McClellan v. Kern County Sheriff's Office et al

Filing 97

FINDINGS and RECOMMENDATIONS Recommending to Deny Defendants' 83 Motion to Revoke Plaintiff's IFP Status signed by Magistrate Judge Michael J. Seng on 07/10/2015. Referred to Judge O'Neill; Objections to F&R due by 7/27/2015.(Flores, E)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 8 9 GREGORY MCCLELLAN, Plaintiff, 10 v. 11 12 KERN COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE, et al., 13 Defendant. 14 1:10-cv-0386-LJO-MJS (PC) FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS TO DENY DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO REVOKE PLAINTIFF’S IFP STATUS (ECF No. 83) OBJECTIONS DUE WITHIN FOURTEEN (14) DAYS 15 16 Plaintiff is a prisoner proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis in a civil rights 17 18 19 action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The action, filed in March 2010, proceeds on Plaintiff’s excessive force claim against Defendants Perkins, Lozano, and Woods. (ECF 20 No. 23.) Defendants have been served and have appeared in the action (ECF Nos. 71 & 21 73). 22 23 24 On May 18, 2015, Defendants filed a motion to revoke Plaintiff’s in forma pauperis (IFP) status on the ground that he had already accrued three strikes and his pleadings did not satisfy the “imminent danger” exception outlined in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). (ECF 25 26 27 No. 83.) Plaintiff opposed the motion on June 24, 2015. (ECF No. 90). Defendants filed a reply on July 1, 2015. (ECF No. 94.) 28 1 1 I. 2 The in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, distinguishes incarcerated 3 indigent people from unincarcerated ones. Unlike non-prisoner plaintiffs, who may avoid 4 5 LEGAL STANDARD prepayment of fees entirely under § 1915(a)(1), section 1915(b) requires an indigent prisoner to submit a copy of his or her trust account statement, make an initial upfront 6 7 8 payment, and submit subsequent monthly installments until the filing fee is paid in full. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(b)(1)-(2). Section 1915(g) places an additional limitation on the 9 availability of IFP status for certain inmates, providing that “if the prisoner has, on 3 or 10 more prior occasions, while incarcerated or detained in any facility, brought an action or 11 appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed on the grounds that it is 12 frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted,” he will not 13 be eligible for IFP status unless he “is under imminent danger of serious physical injury.” 14 15 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g). 16 The inquiry into whether an inmate is under imminent danger is not an extensive 17 one and a prisoner’s allegations are not subjected to “overly detailed” factual review by 18 the Court. Williams v. Paramo, 775 F.3d 1182, 1190 (9th Cir. 2015)(citing Andrews v. 19 Cervantes, 493 F.3d 1047, 1055 (9th Cir. 2007)). The purpose of § 1915(g) is to stem 20 21 the tide of lawsuits brought by prisoners, particularly those who had previously filed meritless claims, not to “spawn[] additional litigation and creat[e] mini-trials over whether 22 23 a prisoner has shown an imminent danger.” Williams, 775 F.3d at 1190. Thus, “prisoners 24 qualify for the exception based on the alleged conditions at the time the complaint was 25 filed. And qualifying prisoners can file the entire complaint IFP; the exception does not 26 operate on a claim-by-claim basis or apply to only certain types of relief.” Andrews, 493 27 F.3d at 1052. “An affidavit or declaration by the prisoner that alleges an ongoing danger 28 2 1 at the time of the filing [of the complaint] will ordinarily suffice to end the inquiry and allow 2 the prisoner to proceed in forma pauperis.” Williams, 775 F.3d at 1190. 3 4 5 Although the Second Circuit has additionally required a “nexus” between an inmate’s allegations of imminent danger and his underlying legal claims, Pettus v. Morgenthau, 554 F.3d 293 (2d Cir.2009), the Ninth Circuit has yet to consider the 6 7 8 9 question, and has urged caution in creating “any extension of § 1915(g)’s provisions.” Williams, 775 F.3d at 1189. Nonetheless, the Williams court did seem to suggest that some connection was required, permitting plaintiff to proceed IFP upon finding her 10 “allegations [of imminent danger were] clearly related to her initial complaint.” 775 F.3d 11 at 1190. 12 II. ANALYSIS 13 A. Plaintiff has three strikes. 14 Plaintiff is a frequent filer, and the Court previously found that Plaintiff had 15 16 accrued three strikes. (ECF No. 4, at 2 n.1.) Although Plaintiff disputes this, upon 17 reexamination, the Court confirms that Plaintiff has in fact had at least three strikes.1 18 Thus, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g), Plaintiff would not be entitled to IFP status unless he 19 was “under imminent danger of serious physical injury” at the time of the filing of his 20 complaint. 