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Smith v. Herb Thomas & Associates

United States District Court, E.D. California

November 6, 2017

TERESA Y. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
HERB THOMAS & ASSOCIATES, Defendant.

          FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

          DEBORAH BARNES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Teresa Smith, is proceeding in this action pro se. This matter was referred to the undersigned in accordance with Local Rule 302(c)(21) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Pending before the court are plaintiff's complaint and motion to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. (ECF Nos. 1 & 2.) The complaint asserts that defendant manages “a trust account” and has unfairly treated plaintiff. (Compl. (ECF No. 1) at 5.)

         The court is required to screen complaints brought by parties proceeding in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). Here, plaintiff's complaint is deficient. Accordingly, for the reasons stated below, the undersigned will recommend that plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis be denied and that plaintiff's complaint be dismissed without leave to amend.

         I. Plaintiff's Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         Plaintiff's in forma pauperis application makes the showing required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). However, a determination that a plaintiff qualifies financially for in forma pauperis status does not complete the inquiry required by the statute. “‘A district court may deny leave to proceed in forma pauperis at the outset if it appears from the face of the proposed complaint that the action is frivolous or without merit.'” Minetti v. Port of Seattle, 152 F.3d 1113, 1115 (9th Cir. 1998) (quoting Tripati v. First Nat. Bank & Trust, 821 F.2d 1368, 1370 (9th Cir. 1987)); see also McGee v. Department of Child Support Services, 584 Fed.Appx. 638 (9th Cir. 2014) (“the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying McGee's request to proceed IFP because it appears from the face of the amended complaint that McGee's action is frivolous or without merit”); Smart v. Heinze, 347 F.2d 114, 116 (9th Cir. 1965) (“It is the duty of the District Court to examine any application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis to determine whether the proposed proceeding has merit and if it appears that the proceeding is without merit, the court is bound to deny a motion seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis.”).

         Moreover, the court must dismiss an in forma pauperis case at any time if the allegation of poverty is found to be untrue or if it is determined that the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against an immune defendant. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). A complaint is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis in law or in fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989); Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984). Under this standard, a court must dismiss a complaint as frivolous where it is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory or where the factual contentions are clearly baseless. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327; 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e).

         To state a claim on which relief may be granted, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In considering whether a complaint states a cognizable claim, the court accepts as true the material allegations in the complaint and construes the allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984); Hosp. Bldg. Co. v. Trustees of Rex Hosp., 425 U.S. 738, 740 (1976); Love v. United States, 915 F.2d 1242, 1245 (9th Cir. 1989). Pro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However, the court need not accept as true conclusory allegations, unreasonable inferences, or unwarranted deductions of fact. Western Mining Council v. Watt, 643 F.2d 618, 624 (9th Cir. 1981).

         The minimum requirements for a civil complaint in federal court are as follows:

A pleading which sets forth a claim for relief . . . shall contain (1) a short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction depends . . ., (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and (3) a demand for judgment for the relief the pleader seeks.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a).

         II. Plaintiff's Complaint

         Plaintiff's complaint fails to set forth a short and plain statement of the grounds upon which the court's jurisdiction depends or a statement of a claim showing that plaintiff is entitled to relief. In this regard, the complaint alleges that plaintiff's son was awarded a settlement in “case number 2:15-cv-2511 MCE AC, ” and that the settlement was put into a trust account managed by the defendant. (Compl. (ECF No. 1) at 5.) Plaintiff asserts that was “a big mistake” as plaintiff and her son are “treated unfair, ” and have not been able to “enjoy” the settlement since defendant was appointed to manage the trust. (Id.) The complaint also alleges that there is a “conflict of interest” between plaintiff and the defendant, as plaintiff does not “get along with” defendant's staff, and that plaintiff's son has “no communication with Herb Thomas at all.” (Id. at 6.)

         Even accepting these allegations as true, they neither provide a basis for this court's jurisdiction over this newly filed action nor state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[1]Although the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure adopt a flexible pleading policy, a complaint must give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claims and must allege facts that state the elements of each claim plainly and succinctly. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Jones v. Community Redev. Agency, 733 F.2d 646, 649 (9th Cir. 1984). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertions' devoid of ‘further factual enhancements.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557). A plaintiff must allege with at least some degree of particularity overt acts which the defendants engaged in that support the plaintiff's claims. Jones, 733 F.2d at 649.

         Moreover, jurisdiction is a threshold inquiry that must precede the adjudication of any case before the district court. Morongo Band of Mission Indians v. Cal. State Bd. of Equalization, 858 F.2d 1376, 1380 (9th Cir. 1988). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and may adjudicate only those cases authorized by federal law. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); Willy v. Coastal Corp., 503 U.S. 131, 136-37 (1992). “Federal courts are presumed to lack jurisdiction, ‘unless the contrary appears affirmatively from ...


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