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Turner v. San Diego County

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 7, 2014

DAVID B. TURNER, Jr., Booking No. 13719099, Plaintiff,
SAN DIEGO COUNTY, et al., Defendants.


LARRY ALAN BURNS, District Judge.

David B. Turner, Jr., ("Plaintiff"), a state prisoner then serving his sentence in local custody at the San Diego County Sheriff's Department Detention Facility in Vista, California, and proceeding in pro se, filed a civil rights Complaint ("Compl.") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on August 21, 2014 (Doc. No. 1).[1]

Plaintiff did not prepay the $400 civil filing fee required to commence a civil action by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a) at the time of filing; instead he filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) (Doc. No. 2).

In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges the County of San Diego, its Sheriff William D. Gore, and the Vista Detention Facility itself, violated his constitutional rights in December 2013, January 2014, and April 2014, by exposing him to unsanitary cell conditions and polluted air. See Compl. at 2-5. Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief as well as $700, 000 in both compensatory and punitive damages.[2] Id. at 7.

I. Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

All parties instituting any civil action, suit or proceeding in a district court of the United States, except an application for writ of habeas corpus, must pay a filing fee of $400. See 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a).[3] An action may proceed despite a plaintiff's failure to prepay the entire fee only if he is granted leave to proceed IFP pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). See Rodriguez v. Cook, 169 F.3d 1176, 1177 (9th Cir. 1999).

However, if the plaintiff is a "prisoner" as defined by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(h), [4] as amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), at the time of filing, he may be granted leave to proceed IFP, but unlike non-incarcerated civil litigants, he remains obligated to pay the entire fee in installments, regardless of whether his action is ultimately dismissed. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) & (2); Taylor v. Delatoore, 281 F.3d 844, 847 (9th Cir. 2002).

Thus, under the PLRA, a prisoner seeking leave to proceed IFP must submit a "certified copy of the trust fund account statement (or institutional equivalent) for the prisoner for the six-month period immediately preceding the filing of the complaint." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2); Andrews v. King, 398 F.3d 1113, 1119 (9th Cir. 2005). From the certified trust account statement, the Court must assess an initial payment of 20% of (a) the average monthly deposits in the account for the past six months, or (b) the average monthly balance in the account for the past six months, whichever is greater, unless the prisoner has no assets. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4). The institution having custody of the prisoner must collect subsequent payments, assessed at 20% of the preceding month's income, in any month in which the prisoner's account exceeds $10, and forward those payments to the Court until the entire filing fee is paid. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

Plaintiff was incarcerated at the Vista Detention Facility when he filed this action; indeed, he so admits in his Motion to Proceed IFP, to which he has attached a copy of his inmate trust account activity as reported by Sheriff's Department officials. See Doc. No. 2 at 1, 4. As a prisoner, therefore, he is "required to pay the full amount of a filing fee" in order to commence a civil action. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1).

When a prisoner, like Plaintiff, files a motion to proceed IFP which shows he is financially unable to prepay the full amount of the civil filing fee required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a), the Court typically assesses an initial partial filing fee based on Plaintiff's average inmate trust account deposits and balances over the six-month period preceding the filing of his complaint, see 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1), and thereafter directs the "agency having custody" to forward both the initial and subsequent monthly payments required "until the filing fees are paid." See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).

However, Plaintiff's release from custody renders 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)'s fee collection provisions a nullity in this case; for if Plaintiff is no longer incarcerated at the Vista Detention Facility, and he is no longer in the custody of any state or local correctional institution, no inmate trust account exists from which his filing fees may be garnished and forwarded to the court. See DeBlasio v. Gilmore, 315 F.3d 396, 399 (4th Cir. 2010) (noting that after a prisoner is released, there is "no prisoner's account' from which to deduct... payments."). "Section 1915(b)(2) provides no method of remitting payments other than by deduction from a prisoner's account, and thus it does not shed any light on how payments should be paid once that prisoner is released." Id.

The Ninth Circuit has yet to decide how a released prisoner who is obligated to "pay the full amount of a filing fee" under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) may proceed IFP after he has been released, i.e., whether he must prepay the entire civil filing fee at once, whether he may proceed by some other partial fee and/or court-ordered installment payment plan, or whether his obligation to pay the fee is waived altogether or in part by virtue of his release. See Putzer v. Attal, 2013 WL 4519351 at *1 (D. Nev. Aug. 23, 2013) (unpub.) (noting the "unresolved issue within the Ninth Circuit regarding the application of the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) pauper application requirements in cases where the prisoner is released pendente lite, i.e., during the litigation.").

In Putzer, U.S. District Judge Andrew P. Gordon canvassed other published federal circuit cases, noted a split, and concluded, like the Fifth, Seventh, and District of Columbia Circuits, that if an IFP application is filed by a prisoner, the "straightforward Congressional command in § 1915(b)(1)" requires that "full payment... is triggered upon the filing of the... complaint, " and regardless of "how the requirement is satisfied." Id. at *1-2; citing Gay v. Texas Dept. of Corrections, 117 F.3d 240, 241-42 (5th Cir. 1997); In re Smith, 114 F.3d 1247, 1251-52 (D.C. Cir. 1997); Robbins v. Switzer, 104 F.3d 895, 897-99 (7th Cir. 1997).

Judge Gordon further rejected the Tenth, Fourth, Sixth, and Second Circuit's contrary conclusions in Brown v. Eppler, 725 F.3d 1221, 1231 n.7 (10th Cir. 2013); DeBlasio, 315 F.3d at 397; In re Prison Litigation Reform Act, 105 F.3d 1131, 1138-39 (6th Cir. 1997); and McCann v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration, 96 F.3d 28, 29-30 (2d Cir. 1996), all holding that § 1915(b)(1)'s full fee payment requirements do not continue post-release, and instead noted that "even prior to the PLRA... district courts [in the Ninth Circuit] possessed authority under the non-PLRA-related provisions of § 1915 to require partial and/or installment payments." Putzer, 2013 WL 4519351 at *2 (citing Olivares v. Marshall, ...

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