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Hamilton v. California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

United States District Court, S.D. California

January 16, 2020

ELVIN JOHN HAMILTON, CDCR #F-13607, Plaintiff,
v.
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION; RICHARD J. DONOVAN STATE PRISON; SCOTT KERNAN, Secretary, DANIEL PARAMO, Warden, R. RODRIGUEZ, Correctional Officer; HAMPTON, Correctional Sergeant; C. LEGGE, Correctional Officer; MEDICAL OF RICHARD J. DONOVAN STATE PRISON; DR. ERICA GAYLE; RICHARD JUMBA, Psychologist Technician; SIERRA RAMIREZ, Psychologist Technician; S. SHEPARD, Correctional Officer, Defendants.

         ORDER 1) GRANTING MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS (ECF NO. 2), 2) DISMISSING DEFENDANTS AND CLAIMS PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(E)(2) AND 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(B), AND 3) DIRECTING U.S. MARSHAL TO EFFECT SERVICE UPON DEFENDANTS RAMIREZ, RODRIGUEZ, HAMPTON, LEGGE, GAYLE, AND SHEPHERD PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(D) AND FED. R. CIV. P. 4(C)(3)

          ANTHONY J. BATTAGLIA, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Elvin John Hamilton (“Plaintiff”), incarcerated at the California Correctional Institution in Tehachapi, California, has filed a pro se civil rights Complaint pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). (See ECF No. 1, Compl.) Plaintiff claims that while he was incarcerated at Richard J. Donovan State Prison (“RJD”) in San Diego, California, prison officials ignored or dismissed his repeated requests for medical care for chest pains. (See generally Id. at 5-10.)

         Plaintiff did not prepay the $400 civil filing fee required by 28 U.S.C. Section 1914(a) at the time of filing, and instead filed a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (“IFP”) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1915(a). (See ECF No. 2.)

         I. Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         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. Section 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 has submitted a certified copy of his trust account statement pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1915(a)(2) and S.D. Cal. Civ. L.R. 3.2. Andrews, 398 F.3d at 1119. 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 he carried an average monthly balance of $47.26 and had $90.22 in average monthly deposits to his trust account for the six months preceding the filing of this action, Plaintiff had an available balance of just $0.05 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 $18.04 partial filing fee pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 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. Section 1914 and to forward them to the Clerk of the Court pursuant to the installment payment provisions set forth in 28 U.S.C. Section1915(b)(1).

         II. Sua Sponte Screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1915(e)(2) and Section 1915A(b)

         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. Section 1915(e)(2) and Section 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. Section 1915(e)(2)); Rhodes v. Robinson, 621 F.3d 1002, 1004 (9th Cir. 2010) (discussing 28 U.S.C. Section 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 Section 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); see also Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012) (noting that screening pursuant to Section 1915A “incorporates the familiar standard applied in the context of failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)”). Rule 12(b)(6) requires a complaint “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) (internal quotation marks omitted); Wilhelm, 680 F.3d at 1121.

         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.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. “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. The “mere possibility of misconduct” or “unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation[s]” fall short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id.; see also Moss v. U.S. Secret Service, 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).

         B. Plaintiff's Factual Allegations

         Plaintiff alleges that over the course of several days in October 2017, he told correctional officers and other staff at RJD that he was experiencing chest pains. (See Compl. at 5-10.) These complaints were shared with Defendants Shepard, Legge, Rodriguez, and Hampton, all of whom are correctional officers, as well as with Defendant Erica Gayle, a doctor, and Defendants Sierra Ramirez and Richard Jumba, described variously as psychologists or psychology technicians (collectively, the “Staff Defendants”). (See Id. at 5-7.) During this period, Plaintiff also allegedly received medical records from earlier in the month indicating that he had a heart condition. (See Id. at 5.) Despite his claimed chest pains and documented heart condition, Plaintiff contends ...


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