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Eldridge v. Berryhill

United States District Court, S.D. California

April 4, 2017

STEVEN MICHAEL ELDRIDGE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS AND DISMISSING WITHOUT PREJUDICE PLAINTIFF'S COMPLAINT (ECF NO. 2)

          Hon. Janis L. Sammartino United States District Judge.

         Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Steven Michael Eldridge's Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (“IFP Mot.”). (ECF No. 2.) Plaintiff has filed an action requesting that this Court review and reverse the Social Security Administration's (“SSA”) denial of benefits, or in the alternative, remand the matter for a new hearing. (Compl. ¶ 9, ECF No. 1.)

         IFP MOTION

         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). An action may proceed despite a plaintiff's failure to prepay the entire fee only if he is granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). See Rodriguez v. Cook, 169 F.3d 1176, 1177 (9th Cir. 1999). A federal court may authorize the commencement of an action without the prepayment of fees if the party submits an affidavit, including a statement of assets, showing that she is unable to pay the required filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a).

         In the present case, Plaintiff has submitted an affidavit indicating that his sole source of income is from public assistance in the amount of $194.00 a month. (IFP Mot. 2.) Plaintiff is not currently employed, has no cash or other assets, and indicates that his “parents help [him] with [his] rent and bill[s]” because he “only receive[s] food stamps.” (Id. at 2-3, 5.) Plaintiff estimates his monthly expenses to be $333. (Id. at 5.) Although Plaintiff has failed to fill out several parts of his IFP Application, (id. at 5 (questions 9, 10, 13)), the Court nonetheless concludes that Plaintiff's application demonstrates he is unable to pay the requisite fees and costs regardless of any of Plaintiff's potential responses to the unanswered questions. Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP.

         Screening Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) & 1915A(b)

         The Court must screen every civil action brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) and dismiss any case it finds “frivolous or malicious, ” “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); see also Calhoun v. Stahl, 254 F.3d 845, 845 (9th Cir. 2001) (“[T]he provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) are not limited to prisoners.”); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (noting that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) “not only permits but requires a district court to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim”).

         As amended by the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) mandates that the court reviewing an action filed pursuant to the IFP provisions of § 1915 make and rule on its own motion to dismiss before directing the Marshal to effect service pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(c)(3). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(c)(3); Navarette v. Pioneer Med. Ctr., No. 12-cv-0629-WQH (DHB), 2013 WL 139925, at *1 (S.D. Cal. Jan. 9, 2013).

         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 Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007)). “[D]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim is context-specific, requiring the reviewing court to draw on its experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 663-64 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

         “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity, and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement of relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “[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.” Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000); see also Andrews v. King, 393 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2005); Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998) (“The language of § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) parallels the language of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).”).

         “While factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not.” Hoagland v. Astrue, No. 1:12-cv-00973-SMS, 2012 WL 2521753, at *3 (E.D. Cal. June 28, 2012) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Courts cannot accept legal conclusions set forth in a complaint if the plaintiff has not supported her contentions with facts. Id. (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         In social security appeals, a complaint challenging the denial of benefits “must provide a statement identifying the basis of the plaintiff's disagreement with the Social Security Administration's determination and must make a showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief.” Montoya v. Colvin, No. 2:16-cv-00454-RFB-NJK, 2016 WL 890922, at *2 (D. Nev. Mar. 8, 2016) (collecting cases) (finding that the plaintiff failed to state a claim for relief where the complaint merely alleged that the Commissioner's decision to deny benefits was wrong without explaining why, and instead simply recited the general standards governing review of that decision).[1] “The purpose of the complaint is to briefly and plainly allege facts supporting the legal conclusion that the Commissioner's decision was wrong.” Hoagland, 2012 WL 2521753, at *3 (citing Brown v. Astrue, No. 11-cv-056-JL, 2011 WL 3664429, at *3 (D.N.H. Aug. 19, 2011)).

         In the present case, Plaintiff appeals the Commissioner's decision denying Plaintiff's claim for disability benefits. (Compl. at 1.) However, Plaintiff states only generalized legal conclusions unsupported by any facts whatsoever indicating, for instance, why Plaintiff contends the ALJ's decision was erroneous, why Plaintiff was “disabled as that term is defined in the Social Security Act[, ]” or what “[n]ew and material evidence for which good cause exists for failure to submit earlier exists [that] warrants a remand of this matter for further proceedings.” (See Id. at 1-3.)

         As set forth above, this statement is insufficient to survive the sua sponte screening required by 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(e)(2). Accordingly, the Court ...


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