United States District Court, S.D. California
December 18, 2014
LANCE R. MARTIN, CDCR # E-17299, Plaintiff,
T. HARRINSTON; L. MILLER; C. OROZCO, Defendants.
ORDER: (1) GRANTING MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS [ECF Doc. No. 2] AND (2) SUA SPONTE DISMISSING COMPLAINT FOR FAILING TO STATE A CLAIM PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) AND 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1)
ROGER T. BENITEZ, District Judge.
Lance R. Martin ("Plaintiff"), a state prisoner currently incarcerated at Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility ("RJD") in San Diego, and proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights complaint ("Compl.") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Plaintiff has not prepaid the $400 filing fee mandated by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a); instead, he has filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) (ECF Doc. No. 2).
MOTION TO PROCEED IFP
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. See 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). An action may proceed despite the 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 and he is granted leave to proceed IFP, he nevertheless 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).
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, as amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), a prisoner seeking leave to proceed IFP must also submit a "certified copy of the trust fund account statement (or institutional equivalent) 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 assesses 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 then collects subsequent payments, assessed at 20% of the preceding month's income, in any month in which the prisoner's account exceeds $10, and forwards them to the Court until the entire filing fee is paid. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2).
In support of his IFP application, Plaintiff has submitted the certified copies of his trust account statements required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2) and S.D. CAL. CIVLR 3.2. Andrews, 398 F.3d at 1119. The Court has reviewed Plaintiff's trust account statements, as well as the attached prison certificate issued by a senior accounting officer at RJD where he is currently incarcerated verifying his account history and available balances. Plaintiff's statements show an average monthly balance of $27.57, average monthly deposits of $100.00, and an available balance of $5.40 in his account at the time of filing. Based on this financial information, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP (ECF Doc. No. 2) and assesses an initial partial filing fee of $5.51 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1).
However, the Secretary of the CDCR, or his designee, shall collect this initial fee only if sufficient funds in Plaintiff's account are available at the time this Order is executed pursuant to the directions set forth below. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4) (providing that "[i]n no event shall a prisoner be prohibited from bringing a civil action or appealing a civil action or criminal judgment for the reason that the prisoner has no assets and no means by which to pay the initial partial filing fee."); Taylor, 281 F.3d at 850 (finding that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(4) acts as a "safety-valve" preventing dismissal of a prisoner's IFP case based solely on a "failure to pay... due to the lack of funds available to him when payment is ordered."). The remaining balance of the $350 total fee owed in this case shall be collected and forwarded to the Clerk of the Court pursuant to the installment payment provisions set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1).
INITIAL SCREENING PER 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) AND 1915A(b)
A. Standard of Review
Notwithstanding Plaintiff's IFP status or the payment of any partial filing fees, the PLRA also obligates the Court to review complaints filed by all persons proceeding IFP and by those, like Plaintiff, who are "incarcerated or detained in any facility [and] accused of, sentenced for, or adjudicated delinquent for, violations of criminal law or the terms or conditions of parole, probation, pretrial release, or diversionary program, " "as soon as practicable after docketing." See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A(b). Under these statutes, the Court must sua sponte dismiss complaints, or any portions thereof, which are frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or which seek damages from defendants who are immune. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (§ 1915(e)(2)); Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2010) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)).
All complaints must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED.R.CIV.P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is]... a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. The "mere possibility of misconduct" falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id .; see also Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).
"When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity, and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see also Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000) ("[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."); 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)").
However, while the court "ha[s] an obligation where the petitioner is pro se, particularly in civil rights cases, to construe the pleadings liberally and to afford the petitioner the benefit of any doubt, " Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n.1 (9th Cir. 1985)), it may not "supply essential elements of claims that were not initially pled." Ivey v. Board of Regents of the University of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).
B. Access to Courts Claims
Plaintiff claims that Defendants have delayed in mailing confidential legal mail that he has submitted to them. Prisoners have a constitutional right to access to the courts. Lewis v. Casey, 518 U.S. 343, 346 (1996). The right is limited to the filing of direct criminal appeals, habeas petitions, and civil rights actions. Id. at 354. Claims for denial of access to the courts may arise from the frustration or hindrance of "a litigating opportunity yet to be gained" (forward-looking access claim) or from the loss of a suit that cannot now be tried (backward-looking claim). Christopher v. Harbury, 536 U.S. 403, 412-15 (2002); see also Silva v. Di Vittorio, 658 F.3d 1090, 1102 (9th Cir. 2011) (differentiating "between two types of access to court claims: those involving prisoners' right to affirmative assistance and those involving prisoners' rights to litigate without active interference.").
However, the plaintiff must allege "actual injury" as the threshold requirement to any access to courts claim. See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351-53; Silva, 658 F.3d at 1104. An "actual injury" is "actual prejudice with respect to contemplated or existing litigation, such as the inability to meet a filing deadline or to present a claim." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 348; see also Jones v. Blanas, 393 F.3d 918, 936 (9th Cir. 2004) (defining actual injury as the "inability to file a complaint or defend against a charge"). The failure to allege an actual injury is "fatal." Alvarez v. Hill, 518 F.3d 1152, 1155 n.1 (9th Cir. 2008) ("Failure to show that a non-frivolous legal claim had been frustrated' is fatal.") (quoting Lewis, 518 U.S. at 353 & n.4).
