strikes" under the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") and, therefore, cannot proceed in forma pauperis and must, instead, pre-pay the full filing fees upon re-filing the action; and (2) in any event, plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit.

I. LEGAL STANDARDS

A. In Forma Pauperis Status

The PLRA's "three strikes" provision, found at 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g), provides as follows:

In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action . . . under this section if the prisoner has, on three or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained . . ., brought an action . . . in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the ground that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.

Id.

Thus, when a prisoner plaintiff has had three or more prior actions dismissed for one of the reasons set forth in the statute, such "strikes" preclude the prisoner from proceeding in forma pauperis unless the imminent danger exception applies. Dismissed habeas petitions do not count as "strikes" under § 1915(g). See Andrews v. King, 398 F.3d 1113, 1122 (9th Cir. 2005). Where, however, a dismissed habeas action was merely a disguised civil rights action, the district court may conclude that it counts as a "strike." See id. at n.12.

When in forma pauperis status is denied, revoked, or otherwise unavailable under § 1915(g), the proper course of action is to dismiss the action without prejudice to re-filing the action upon pre-payment of fees at the time the action is re-filed. In Tierney v. Kupers, the Ninth Circuit reviewed a district court's screening stage dismissal of a prisoner civil rights action after finding under § 1915(g) that the plaintiff was not entitled to proceed in forma pauperis. See 128 F.3d 1310 (9th Cir. 1998). Notably, the district court dismissed the entire action rather than simply providing the plaintiff an opportunity to pay the filing fee. The Ninth Circuit held that the plaintiff's case was "properly dismissed." Id. at 1311. Similarly, in Rodriguez v. Cook, the Ninth Circuit dismissed an inmate's appeal in a prisoner civil rights action because it concluded that he was not entitled to proceed in forma pauperis on appeal pursuant to the "three strikes" provision. See 169 F.3d 1176 (9th Cir. 1999). Again, rather than providing the inmate appellant an opportunity to pay the filing fee, the court dismissed the appeal without prejudice and stated that the appellant "may resume this appeal upon prepaying the filing fee."

This conclusion is consistent with the conclusions reached in at least three other circuits. In Dupree v. Palmer, the Eleventh Circuit held that denial of in forma pauperis status under § 1915(g) mandated dismissal. See 284 F.3d 1234 (11th Cir. 2002). The court specifically held that "the prisoner cannot simply pay the filing fee after being denied IFP status" because "[h]e must pay the filing fee at the time he initiates the suit." Id. at 1236 (emphasis in original). The Fifth and Sixth Circuits follow the same rule. See Adepegba v. Hammons, 103

F.3d 383 (5th Cir. 1996); In re Alea, 86 F.3d 378 (6th Cir. 2002).

B. Exhaustion

A motion to dismiss based on a prisoner's failure to exhaust administrative remedies is properly the subject of an unenumerated motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b). See Wyatt v. Terhune, 315 F.3d 1108, 1119 (9th Cir. 2003). "In deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to exhaust non-judicial remedies, the court may look beyond the pleadings and decide disputed issues of fact." Id. at 1119-20. Where the court looks beyond the pleadings to a factual record in deciding the motion to dismiss, which is ". . . a procedure closely analogous to summary judgment," the court must assure that the plaintiff has fair notice of his opportunity to develop a record. Id. at 1120 n.14 (referencing the notice requirements outlined in Rand v. Rowland, 154 F.3d 952 (9th Cir. 1998) (en banc), and Klingele v. Eikenberry, 849 F.2d 409 (9th Cir. 1988). Defendants bear the burden of establishing that the plaintiff failed to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit. See Wyatt, 315 F.3d at 1120. If the court concludes that administrative remedies have not been exhausted, the unexhausted claim should be dismissed without prejudice. See id. at 1120; see also Jones v. Bock, 127 S.Ct. 910 (2007).

Prisoners seeking relief under § 1983 must exhaust all available administrative remedies prior to bringing suit. See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(a). This requirement is mandatory regardless of the relief sought. See Booth v. Churner, 532 U.S. 731, 741 (2001) (overruling Rumbles v. Hill, 182 F.3d 1064 (9th Cir. 1999)). Because exhaustion must precede the filing of the complaint, compliance with § 1997e(a) is not achieved by exhausting administrative remedies while the lawsuit is pending. See McKinney v. Carey, 311 F.3d 1198, 1199 (9th Cir. 2002). The Supreme Court addressed the exhaustion requirement in Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007), and held: (1) prisoners are not required to specially plead or demonstrate exhaustion in the complaint because lack of exhaustion is an affirmative defense which must be pleaded and proved by the defendants; (2) an individual named as a defendant does not necessarily need to be named in the grievance process for exhaustion to be considered adequate ...


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