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Davis v. Kings County Board of Supervisors

United States District Court, E.D. California

December 17, 2019

TERRENCE L. DAVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
KINGS COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DECLINING TO ADOPT FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS AND GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S APPLICATIONS TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS (DOC. NOS. 5, 8, 11)

         Plaintiff Terrence L. Davis is a state prisoner proceeding pro se in this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff commenced this action by filing a complaint on December 7, 2018 (Doc. No. 1) and an application to proceed in forma pauperis on December 26, 2018 (Doc. No. 5). On February 25, 2019, plaintiff filed a second application to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. No. 8.) The matter was referred to a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 302.

         On May 10, 2019, the assigned magistrate judge issued findings and recommendations, recommending that plaintiff's applications to proceed in forma pauperis be denied and that he be required to pay the $400.00 filing fee in full to proceed with this action because: (1) he is subject to the three strikes bar under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g); and (2) the allegations of plaintiff's complaint do not satisfy the “imminent danger of serious physical injury” exception to § 1915(g). (Doc. No. 11 at 1.) Those findings and recommendations were served on plaintiff and contained notice that any objections thereto were to be filed within twenty-one (21) days after service. (Id. at 10.) On June 3, 2019, plaintiff requested a 40-day extension of time to file objections to the findings and recommendations (Doc. No. 12), which the court granted on June 6, 2019 (Doc. No. 13). On August 12, 2019, plaintiff again requested an extension of time to file his objections (Doc. No. 14), and the court granted a 30-day extension of time to do so on August 15, 2019. (Doc. No. 15.) Nonetheless, plaintiff did not timely file objections to the findings and recommendations, and instead filed a third request for an extension of time to do so on November 20, 2019. (Doc. No. 16.) On November 21, 2019, the court denied plaintiff's third request for an extension of time to file his objections to the pending findings and recommendations. (Doc. No. 17.) Thereafter, plaintiff did not file any objections to the pending findings and recommendations.

         In accordance with the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), the undersigned has conducted a de novo review of the case. Having carefully reviewed the entire file, the undersigned declines to adopt the findings and recommendations. Specifically, the undersigned concludes that two of the four dismissal orders relied upon in the findings and recommendations as strikes under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g) do not qualify as strike dismissals under the statute. Each of the dismissal orders relied upon in the findings and recommendations is addressed in turn below.

         First, the findings and recommendations rely upon the dismissal order in Davis v. High Desert State Prison, 2:14-cv-00404-EFB (E.D. Cal. Nov. 7, 2014) as a prior strike. A review of the docket in that case establishes that the action was dismissed “for failure to prosecute and failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” (High Desert State Prison, Doc. No. 16 at 2.) That dismissal order was signed by a magistrate judge, and plaintiff had consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction in that action. (High Desert State Prison, Doc. No. 8.) The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently clarified that although “a magistrate judge lacks the authority to dismiss a case unless all parties have consented to proceed before the magistrate judge, ” a prisoner plaintiff “cannot escape the consequences of [a] prior judgment [] through an untimely collateral attack.” Hoffman v. Pulido, 928 F.3d 1147, 1149-1150 (9th Cir. 2019) (citing Williams v. King, 875 F.3d 500, 504-05 (9th Cir. 2017)); see also Jones v. Alameda Dist. Attorney's Office, No. 19-cv-04428-RS (PR), 2019 WL 4845694, at *1, n.2 (N.D. Cal. Oct. 1, 2019) (citing Hoffman, 928 F.3d at 1150) (counting dismissal orders signed by magistrate judges as strikes under § 1915(g)). Accordingly, the dismissal of Davis v. High Desert State Prison qualifies as a strike against plaintiff under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

         Second, the findings and recommendations rely upon the dismissal in Davis v. Chapparo, 1:06-cv-00118-LJO-SMS (E.D. Cal. June 1, 2007) as a prior strike. A review of the docket in that case establishes that the action was dismissed by the assigned district judge “for failure to obey the court's order . . . and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” (Chapparo, Doc. No. 17 at 2.) Accordingly, the dismissal of that case counts as a strike against plaintiff under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

         Third, the findings and recommendations rely upon the dismissal in Davis v. Solano State Prison, 2:01-cv-00082-LKK-GGH (E.D. Cal. Feb. 7, 2007) as a prior strike. A review of the docket in that case establishes that on August 3, 2001, plaintiff's operative complaint was dismissed for failure to state a claim, and that some of plaintiff's claims were also dismissed as duplicative or Heck-barred. (Solano State Prison, Doc. No. 7.) Plaintiff was given leave to amend the complaint in that action but instead of filing an amended complaint, plaintiff requested a stay so that he could exhaust his administrative remedies. (Solano State Prison, Doc. No. 17.) Plaintiff's request led the magistrate judge to issue findings and recommendations, recommending that that action be dismissed without prejudice due to plaintiff's failure to exhaust administrative remedies-a failure that was not clear from the face of the complaint. (Solano State Prison, Doc. No. 18.) The district court “adopted in full” the magistrate judge's recommendation that plaintiff's complaint be dismissed without prejudice due to his “failure to exhaust administrative remedies.” (Solano State Prison, Doc. No. 22.)

