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Calloway v. California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 25, 2017



         Plaintiff is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff initiated this action on September 6, 2016. (Doc. No. 1.) The matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302. Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration of the assigned magistrate judge's screening order is before the court. (Doc. No. 13.) Plaintiff has also requested the appointment of counsel.


         On January 18, 2017, the assigned magistrate judge screened plaintiff's civil rights complaint and dismissed it for failure to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), which requires plaintiff provide a “short and plain” statement of his claim. (Doc. No. 12.) In so doing, the magistrate judge noted that plaintiff's complaint comprised more than 100 pages of factual allegations and supporting documentation and named approximately 47 separate defendants. (Id. at 3.)

         The magistrate judge also found that plaintiff's complaint improperly joined numerous unrelated defendants and claims, in violation of Rule 18(a), which states that “[a] party asserting a claim to relief as an original claim, counterclaim, cross-claim, or third-party claim, may join, either as independent or as alternate claims, as many claims, legal, equitable, or maritime, as the party has against an opposing party.” (Id.) Therefore, the magistrate judge determined that, to the extent plaintiff wished to file multiple claims against multiple individuals arising from unrelated events, he would have to file them in separate lawsuits. (Id. at 3-4.)

         On February 6, 2017, plaintiff filed the instant motion for reconsideration. (Doc. No. 13.) Therein, plaintiff asks this court to look past the technical deficiencies of his complaint and issue a ruling on the merits of his claims. Plaintiff avers that he made his complaint as brief as he could, and since all of the named defendants conspired together to violate his rights, they are properly joined in a single action.


         I. Legal Standard

         Rule 72(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a party to serve and file objections to a Magistrate Judge's non-dispositive order within fourteen days. In this court, such objections are treated as a motion for reconsideration by the assigned District Judge and should be captioned “Request for Reconsideration.” See Local Rule 303. Plaintiff here has filed a motion requesting reconsideration of the magistrate judge's screening order by the undersigned. As such, the court will review plaintiff's motion under Local Rule 303.

         This Court reviews a motion to reconsider a magistrate judge's ruling under the “clearly erroneous or contrary to law” standard set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and Fed R. Civ. P. 72(a). As such, the court may only set aside those portions of a magistrate judge's order that are either clearly erroneous or contrary to law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); see also Grimes v. City and County of San Francisco, 951 F.2d 236, 240 (9th Cir. 1991). A magistrate judge's factual findings are “clearly erroneous” when the district court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed. Security Farms v. International Bhd. of Teamsters, 124 F.3d 999, 1014 (9th Cir. 1997); Green v. Baca, 219 F.R.D. 485, 489 (C.D. Cal. 2003). The “clearly erroneous' standard is significantly deferential.” Concrete Pipe and Products of California, Inc. v. Construction Laborers Pension Trust for Southern California, 508 U.S. 602, 623 (1993). The “contrary to law” standard allows independent, plenary review of purely legal determinations by the magistrate judge. See Haines v. Liggett Group, Inc., 975 F.2d 81, 91 (3d Cir. 1992); Green, 219 F.R.D. at 489; see also Osband v. Woodford, 290 F.3d 1036, 1041 (9th Cir. 2002). “An order is contrary to law when it fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law, or rules of procedure.” Knutson v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Minn., 254 F.R.D. 553, 556 (D. Minn. 2008); Rathgaber v. Town of Oyster Bay, 492 F.Supp.2d 130, 137 (E.D.N.Y. 2007); see Adolph Coors Co. v. Wallace, 570 F.Supp.2d 202, 205 (N.D. Cal. 1983).

         Here, plaintiff bases his motion for reconsideration on his belief that the magistrate judge improperly dismissed his complaint on procedural grounds and should have instead excused his pleading deficiencies and addressed the merits of plaintiff's claims. In essence, plaintiff argues that the magistrate judge's screening order was clearly erroneous.

         II. Discussion

         The court is required to screen complaints brought by prisoners seeking relief against a governmental entity or an officer or employee of a governmental entity. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). The court must dismiss a complaint or portion thereof if the prisoner has raised claims that are legally “frivolous or malicious, ” that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) & (2).

         Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “requires only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Likewise, Federal Rules 18 and 20 dictate when multiple claims and parties may be joined in a single action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 18(a); 20(a)(2) (a plaintiff may only sue multiple defendants in the same action if at least one claim against each defendant arises out of the same “transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences” and there is a “question of law or fact common to all defendants.”). [1]

         The undersigned has conducted an independent review of the magistrate judge's analysis in screening plaintiff's complaint to determine whether his ruling was clearly erroneous or contrary to law. The court finds that the magistrate judge's ruling was not clearly erroneous or contrary to law. Plaintiff's complaint was dismissed for failure to comply with Rule 8(a)(2) because he did not provide a “short and plain” statement of his claim, in a form that is “simple, concise, and direct.” McHenry v. Renne, 84 F.3d 1172, 1177 (9th Cir. 1996). The magistrate judge properly determined that plaintiff's 100 page complaint - which named 47 different defendants and alleged conduct occurring over the course of nearly two years - failed to meet this requirement. (Doc. No. 12 at 3.) Moreover, the magistrate judge properly dismissed plaintiff's complaint because the events complained of did not arise from the same, or even related, transactions. (Id. at 3-4.) Plaintiff's argument that he should be extended leniency is unavailing; ...

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