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Stevenson v. Beard

United States District Court, S.D. California

May 16, 2017

STEVIE J. STEVENSON, CDCR #K-16324, Plaintiff,
JEFFREY BEARD, et al., Defendants.



         STEVIE J. STEVENSON (“Plaintiff”), currently incarcerated at Centinela State Prison (“CEN”) in Imperial, California, and proceeding pro se, has filed a civil rights Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (ECF No. 1), together with a Motion for Leave to File Excess Pages (ECF No. 3), and followed by a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction (ECF No. 5).

         Plaintiff has not paid the civil filing fee required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a); instead he seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) (ECF No. 2).

         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.[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 granted leave to proceed IFP remains obligated to pay the entire fee in “increments” or “installments, ” Bruce v. Samuels, __ U.S. __, 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 CDCR Inmate Statement Report as well as a prison certificate certified by a trust account official at CEN. See ECF No. 2 at 4-8; 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2); S.D. Cal. Civ. L.R. 3.2; Andrews, 398 F.3d at 1119. These statements show that while Plaintiff carried an average monthly balance and had average monthly deposits of $20.09 in his account over the 6-month period immediately preceding the filing of his Complaint, he had an available balance of zero at the time of filing. See ECF No. 2 at 4, 7. Thus, the Court assesses Plaintiff's initial partial filing fee to be $4.01 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1), but acknowledges he may be unable to pay even that minimal 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 the 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's Motion to Proceed IFP (ECF No. 2), declines to exact any initial filing fee because his prison certificate indicates he may have “no means to pay it, ” Bruce, 136 S.Ct. at 629, and directs the Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”), or his designee, to instead 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 for Leave to File Excess Pages

         Civil Local Rule 8.2a provides that complaints filed by prisoners pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 must be “legibly written or typewritten on forms supplied by the court, ” and any additional pages not exceed a total of fifteen. See S.D. Cal. Civ. L.R. 8.2.a. Plaintiff used the Court's form Complaint, but he interspersed additional pages and attached more- therefore, his pleading comprises thirty-six pages (ECF No. 1). Plaintiff requests leave to file these excess pages in an effort to “ensure that all claims were presented correctly, ” and to provide an “explanation about the exhaustion of [his] administrative remedies.” (ECF No. 3 at 1.)

         A court may sua sponte strike a document filed in violation of the Court's local procedural rules. See Ready Transp., Inc. v. AAR Mfg., Inc., 627 F.3d 402, 404 (9th Cir. 2010) (noting district court's “power to strike items from the docket as a sanction for litigation conduct”); Smith v. Frank, 923 F.3d 139, 142 (9th Cir. 1991) (“For violations of the local rules, sanctions may be imposed including, in appropriate cases, striking the offending pleading.”). However, “district courts have broad discretion in interpreting and applying their local rules, ” Simmons v. Navajo Cty., 609 F.3d 1011, 1017 (9th Cir. 2010) (internal quotation and citation omitted), and the Court construes the pleadings of pro se litigants in civil rights cases liberally, affording them the benefit of doubt. See Karim-Panahi v. L.A. Police Dept., 839 F.2d 621, 623 (9th Cir. 1988); Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027, n.1 (9th Cir. 1985) (en banc).

         Here, while Plaintiff's Complaint exceeds the page limitations set by Local Rule 8.2.a, it is not so verbose, “replete with redundancy [or] largely irrelevant” that it violates Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). See Hearns v. San Bernardino Police Dept., 530 F.3d 1124, 1132 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted); Cafasso, U.S. ex rel. v. Gen. Dynamics C4 Sys., Inc., 637 F.3d 1047, 1059 (9th Cir. 2011) (noting that while “the proper length and level of clarity for a pleading cannot be defined with any great precision, ” Rule 8(a) has “been held to be violated by a pleading that was needlessly long, or a complaint that was highly repetitious, or confused, or consisted of incomprehensible rambling” (quoting 5 Charles A. Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice & Procedure § 1217 (3d ed. 2010))).

         Accordingly, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Excess Pages (ECF No. 3).

         III. Sua Sponte Screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A

         A. Standard of Review

         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) (citations omitted).

         “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 accusation[s]” fall short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id.; see also Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).

         B. Plaintiff's Allegations

         Plaintiff divides his Complaint into eight separate causes of action or “Counts, ” but Counts 1-4 and 8 significantly overlap. Specifically, in Counts 1-4, Plaintiff claims that on January 1, 2014, the former Secretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (“CDCR”), Jeffrey Beard, “in concert with” Scott Kernan, CDCR's current Secretary, and Shannon Swain, CDCR's Acting Superintendent of Education, violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by “arbitrarily” amending certain sections of Title 15 of the California Code of Regulations governing inmate law libraries, access to those libraries, and their contents, see ECF No. 1 at 5-6 (“Count 1”); replacing Witkin & Epstein treatises and California Jurisprudence with a “paging system, ” and depriving inmates of the “Gilmore collection” published by West, id. at 7-8 (“Count 2”); failing to update the “only three” library computers available to him to “conduct legal research, ” and limiting his use of those computers to thirty-minute increments, id. at 9-10 (“Count 3”), and “changing the LLEDS [Law Library Electronic Delivery System] from Westlaw to Lexis.” Id. at 11-13 (“Count 4”). In Count 8, Plaintiff alleges CEN Senior Librarian J. Rohrer refused to provide him with copies of three cases “out of the California Reporter 2d and 3rd series” in November and December 2016. Id. at 20 (“Count 8”). Plaintiff claims this denied him the opportunity to “learn about a specific topic of the law as afforded by Westlaw.” Id.

         Plaintiff further claims that in August 2016, Secretary Kernan, CEN's Warden R. Madden, and Litigation Coordinator N. Telles denied him permission to possess “three legal confidential audio CDs, ” which he claims “dealt with his criminal case, ” and which were related to a “Penal Code section 1054.9 motion for post-conviction discovery, ” which had been filed by “his appointed attorney James Bisnow” on August 9, 2012. Id. at 16-17 (“Count 6”).

         In addition, Plaintiff contends two pieces of legal confidential mail-one on or about May 27, 2016, and addressed from the California Innocence Project, and another on or about June 27, 2016, addressed to a Los Angeles County District Attorney-were delivered and/or returned to him ...

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