         The findings and recommendations now pending before this court recommend that the dismissal in Solano State Prison be counted as a strike even though plaintiff's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies prior to filing suit was not clear from the face of the complaint, because plaintiff conceded that he failed to exhaust and had filed his civil complaint prematurely. (Doc. No. 11 at 4.) The undersigned is not persuaded that such an admission is materially similar to a complaint that on its face reflects a failure to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit. See El-Shaddai v. Zamora, 833 F.3d 1036, 1044 (9th Cir. 2016) (holding that a dismissal for failure to exhaust administrative remedies counts as a strike dismissal under § 1915(g) if the failure to exhaust is clear from the face of the complaint); see also Kelly v. Elit, No. 1:18-cv-00019-DAD-SAB, 2018 WL 1905667, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 23, 2018) (“[I]f a case is dismissed because the failure to exhaust was clear on the face of the complaint, and no outside evidence was considered in reaching that determination, the dismissal would count as a strike.”). In Solano State Prison plaintiff's later concession of his failure to exhaust was not reflected on the face of his complaint. Accordingly, the dismissal in Solano State Prison cannot be counted as a strike against plaintiff under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

         Fourth and finally, the findings and recommendations rely upon the dismissal in Davis v. Solano State Prison (“SSP II”), 2:04-cv-00320-DFL-KJM (E.D. Cal. Feb. 7, 2007) as a prior strike. A review of the docket in that case establishes that on November 9, 2004, the assigned magistrate judge issued a screening order dismissing plaintiff's complaint because he had failed to state cognizable claims and because some of his claims were Heck-barred. (SSP II, Doc. No. 5.) Plaintiff was given leave to amend a single, potentially viable claim. (SSP II, Doc. No. 5 at 5.) However, plaintiff did not file an amended complaint, and on January 5, 2005, the magistrate judge issued findings and recommendations, noting plaintiff's failure to file an amended complaint or otherwise respond to the court's order and recommending that the action be dismissed without prejudice. (SSP II, Doc. No. 7.) The district court “adopted in full” the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations and dismissed the action without prejudice. (SSP II, Doc. No. 8.)

         Although the findings and recommendations pending before the undersigned in the present case state that SSP II was “dismissed because plaintiff failed to file an amended complaint after a screening order dismissed the operative complaint for failure to state a claim, with leave to amend” (Doc. No. 11 at 3), the undersigned notes that in SSP II, the dismissal order adopting the findings and recommendations did not state the grounds upon which it was dismissing the case without prejudice (see SSP II, Doc. No. 8). Moreover, the findings and recommendations in SSP II pointed only to plaintiff's failure to file an amended complaint as directed as the basis for dismissal. (SSP II, Doc. No. 7 at 1.) The undersigned acknowledges that the magistrate judge's screening order in SSP II did include statements that “any claimed error in the review of plaintiff's administrative appeals does not state a cognizable claim, ” and that the “portion of plaintiff's complaint [regarding outpatient program placement] similarly fails to state a claim.” (SSP II, Doc. No. 5 at 4.) However, the undersigned is not persuaded that such a conclusion reached by a magistrate judge in a screening order that grants leave to amend can form the basis of a § 1915(g) strike dismissal under circumstances where that plaintiff subsequently fails to file an amended complaint, the magistrate judge recommends dismissing the action solely for failure to file an amended complaint, and the district court “adopts in full” that recommendation and dismisses the case without any reference to whether the original complaint failed to state a claim.

         The findings and recommendations pending before the undersigned in the present case rely on the decision in Harris v. Mangum, 863 F.3d 1133 (9th Cir. 2017). However, applying the holding in Harris, the dismissal in SSP II does not count as a strike under § 1915(g) because the district court did not dismiss SSP II for failure to state a claim. See Harris, 863 F.3d at 1143 (“Accordingly, we hold that when (1) a district court dismisses a complaint on the ground that it fails to state a claim, (2) the court grants leave to amend, and (3) the plaintiff then fails to file an amended complaint, the dismissal counts as a strike under § 1915(g).”) (emphasis added). Indeed, in each of the four cases that were counted as strikes against the plaintiff-appellant in Harris, the screening order dismissing for failure to state a claim with leave to amend was issued by a district judge, not a magistrate judge.[1] The magistrate judge's screening order in SSP II was not an order of dismissal, nor could it have been. See Williams v. King, 875 F.3d 500, 502-05 (9th Cir. 2017) (because unserved, not yet appearing named defendants had not consented to magistrate judge jurisdiction, the assigned magistrate judge lacked jurisdiction to dismiss the prisoner plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim upon screening); see also Branch v. Umphenour, 936 F.3d 994, 1005 (9th Cir. 2019) (“Without consent, a magistrate judge is limited to submitting a report and recommendation on dispositive pretrial motions, including motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim . . .. The magistrate judges who screened Branch's various complaints lacked jurisdiction to dismiss his claims.”)[2] In short, in SSP II the court simply never dismissed plaintiff's complaint on the ground that he failed to state a claim. Rather, according to the district judge's order of dismissal, that case was dismissed solely due to plaintiff's failure to file an amended complaint, i.e. for failure to abide by the court's order or to prosecute. Accordingly, the dismissal in SSP II does not count as a strike against plaintiff under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g).

         For the reasons set forth above:

1. The undersigned declines to adopt the May 10, 2019 findings and recommendations (Doc. No. 11);
2. Plaintiff s applications to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. Nos. 5, 8) are granted; and
3. The matter is referred back to the assigned magistrate for proceedings ...

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