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Lintz v. Donahoe

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 2, 2014

DEIDRA A. LINTZ, Plaintiff,


DALE A. DROZD, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Deidra Lintz is proceeding in this action pro se. This matter was referred to the undersigned in accordance with Local Rule 302(c)(21) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Plaintiff has requested leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915.

Pursuant to federal statute, a filing fee of $350.00 is required to commence a civil action in federal district court. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). In addition, a $50.00 general administrative fee for civil cases must also be paid. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(b). The court may authorize the commencement of an action "without prepayment of fees... by a person who submits an affidavit" showing that she is unable to pay such fees. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a).

Here, plaintiff's in forma pauperis application reflects that, although plaintiff's net monthly wages are exceeded by her monthly expenditures, plaintiff has $3, 000 in cash or in a checking or savings account. (Dkt. No. 2 at 2.)

In light of plaintiff's stated financial situation, the court finds that plaintiff has failed to show that she is unable to pay the filing fees. Thus, plaintiff has made an inadequate showing of indigency. See Olivares v. Marshall , 59 F.3d 109, 111 (9th Cir. 1995) ("Requiring the payment of fees according to a plaintiff's ability to pay serves the dual aims of defraying some of the judicial costs of litigation and screening out frivolous claims.").

Moreover, "[a] district court may deny leave to proceed in forma pauperis at the outset if it appears from the face of the proposed complaint that the action is frivolous or without merit.'" Minetti v. Port of Seattle , 152 F.3d 1113, 1115 (9th Cir. 1998) (quoting Tripati v. First Nat. Bank & Trust , 821 F.2d 1368, 1370 (9th Cir. 1987)). See also Smart v. Heinze , 347 F.2d 114, 116 (9th Cir. 1965) ("It is the duty of the District Court to examine any application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis to determine whether the proposed proceeding has merit and if it appears that the proceeding is without merit, the court is bound to deny a motion seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis.").

The court must dismiss an in forma pauperis case at any time if the allegation of poverty is found to be untrue or if it is determined that the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against an immune defendant. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). A complaint is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy , 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). Under this standard, a court must dismiss a complaint as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke , 490 U.S. at 327; 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e).

To state a claim on which relief may be granted, the plaintiff must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In considering whether a complaint states a cognizable claim, the court accepts as true the material allegations in the complaint and construes the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spalding , 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trustees of Rex Hosp. , 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976); Love v. United States , 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However, the court need not accept as true conclusory allegations, unreasonable inferences, or unwarranted deductions of fact. Western Mining Council v. Watt , 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981).

The minimum requirements for a civil complaint in federal court are as follows:

A pleading which sets forth a claim for relief... shall contain (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction depends..., (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and (3) a demand for judgment for the relief the pleader seeks.

FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a).

Although the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure adopt a flexible pleading policy, a complaint must give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claims and must allege facts that state the elements of each claim plainly and succinctly. FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2); Jones v. Community Redev. Agency , 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). "A pleading that offers labels and conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertions' devoid of further factual enhancements.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 555, 557. A plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts which the defendants engaged in that support the plaintiff's claims. Jones , 733 F.2d at 649.

Moreover, jurisdiction is a threshold inquiry that must precede the adjudication of any case before the district court. Morongo Band of Mission Indians v. Cal. State Bd. of Equalization , 858 F.2d 1376, 1380 (9th Cir. 1988). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and may adjudicate only those cases authorized by federal law. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. , 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); Willy v. Coastal Corp. , 503 U.S. 131, 136-37 (1992). "Federal courts are presumed to lack jurisdiction, unless the contrary appears affirmatively from the record.'" Casey v. Lewis , 4 F.3d 1516, 1519 (9th Cir. 1993) (quoting Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist. , 475 U.S. 534, 546 (1986)).

Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised by the court at any time during the proceedings. Attorneys Trust v. Videotape Computer Prods., Inc. , 93 F.3d 593, 594-95 (9th Cir. 1996). A federal court "ha[s] an independent obligation to address sua sponte whether [it] has subject-matter jurisdiction." Dittman v. California , 191 F.3d 1020, 1025 (9th Cir. 1999). It is the obligation of the district court "to be alert to jurisdictional requirements." Grupo Dataflux v. Atlas Global Group, L.P. , 541 U.S. 567, 593 (2004). Without jurisdiction, the district court cannot decide the merits of a case or order any relief. See Morongo , 858 F.2d at 1380.

