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Goods v. City of Bakersfield Police Dept.

United States District Court, E.D. California

October 26, 2019




         Charles Francis Goods is proceeding in forma pauperis in this action, in which he asserts Officer Teri Harless used excessive force against Plaintiff while placing him under arrest and is liable for a violation of his civil rights. (Doc. 5) Defendant seeks to have Plaintiff's in forma pauperis status revoked, asserting the First Amended Complaint should be dismissed without prejudice because Plaintiff is a vexatious litigant. (Doc. 20) For the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends Defendant's motion to dismiss be DENIED.

         I. Procedural Background

         Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a complaint against the City of Bakersfield's Police Department and several of its officers on May 15, 2019. (Doc. 1) Because Plaintiff sought to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court reviewed the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), which provides the Court “shall dismiss the complaint if it is “frivolous, malicious or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or … seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” Although the Court determined Plaintiff initially failed to allege facts sufficient to support his claims, Plaintiff was given leave to amend his complaint. (Doc. 3)

         Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint on June 6, 2019. (Doc. 5) The Court found Plaintiff alleged facts sufficient to support a claim for excessive force against Officer Harless, but failed to state a claim against the other defendants identified. (Doc. 6 at 5-6) Therefore, Plaintiff was informed he could proceed in the action either by attempting to amend his complaint or proceed on the cognizable claim against Officer Harless. (Id. at 7) Plaintiff notified the Court of his intent to proceed on the cognizable claim, and he later dismissed the other claims pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 12)

         On October 16, 2019, Officer Harless filed the motion now pending before the Court, seeking revocation of Plaintiff's in forma pauperis status and dismissal of the complaint. (Doc. 20)

         II. Proceeding In Forma Pauperis

         In general, the Court may authorize the commencement of an action without prepayment of fees “by a person who submits an affidavit that includes a statement of all assets such person . . . possesses [and] that the person is unable to pay such fees or give security therefor.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). However, permission to proceed in forma pauperis for prisoners is limited under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA), which was “intended to eliminate frivolous lawsuits” brought by prisoners. Cano v. Taylor, 739 F.3d 1214, 1219 (9th Cir. 2014). Specifically, the PLRA provides:

In no event shall a prisoner bring a civil action or appeal a judgment in a civil action or proceeding under this section if the prisoner has, on 3 or more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, unless the prisoner is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.

28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

         As the Supreme Court explained, this “three strikes rule” was part of “a variety of reforms designed to filter out the bad claims filed by prisoners and facilitate consideration of the good.” Coleman v. Tollefson, 135 S.Ct. 1759, 1762 (2015) (quoting Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 204 (2007)). The Ninth Circuit explained that “[n]ot all unsuccessful cases qualify as a strike, ” and under the plain language of the PLRA, strikes “are prior cases or appeals, brought while the plaintiff was a prisoner, which were dismissed on the ground that [they were] frivolous, malicious, or fail[ed] to state a claim.” Andrews v. King, 398 F.3d 1113, 1116 n.1, 1121 (9th Cir. 2005). Once a prisoner has accumulated three strikes, he is prohibited by Section 1915(g) from pursuing any other action in forma pauperis in federal court unless he is in “imminent danger of serious physical injury.” See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

         III. Vexatious Litigants

         Pursuant to Local Rule 151(b), the Eastern District of California has adopted the provisions of Title 3A, part 2 of the California Code of Civil Procedure regarding vexatious litigants. Under California law, a vexatious litigant is defined as a person who:

(1) In the immediately preceding seven-year period has commenced, prosecuted, or maintained in propria persona at least five litigations other than in a small claims court that have been . . . finally determined adversely to the person . . . [or]
(2) After a litigation has been finally determined against the person, repeatedly relitigates or attempts to relitigate, in propria persona, either (i) the validity of the determination against the same defendant or defendants as to whom the litigation was finally determined or (ii) the cause of action, claim, controversy, or any of the issues of fact or law, determined or concluded by the final ...

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