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Hupp v. County of San Diego

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 8, 2014

PAUL HUPP, Plaintiff,


GONZALO P. CURIEL, District Judge.

On November 4, 2013, Plaintiff Paul Hupp, proceeding pro se, commenced this action against Defendants County of San Diego, Albertson and Davidson LLP, James Patrick Romo, Theodore Stephen Drcar, Judith I. Beyl, Stewart Richard Albertson, Keith A. Davidson, Byron Keith Husted, and Roes 1-10 alleging violations of constitutional and civil rights. (Dkt. No. 1.) Plaintiff concurrently filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion to proceed IFP, but sua sponte DISMISSES Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim and lack of federal jurisdiction.


I. Motion to Proceed IFP

Plaintiff moves to proceed IFP under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Section 1915(a) allows a court to authorize a lawsuit's commencement without payment of the filing fee if the plaintiff submits an affidavit demonstrating his or her inability to pay the filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Such affidavit must include a complete statement of the plaintiff's assets. Id . However, an IFP action is subject to dismissal if the court determines that the complaint is frivolous or malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). When a plaintiff moves to proceed IFP, the court first "grants or denies IFP status based on the plaintiff's financial resources alone and then independently determines whether to dismiss the complaint" pursuant to § 1915(e)(2). Franklin v. Murphy , 745 F.2d 1221, 1226 n.5 (9th Cir. 1984).

Here, Plaintiff has submitted an affidavit in support of Plaintiff's IFP motion indicating Plaintiff is unemployed, receives family financial support of $150 per month, has no checking or savings accounts, owes $90, 000 in current obligations, owns one 1986 Nissan pick-up truck that does not run, and owns no other real or personal property. Based on these facts, the Court finds that Plaintiff meets the section 1915(a) requirements and GRANTS Plaintiff's motion to proceed IFP.

II. Sua Sponte Dismissal for Failure to State a Claim

Notwithstanding IFP status, the Court must subject each civil action commenced pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) to mandatory screening and order the sua sponte dismissal of any case it finds "frivolous, malicious, failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeking monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); Calhoun v. Stahl , 254 F.3d 845, 845 (9th Cir. 2001) ("[T]he provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) are not limited to prisoners."); Lopez v. Smith , 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (noting that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) "not only permits but requires" the court to sua sponte dismiss an IFP complaint that fails to state a claim).

"[W]hen determining whether a complaint states a claim, a court must accept as true all allegations of material fact and must construe those facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Resnick v. Hayes , 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000); Barren v. Harrington , 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998) (noting that § 1915(e)(2) "parallels the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)"); see also Andrews v. King , 398 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2005). In addition, the Court has a duty to liberally construe a pro se's pleadings, see Karim-Panahi v. Los Angeles Police Dep't , 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988), which is "particularly important in civil rights cases." Ferdik v. Bonzelet , 963 F.2d 1258, 1261 (9th Cir. 1992). In giving liberal interpretation to a pro se civil rights complaint, however, the court may not "supply essential elements of claims that were not initially pled." Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Alaska , 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

Undertaking this sua sponte review, the Court finds that Plaintiff's Second Cause of Action, alleging County of San Diego liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for denial of access to a law library while in San Diego County custody, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Compl. ¶¶ 95-97.) Section 1983 imposes two essential proof requirements upon a claimant: (1) that a person acting under color of state law committed the conduct at issue, and (2) that the conduct deprived the claimant of some right, privilege, or immunity protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Nelson v. Campbell , 541 U.S. 637 (2004); Haygood v. Younger , 769 F.2d 1350, 1354 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc). "A plaintiff must allege facts, not simply conclusions, that show that an individual was personally involved in the deprivation of his civil rights." Barren v. Harrington , 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998).

Here, Plaintiff's Second Cause of Action alleges Constitutional violations from the County's "denial of, including but not limited to, access to a law library while [Plaintiff] was in COUNTY'S custody." (Compl. ¶ 95.) Taking Plaintiff's allegations as true, Plaintiff has neither demonstrated that there was state action, see 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Brentwood Acad. v. Tennessee Secondary Sch. Athletic Ass'n , 531 U.S. 288, 295 (2001), nor has he presented any facts to support a claim regarding his specific allegations of constitutional violations. For example, Plaintiff fails to allege facts such as: the timing or length of Plaintiff's custody; the County employees who allegedly caused the deprivation; or even the timing or length of the alleged deprivations.[1]

III. Sua Sponte Dismissal for Lack of Federal Jurisdiction

In addition, it is well established that a federal court cannot reach the merits of any dispute until it confirms that it retains subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the issues presented. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environ. , 523 U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998). Accordingly, federal courts are under a continuing duty to confirm their jurisdictional power and are "obliged to inquire sua sponte whenever a doubt arises as to [its] existence...." Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle , 429 U.S. 274, 278 (1977) (citations omitted).

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Unlike state courts, they have no inherent' or general' subject matter jurisdiction. They can adjudicate only those cases which the Constitution and Congress authorize them to adjudicate, i.e. those involving diversity of citizenship, a federal question, or to which the United States is a party. See Finley v. United States , 490 U.S. 545 (1989). Federal courts are presumptively without jurisdiction over civil actions and the burden of ...

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