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Chatman v. Super 8 Motel Co.

United States District Court, S.D. California

February 20, 2018

ERIC C. CHATMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
SUPER 8 MOTEL COMPANY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER: (1) GRANTING MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS (ECF NO. 2) AND (2) DISMISSING CIVIL ACTION AS FRIVOLOUS PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(E)(2)(B)(II)

          Hon. Cynthia Bashant United States District Judge

         Plaintiff Eric C. Chatman, proceeding pro se and incarcerated at California Substance Abuse Treatment Facility (“SATF”), in Corcoran, California, initiated this civil rights action by filing a Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in the Eastern District of California on January 26, 2018. (See ECF No. 1.)

         Plaintiff did not prepay the $400.00 civil filing fee required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a) at the time of filing, but instead filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (“IFP”). (See ECF No. 2.) On January 30, 2018, the Honorable Stanley A. Boone, United States Magistrate Judge, found venue was improper in Eastern District, and transferred the case to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a). (See ECF No. 3.) Judge Boone did not rule on Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP, nor did he screen Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) or § 1915A prior to transfer. (Id. at 2.)

         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 $400.00.[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 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, 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 twenty percent 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 twenty percent of the preceding month's income, in any month in which his account exceeds $10.00, 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 showing his available balance and trust account activity at SATF. (See ECF No. 2 at 4); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2); S.D. Cal. Civ. L. R. 3.2; Andrews, 398 F.3d at 1119. This statement shows while Plaintiff had $100.33 deposited to his account over the six-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.)

         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 $350.00 balance of the filing fee required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914 and forward installments payments to the Clerk of the Court pursuant to 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). Here, Plaintiff seeks to sue the Super 8 Motel Company, and one of its motels in Oceanside, California, because he was “robbed and jumped” by four unidentified persons, whom he claims were selling drugs on its premises. (See ECF No. 1 at 3-6.) Plaintiff does not seek redress from or name any governmental actors or entities as defendants. (Id. at 1-2.)

         Therefore, section 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)); see also Thompson v. Hicks, 213 Fed.Appx. 939, 2007 WL 106785 at *3 (11th Cir. 2007) (noting that because a private defendant was not a “governmental entity” as described in § 1915A, prisoner's complaint as to that defendant was not subject to dismissal under § 1915A).

         However, because Plaintiff is proceeding IFP, his Complaint is still subject to 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 purpose of section 1915's screening provisions 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) (quoting Wheeler v. Wexford Health Sources, Inc., 689 F.3d 680, 681 (7th Cir. 2012)).

         B. ...


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