The burden of establishing jurisdiction rests upon plaintiff as the party asserting jurisdiction. Kokkonen , 511 U.S. at 377; see also Hagans v. Lavine , 415 U.S. 528, 543 (1974) (acknowledging that a claim may be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction if it is "so insubstantial, implausible, ... or otherwise completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal controversy within the jurisdiction of the District Court"); Bell v. Hood , 327 U.S. 678, 682-83 (1946) (recognizing that a claim is subject to dismissal for want of jurisdiction where it is "wholly insubstantial and frivolous" and so patently without merit as to justify dismissal for lack of jurisdiction); Franklin v. Murphy , 745 F.2d 1221, 1227 n.6 (9th Cir. 1984) (holding that even "[a] paid complaint that is obviously frivolous' does not confer federal subject matter jurisdiction... and may be dismissed sua sponte before service of process.").

Here, plaintiff's allegations in their entirety are found on a single page of the complaint. Those allegations do not reflect a short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction depends, a short and plain statement of plaintiff's claim showing that the she is entitled to relief, or even a demand for judgment for the relief she seeks. Rather, in her complaint plaintiff simply alleges that,

On or around May 17, 2011, [plaintiff] was made aware that Don Smearaldi, Manager of Public Affairs and Communications, Pacific Area, United States Postal Service, requested [plaintiff's] Employee Medical File (EMF) to satisfy portion for claim of personal property loss. The claim of personal property loss was never paid.

(Compl. (Dkt. No. 1) at 1.) Plaintiff asserts in her complaint that "Mr. Smearaldi failed to abide by postal policy and regulations, " and "was involved in the destruction of [her] personal property...." (Id.)

Presented with only these vague and unclear allegations, the court cannot characterize the nature of plaintiff's claim or determine if this is a matter over which it has jurisdiction.[1]

Accordingly, for the reasons explained above, plaintiff's complaint will be dismissed for failure to state a claim. The undersigned has carefully considered whether plaintiff may amend the complaint to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. "Valid reasons for denying leave to amend include undue delay, bad faith, prejudice, and futility." California Architectural Bldg. Prod. v. Franciscan Ceramics , 818 F.2d 1466, 1472 (9th Cir. 1988). See also Klamath-Lake Pharm. Ass'n v. Klamath Med. Serv. Bureau , 701 F.2d 1276, 1293 (9th Cir. 1983) (holding that while leave to amend shall be freely given, the court does not have to allow futile amendments). However, when evaluating the failure to state a claim, the complaint of a pro se plaintiff may be dismissed "only where it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.'" Franklin v. Murphy , 745 F.2d 1221, 1228 (9th Cir. 1984) (quoting Haines v. Kerner , 404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972). See also Weilburg v. Shapiro , 488 F.3d 1202, 1205 (9th Cir. 2007) ("Dismissal of a pro se complaint without leave to amend is proper only if it is absolutely clear that the deficiencies of the complaint could not be cured by amendment.") (quoting Schucker v. Rockwood , 846 F.2d 1202, 1203-04 (9th Cir. 1988)).

Here, the court cannot yet say that it appears beyond doubt that leave to amend would be futile. Plaintiff's complaint will therefore be dismissed, and she will be granted leave to file an amended complaint. Plaintiff is cautioned, however, that if she elects to file an amended complaint "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft , 556 U.S. at 678. "While legal conclusions can provide the complaint's framework, they must be supported by factual allegations." Id . at 679. Those facts must be sufficient to push the claims "across the line from conceivable to plausible[.]" Id . at 680 (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 557).

Plaintiff is also reminded that the court cannot refer to a prior pleading in order to make an amended complaint complete. Local Rule 220 requires that any amended complaint be complete in itself without reference to prior pleadings. The amended complaint will supersede the original complaint. See Loux v. Rhay , 375 F.2d 55, 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Thus, in an amended complaint, just as if it were the initial complaint filed in the case, each defendant must be listed in the caption and identified in the body of the complaint, and each claim and the involvement of each defendant must be sufficiently alleged. Any amended complaint which plaintiff may elect to file must also include concise but complete factual allegations describing the conduct and events which underlie plaintiff's claims.

Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:

1. Plaintiff's January 23, 2014, application to proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. No. 2) is denied without prejudice.[2]

2. The complaint filed January 23, 2014 (Dkt. No. 1) is dismissed with leave to amend.

3. Plaintiff is granted twenty-eight days from the date of this order to file an amended complaint that cures the defects noted in this order and complies with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Local Rules of Practice.[3] Any amended complaint filed must bear the case number assigned to this action and must be titled "Amended Complaint."

4. Failure to comply with this order in a timely manner may result in a recommendation that this action be dismissed.

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