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Johnson v. Gonzalez

United States District Court, E.D. California

May 16, 2017

LACEDRIC JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
ISAAC GONZALEZ AND A. MARTINEZ, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER RE FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS RE DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR COSTS AND STAY (Doc. 32)

          Lawrence J. O'Neill UNITED STATES CHIEF DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Lacedric Johnson, a state prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in this action brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1983, previously brought a suit in state court against the same Defendants based on the same facts, but on different legal theories. After the parties litigated briefly, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the case. Approximately three months later, he filed this case.

         Defendants now move under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(d)[1] to recoup the attorney's fees and costs they expended in the state-court action, and request that the Court stay this case until Plaintiff pays those fees and costs. The Magistrate Judge issued Findings & Recommendations (“F&Rs”), which recommended that Defendants' request be denied entirely. See Doc. 32 at 1. Defendants timely filed objections, and Plaintiff timely filed a statement of non-opposition to the F&Rs. Docs. 34, 35.

         For the following reasons, the Court declines to adopt the F&Rs. The Court finds that, as a matter of law, Defendants are not entitled to an award of attorney's fees, but awards them the costs associated with defending Plaintiff's state-court case.

         II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In August 2013, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Superior Court for the County of Fresno, asserting two California common law claims against Defendants for (1) intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”) and (2) conversion. Doc. 24 at 4. Defendants demurred, and in December 2013, the trial court sustained the demurrer as to the IIED claim, but overruled it as to the conversion claim. Id. at 31. In April 2014, the trial court granted Plaintiff's motion to dismiss the case voluntarily without prejudice. Id. at 40.

         Three months later, Plaintiff filed this case, which asserts various constitutional claims and reasserted Plaintiff's conversion claim against the same Defendants named in the state-court case based on the same facts as alleged in Plaintiff's state court case.[2] Plaintiff testified that he did so because, among other reasons, (1) other prison officers-not Defendants-physically assaulted him and interfered with his ability to litigate the case, and (2) he “chose to pursue the claims in the federal forum which better protects inmates['] fundamental rights during litigation and is better served to promote the judicial process.” Doc. 38 at 5. After twice screening Plaintiff's complaint, the Court eventually found Plaintiff had stated certain constitutional claims, and exercised supplemental jurisdiction over the conversion claim. See Docs. 16, 20, 22. This case now proceeds on those claims. See Docs. 20, 22.

         Shortly after being served, Defendants filed a motion under Rule 41(d) to recover the costs they expended in defending Plaintiff's state-court case and to stay this case until Plaintiff pays those costs, with a deadline of sixty days. Doc. 23. Defendants request approximately $400 in costs and $4, 100 in attorney's fees, for a total of approximately $4, 500 in fees and costs. See Doc. 23-1 at 5.

         The Magistrate Judge issued F&Rs in which she recommends that Defendants' motion be denied entirely. Doc. 32. The Magistrate Judge reasoned that to award Defendants fees and costs with a sixty- day deadline, when Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, would effectively amount to a dismissal, which is “an unduly harsh penalty.” Doc. 32 at 5.

         Defendants object to the F&Rs “as effectively exempting Plaintiff from Rule41(d) due to his in forma pauperis status, ” and ask the Court to conduct a de novo review of their Rule 41(d) motion. Doc. 34 at 2 (citing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Rule 72(b)(3)). Plaintiff has no objections to the F&Rs.Doc. 34.

         III. ANALYSIS

Rule 41(d) provides in relevant part:
If a plaintiff who previously dismissed an action in any court files an action based on or including the same claim against the same defendant, the court: (1) may order the plaintiff to pay all or part of the costs of that previous action; and (2) ...

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