In addition, the prisoner must allege the loss of a "non-frivolous" or "arguable" underlying claim. See Harbury, 536 U.S. at 413-14. The nature and description of the underlying claim must be set forth in the pleading "as if it were being independently pursued." Id. at 417. Finally, the plaintiff must specifically allege the "remedy that may be awarded as recompense but not otherwise available in some suit that may yet be brought." Id. at 415.
Plaintiff's Complaint fails to allege the actual injury required to state an access to courts claim. See Lewis, 518 U.S. at 351-53; Silva, 658 F.3d at 1104. Specifically, he has failed to allege how the delay in the mailing of legal documents resulted in an "actual prejudice with respect to contemplated or existing litigation, such as the inability to meet a filing deadline or to present a claim." Lewis, 518 U.S. at 348; Jones, 393 F.3d at 936; Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Moreover, Plaintiff's Complaint also fails to identify or even nominally describe the non-frivolous or arguable nature of the underlying cause of action he either anticipated or lost as a result of Defendants' actions. Harbury, 536 U.S. at 416 ("[L]ike any other element of an access claim[, ]... the predicate claim [must] be described well enough to apply the nonfrivolous' test and to show that the arguable' nature of the underlying claim is more than hope.").
For these reasons, the Court finds Plaintiff's access to courts claims must be dismissed for failing to state a plausible claim upon which § 1983 relief can be granted. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), 1915A(b)(1); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
C. Grievance claims
Plaintiff further alleges that prison officials have not adequately responded to his administrative grievances in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. The Fourteenth Amendment provides that: "[n]o state shall... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. CONST. amend. XIV, § 1. "The requirements of procedural due process apply only to the deprivation of interests encompassed by the Fourteenth Amendment's protection of liberty and property." Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 569 (1972). State statutes and prison regulations may grant prisoners liberty or property interests sufficient to invoke due process protection. Meachum v. Fano, 427 U.S. 215, 223-27 (1976). To state a procedural due process claim, Plaintiff must allege: "(1) a liberty or property interest protected by the Constitution; (2) a deprivation of the interest by the government; [and] (3) lack of process." Wright v. Riveland, 219 F.3d 905, 913 (9th Cir. 2000).
However, the Ninth Circuit has held that prisoners have no protected property interest in an inmate grievance procedure arising directly from the Due Process Clause. See Ramirez v. Galaza, 334 F.3d 850, 869 (9th Cir. 2003) ("[I]nmates lack a separate constitutional entitlement to a specific prison grievance procedure") (citing Mann v. Adams, 855 F.2d 639, 640 (9th Cir. 1988) (finding that the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment creates "no legitimate claim of entitlement to a [prison] grievance procedure")); accord Adams v. Rice, 40 F.3d 72, 75 (4th Cir. 1994) (1995); Buckley v. Barlow, 997 F.2d 494, 495 (8th Cir. 1993).
In addition, Plaintiff has failed to plead facts sufficient to show that prison official deprived him of a protected liberty interest by allegedly failing to respond to his prison grievances in a satisfactory manner. While a liberty interest can arise from state law or prison regulations, Meachum, 427 U.S. at 223-27, due process protections are implicated only if Plaintiff alleges facts to show that Defendants: (1) restrained his freedom in a manner not expected from his sentence, and (2) "impose[d] atypical and significant hardship on [him] in relation to the ordinary incidents of prison life." Sandin v. Conner, 515 U.S. 472, 484 (1995); Neal v. Shimoda, 131 F.3d 818, 827-28 (9th Cir. 1997). Plaintiff pleads nothing to suggest how the allegedly inadequate review and consideration of his inmate grievances resulted in an "atypical" and "significant hardship." Sandin, 515 U.S. at 483-84. Thus, to the extent Plaintiff challenges the procedural adequacy of inmate grievance procedures, these claims must be dismissed for failing to state a plausible claim upon which § 1983 relief can be granted. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), 1915A(b)(1); Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.
Because Plaintiff is proceeding without counsel, and it is not "absolutely clear that no amendment can cure" the defects of pleading set forth above, the Court will grant him an opportunity to amend. See Lucas v. Dep't of Corr., 66 F.3d 245, 248 (9th Cir. 1995); Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1131; Cervantes, 5 F.3d at 1276-77.
CONCLUSION AND ORDER
Based on the foregoing, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that:
1. Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) (ECF Doc. No. 2) is GRANTED.
2. The Secretary of the CDCR, or his designee, shall collect the $5.51 initial filing fee assessed by this Order from Plaintiff's prison trust account, and forward the remaining $344.49 balance of the full fee owed by collecting monthly payments from Plaintiff's account in an amount equal to twenty percent (20%) of the preceding month's income to the Clerk of the Court each time the amount in Plaintiff's account exceeds $10 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2). ALL PAYMENTS SHALL BE CLEARLY IDENTIFIED BY THE NAME AND NUMBER ASSIGNED TO THIS ACTION.
3. The Clerk of the Court is directed to serve a copy of this Order on Jeffrey A. Beard, Secretary, CDCR, P.O. Box 942883, Sacramento, California, XXXXX-XXXX.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that:
4. Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) and § 1915A(b)(1). However, Plaintiff is GRANTED forty-five (45) days leave from the date of this Order in which to file an Amended Complaint which cures all the deficiencies of pleading noted above. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint must be complete in itself without reference to his original pleading. See S.D. CAL. CIVLR. 15.1. Defendants not named and all claims not re-alleged in the Amended Complaint will be considered waived. See King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987).