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Lintz v. Donahoe

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 7, 2014

DEIDRA A. LINTZ, Plaintiff,


DALE A. DROZD, District 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). Pending before the court for review is plaintiff's amended complaint and application to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915.

Plaintiff's in forma pauperis application makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). However, a determination that a plaintiff qualifies financially for in forma pauperis status does not complete the inquiry required by the statute. "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 Calhoun v. Stahl , 254 F.3d 845 (9th Cir. 2001) ("Because Calhoun's complaint sought monetary relief for actions taken in the course of employment by persons who are immune from suit, the district court properly denied in forma pauperis status."); 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.").

Moreover, 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.

Here, plaintiff's amended complaint alleges, in relevant part, as follows. Plaintiff was hired by the United States Postal Service ("USPS") in 1987. In 2007, apparently after plaintiff suffered an injury, she filed "a EEOC...." (Am. Compl. (Dkt. No. 4) at 2.) "Sometime in 2010, " apparently after plaintiff's employment with the USPS had ended, plaintiff contacted Don Smearaldi, Manager of Public Affairs and Communications Pacific Area, "to inquire about her personal belongings of 12 years." ( Id. at 2-3.) "Mr. Smearaldi indicated to Plaintiff that all of her personal belongings had been thrown away." ( Id. at 3.) Plaintiff completed a claim form for her lost personal property but Mr. Smearaldi "failed to follow proper USPS rules and regulations to adjudicate" plaintiff's claim. (Id.) Mr. Smearaldi, "then took liberty to fill out a Request for Medical Information Form...." (Id.)

Based on these allegations the amended complaint asserts causes of action for discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title VII, violation of the Privacy Act of 1974 and violation of the Federal Employees' Compensation Act. ( Id. at 1.) As to relief, the amended complaint seeks reimbursement of the cost of plaintiff's destroyed property, "a letter of [a]pology for invading her privacy" and "compensation for emotional distress, pain and anxiety and time spent preparing" the amended complaint. ( Id. at 6.)

Plaintiff's amended complaint, however, suffers from numerous defects. Although much improved over the original complaint, the amended complaint nonetheless fails to contain a short and plain statement of a claim showing that plaintiff is entitled to relief. For example, the complaint alleges that the USPS retaliated against plaintiff by terminating her employment "after the close of her EEOC complaints...." ( Id. at 4.) That, however, is the extent of plaintiff's factual allegations with respect to that claim. Such vague and conclusory allegations are insufficient to give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claims and fail to allege facts that state the elements of plaintiff's claim plainly and succinctly.[1]

Moreover, plaintiff previously filed a lawsuit in this court against the USPS on July 13, 2009, alleging that the USPS violated Title VII and the Rehabilitation Act by discriminating and retaliating against plaintiff by, among other things, terminating her employment in November of 2008.[2] See Lintz v. Potter, No. 2:09-cv-1907 GEB KJN PS, 2012 WL 2995674, at *2 (E.D. Cal. July 23, 2012). In that action, the assigned Magistrate Judge issued findings and recommendations recommending that defendant's motion for summary judgment be granted and that judgment be entered in favor of the defendant. ( Id. at *28.) Those findings and recommendations were adopted in full by the assigned District Judge and judgment was entered in defendant's favor. See Lintz v. Potter, No. 2:09-cv-1907 GEB KJN PS, 2012 WL 9034131, at *1 (E.D. Cal. Sept. 13, 2012).

The claims plaintiff brought in her prior lawsuit, and any claim that plaintiff could have brought in that lawsuit but failed to, would be barred from being brought in this action by res judicata. Under the doctrine of res judicata, "a final judgment on the merits bars further claims by parties or their privies based on the same cause of action." Montana v. United States , 440 U.S. 147, 153 (1979). The doctrine also "bars all grounds for recovery which could have been asserted, whether they were or not, in a prior suit between the same ...

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