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Bustin v. San Diego County Sheriff's Medical Services Division

United States District Court, S.D. California

August 9, 2016

CHRISTOPHER LANDON BUSTIN, Booking # 14754438, Plaintiff,
v.
SAN DIEGO COUNTY SHERIFF'S MEDICAL SERVICES DIVISION; ALFRED JOSHUA, M.D.; SAN DIEGO COUNTY SHERIFFS; WILLIAM GORE Defendants.

         ORDER: 1) GRANTING MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS [Doc. No. 2] 2) DENYING MOTION TO APPOINT COUNSEL [Doc. No. 5] AND 3) DISMISSING COMPLAINT FOR FAILING TO STATE A CLAIM PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) AND § 1915A(b)

          HON. ROGER T. BENITEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff, Christopher Landon Bustin, is a pretrial detainee at the Vista Detention Facility. He has filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and requests leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) and the appointment of counsel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(a) and (e)(1) (Doc. Nos. 2, 5). Because Plaintiff’s motion to proceed IFP complies with 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2), the Court grants him leave to proceed without full prepayment of the civil filing fees required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a), but denies his motion for appointment of counsel and dismisses his complaint for failing to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A(b).

         I. Plaintiff’s 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.[1] See 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). The 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 Andrews v. Cervantes, 493 F.3d 1047, 1051 (9th Cir. 2007); Rodriguez v. Cook, 169 F.3d 1176, 1177 (9th Cir. 1999). However, a prisoner who is granted leave to proceed IFP remains obligated to pay the entire fee in “increments” or “installments, ” Bruce v. Samuels, 136 S.Ct. 627, 629 (2016); Williams v. Paramo, 775 F.3d 1182, 1185 (9th Cir. 2015), and 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).

         Section 1915(a)(2) requires prisoners seeking leave to proceed IFP to submit a “certified copy of the trust fund account statement (or institutional equivalent) for . . . the 6-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 his account exceeds $10, and forwards those payments to the Court until the entire filing fee is paid. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(2); Bruce, 136 S.Ct. at 629.

         In support of his IFP motion, Plaintiff has submitted a copy of his San Diego Sheriff’s Department inmate trust account activity. See Doc. No. 2 at 5; 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2); S.D. Cal. CivLR 3.2; Andrews, 398 F.3d at 1119. This statement shows that he is unable to pay any initial fee at this time. 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 [a] initial partial filing fee.”); Bruce, 136 S.Ct. at 630; 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.”).

         Therefore, the Court grants Plaintiff leave to proceed IFP, declines to “exact” any initial filing fee because his trust account statement shows he “has no means to pay it, ” Bruce, 136 S.Ct. at 629, and directs the Watch Commander at the Vista Detention Facility to collect the entire $350 balance of the filing fees required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914 and forward them to the Clerk of the Court pursuant to the installment payment provisions set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). See id.

         II. Motion to Appoint Counsel

         Plaintiff also asks the Court to appoint counsel in this matter. (Doc. No. 5.) There is no constitutional right to counsel in a civil case. Lassiter v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 452 U.S. 18, 25 (1981); Palmer v. Valdez, 560 F.3d 965, 970 (9th Cir. 2009). And while 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(1) grants the district court limited discretion to “request” that an attorney represent an indigent civil litigant, Agyeman v. Corr. Corp. of Am., 390 F.3d 1101, 1103 (9th Cir. 2004), this discretion may be exercised only under “exceptional circumstances.” Id.; see also Terrell v. Brewer, 935 F.2d 1015, 1017 (9th Cir. 1991). A finding of exceptional circumstances requires the Court “to consider whether there is a ‘likelihood of success on the merits’ and whether ‘the prisoner is unable to articulate his claims in light of the complexity of the legal issues involved.’” Harrington v. Scribner, 785 F.3d 1299, 1309 (9th Cir. 2015) (quoting Palmer, 560 F.3d at 970).

         The Court denies Plaintiff’s request without prejudice because nothing in either Plaintiff’s complaint or his motion suggests he is incapable of articulating the factual basis for his inadequate medical care claims. However, at this initial stage of the pleadings, any evaluation of Plaintiff’s likelihood of success on the merits is premature. Id. Therefore, the Court finds no exceptional circumstances justify the appointment of counsel at this time.

         III. Legal Standards for Screening Complaint Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b)

         Because Plaintiff is a prisoner and is proceeding IFP, his complaint requires a pre-answer screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A(b). Under these statutes, the Court must sua sponte dismiss a prisoner’s IFP complaint, or any portion of it, which is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks damages from defendants who are immune. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)); Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2010) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)). “The purpose of [screening] is ‘to ensure that the targets of frivolous or malicious suits need not bear the expense of responding.’” Nordstrom v. Ryan, 762 F.3d 903, 920 n.1 (9th Cir. 2014) (quoting Wheeler v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 689 F.3d 680, 681 (7th Cir. 2012)).

         “The standard for determining whether a plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) standard for failure to state a claim.” Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012); see also Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012) (noting that screening pursuant to § 1915A “incorporates the familiar standard applied in the context of failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)”). Rule 12(b)(6) requires a complaint “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted); Wilhelm, 680 F.3d at 1121.

         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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “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” or “unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me ...


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