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Muniz v. D. Paramo

United States District Court, S.D. California

December 30, 2019

CESAR SANTAMARIA MUNIZ, CDCR # AA-4341, Plaintiff,
v.
D. PARAMO and J. CUEVAS, Defendants.

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

          HON. CYNTHIA BASHANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Cesar Santamaria Muniz, a prisoner at Salinas Valley State Prison in Soledad, California, filed a pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that Warden D. Paramo and Lieutenant J. Cuevas violated Plaintiff's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights during prison disciplinary proceedings that occurred while Plaintiff was housed at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility (“RJD”) in San Diego, California. (See “Compl., ” ECF No. 1.)

         Plaintiff did not pay the fee required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a) when he filed his Complaint, instead filing a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (“IFP”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). (See ECF No. 2.)

         I. Plaintiff's 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, a prisoner who is granted leave to proceed IFP remains obligated to pay the entire 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 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 submitted a certified copy of his trust account statement pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(2) and Local Rule 3.2. The Court has reviewed Plaintiff's trust account activity, as well as the attached prison certificate verifying his available balances. (See ECF No. 2, at 4-7.) These documents show that although Plaintiff carried an average monthly balance of $1.71 and had $3.77 in average monthly deposits to his trust account for the six months preceding the filing of this action, he had an available balance of just $0.02 at the time of filing. (See Id. at 4-6.)

         Therefore, the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed IFP (ECF No. 2) but declines to impose the initial $0.37 partial filing fee pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1) because his prison certificate indicates he may currently have “no means to pay it.” 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”); 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.”). Instead, the Court directs the Secretary of the CDCR, or his designee, to collect the entire $350 balance of the filing fees required by 28 U.S.C. § 1914 and to 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. Initial Screening Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A

         A. Standard of Review

         Because Plaintiff is a prisoner and is proceeding IFP, his Complaint requires a pre-answer screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and § 1915A(b). Under these statutes, the Court must sua sponte dismiss a prisoner's IFP complaint, or any portion of it, which is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks damages from defendants who are immune. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)); Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2010) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)). “The purpose of [screening] 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)).

         “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). Rule 12(b)(6) requires a complaint to “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). While the court “ha[s] 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), it may not “supply essential elements of claims that were not initially pled.” Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

         “Courts must consider the complaint in its entirety, ” including “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference” to be part of the pleading when determining whether the plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief may be granted. Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007); Schneider v. Cal. Dep't of Corrs., 151 F.3d 1194, 1197 n.1 (9th Cir. 1998); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c) (“A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is a part of the pleading for all purposes.”).

         B. Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff's Complaint focuses on disciplinary proceedings that began after a search of the cell Plaintiff shared with another inmate allegedly turned up a cell phone and two inmate-created weapons hidden in Plaintiff's mattress. (See Compl. ¶ 3.) After the search, Plaintiff and his cellmate were taken to administrative segregation. (Id.) Although the district attorney declined to ...


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