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Chatman v. Acura

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 21, 2017

ERIC C. CHATMAN, CDCR #BD-5474, Plaintiff,
v.
CUSH ACURA; ADAM ROSSMAN, Manager; ALLEN SWEETOW, General Sales Manager; ACURA CORPORATION; TERRY ELMANI Defendants.

          ORDER 1) GRANTING MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS [ECF NO. 12] AND 2) DISMISSING CIVIL ACTION FOR FAILING TO STATE A CLAIM PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(E)(2)(B)(II)

          Hon. William Q. Hayes United States District Court

         ERIC C. CHATMAN (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and incarcerated at California State Prison in Corcoran, California has filed this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (ECF No. 1).

         Plaintiff did not prepay the $400 civil filing fee required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a), but instead, filed a certified copy of his inmate trust account statement which the Court liberally construes as a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (“IFP”). (ECF No. 12). He has since submitted six letters to the Court detailing the allegations raised in his Complaint. Those letters have been accepted for filing in light of Plaintiff's pro se status, and despite Local Rule 83.9, which clearly prohibits such ex parte communications. (ECF Nos. 4-11, 13-18).

         I. Motion to Proceed IFP

         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, if the Plaintiff is a prisoner[2] at the time of filing, even if he is granted leave to proceed IFP, he remains obligated to pay the entire filing 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 also submitted a copy of his CDCR Inmate Statement Report showing his available balance and trust account activity at CIM. See ECF No. 12; 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2); S.D. Cal. CivLR 3.2; Andrews, 398 F.3d at 1119. This statement shows that while Plaintiff had $50.33 deposited to 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. 12 at 2. Based on this accounting, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP, and will assess no initial partial filing fee pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1). 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.”). The Court will further direct the Secretary of the 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).

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

         A. Standard of Review

         If a prisoner's complaint “seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, ” the Court “shall review” the pleading “as soon as practicable after docketing, ” and “dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if [it] . . . is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a), (b)(1); Nordstrom v. Ryan, 762 F.3d 903, 907 n.1 (9th Cir. 2014). In this case, Plaintiff seeks to sue a car manufacturer, one of its dealerships, and a sales manager for events occurring during his employment there in 1996 through 1998. See ECF No. 1 at 1-5. Plaintiff does not seek redress from or name any governmental actors or entities as Defendants. Id. at 1-2. Therefore, § 1915A(a)'s screening provisions do not apply. See Chavez v. Robinson, 817 F.3d 1162, 1168 (9th Cir. 2016) (“Section 1915A mandates early review … for all complaints ‘in which a prisoner seeks relief from a governmental entity…”) (quoting § 1915A(a)).

         Because Plaintiff is proceeding IFP, however, his Complaint is still subject to a sua sponte review, and mandatory dismissal, if it is “frivolous, malicious, fail[s] to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seek[s] monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief, ” regardless of whether he seeks redress from a “governmental entity.” See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); Coleman v. Tollefson, 135 S.Ct. 1759, 1763 (2015) (pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that-(A) the allegation of poverty is untrue; or (B) the action or appeal-(i) is frivolous or malicious; [or] (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.”); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1127 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (“[S]ection 1915(e) not only permits, but requires a district court to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim.”).

         “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). To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint 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 Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). “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. at 679. The “mere possibility of misconduct” falls short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id.; see also Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).

         “When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity, and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679; see also Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000) (“[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.”).

         However, while the court has an obligation “where the petitioner is pro se, particularly in civil rights cases, to construe the pleadings liberally and to afford the petitioner the benefit of any doubt, ” Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2010) (citing Bretz v. Kelman, 773 F.2d 1026, 1027 n.1 (9th Cir. 1985)), it may not “supply essential elements of claims that were ...


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