21 B. Plaintiff made an adequate showing of imminent danger in his 22 original complaint. 23 The Court found that Plaintiff had made an adequate showing of imminent danger 24 25 26 27 28 1 The Court takes judicial notice of the following cases: McClellan v. Mountain, 1:09-cv-256-LJO-GSA (E.D. Cal.) (dismissed for failure to state a claim on Mar. 5, 2009); McClellan v. Fink, 1:08-cv-1326-WMW (E.D. Cal.) (dismissed for failure to state a claim on April 1, 2009); McClellan v. Carillo, 1:97-cv-05213AWI-SMS (E.D. Cal.) (dismissed Mar. 28, 1998 for failure to state a claim); and McClellan v. Haviland, 1:07-cv-1607-OWW-SMS (E.D. Cal.) (dismissed for failure to state a claim on Oct. 19, 2009). A strike accrues as soon the trial court dismisses on statutorily enumerated grounds, even if the dismissal is the subject of an appeal. Coleman v. Tollefson, 135 S.Ct. 1759, at *4 (2015). 3 1 when it originally allowed him to proceed IFP. (ECF No. 4.) In his first complaint, Plaintiff 2 alleged that he faced an imminent danger of contracting a communicable disease 3 because he was placed in a crowded, dirty jail with poor ventilation and surrounded by 4 5 diseased inmates who engaged in unhygienic practices, such as using his toothbrush and razor. (ECF No. 1, at 21-26) The Court concluded, under the standard set forth in 6 7 8 9 Andrews, that these allegations stated “a plausible claim of ongoing harm sufficient to satisfy the imminent danger exception to § 1915(g).” (ECF No. 4, at 3 (citing Andrews, 493 F.3d at 1057)). Though it has reconsidered the issue in light of Defendants’ 10 argument that Plaintiff has not shown a nexus between the danger he faced and the 11 claims on which he sought relief, the Court again reaches the same conclusion. 12 13 As mentioned above, the Ninth Circuit has not addressed whether there must be a “nexus” between a prisoner’s allegations of imminent danger and the causes of action 14 15 in his complaint, much less provided guidelines for identifying such a nexus. The Sixth 16 Circuit has also expressed hesitation about imposing a nexus requirement on § 1915(g). 17 Vandiver v. Prison Health Servs., Inc., 727 F.3d 580, 588 (6th Cir. 2013). Nevertheless, 18 multiple unpublished opinions from district courts in California have applied the “nexus” 19 test outlined in Pettus, which allowed three strikers to proceed IFP only if (1) the alleged 20 imminent danger was “fairly traceable” to unlawful conduct asserted in the complaint; 21 and (2) a favorable judicial outcome would redress that danger. 554 F.3d at 298-299; 22 23 see Chappell v. Fleming, No. 2:12-CV-0234, 2013 WL 2156575, at *5 (E.D. Cal. May 17, 24 2013), findings and recommendations adopted by No. 2:12-CV-0234, 2013 WL 3872794 25 (E.D. Cal. July 25, 2013); Williams v. Brennan, No. 2:12-CV-2155, 2013 WL 394871, at 26 *1-2 (E.D. Cal. Jan. 30, 2013), findings and recommendations adopted by No. 2:12-CV- 27 2155, 2013 WL 1192770 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 22, 2013); Johnson v. Sonoma Cnty. Main 28 4 1 Adult Det. Facility, No. 14-CV-05397, 2015 WL 1744281, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 15, 2015). 2 Here, the Court need not decide whether Plaintiff must in fact have shown a 3 nexus between his allegations of danger and the legal claims in his first complaint, 4 because his allegations meet the low bar set in Pettus. Plaintiff’s original complaint 5 alleged that his detention in the Kern County Jail was illegal and the result of intentional 6 7 8 9 and malicious conduct of the original defendants. (ECF No. 1, at 4, 9.) He alleged that the danger he faced from jail conditions was a result of being incarcerated illegally: “[t]he false arrest and illegal custody are directly linked with being exposed to the risk of 10 contracting HIV, H1N1, hepatitis C, lice, etc.” (ECF No. 1, at 22)(underlining in original). 11 The conditions giving rise to the imminent danger (exposure to diseased inmates and 12 overcrowded, unsanitary conditions) were thus “fairly traceable” to his alleged 13 imprisonment without probable cause. Moreover, a judicial determination that Plaintiff 14 15 was in fact illegally detained would “redress” the danger, because it would result in 16 Plaintiff’s release from custody. Therefore, even if a nexus were required, the Court 17 finds that Plaintiff’s claims of imminent danger would adequately allege one. 18 19 20 21 The subsequent dismissal of Plaintiff’s illegal detention and retaliation claims does not affect this conclusion. The danger a plaintiff faces for 1915(g) purposes is assessed at the time of the filing of the first complaint. Williams, 775 F.3d at 1188 (citing Andrews, 493 F.3d at 1053). The substantive screening of an inmate’s claims, meanwhile, is 22 23 conducted separately and only after review of his entitlement to IFP status. See 28 24 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i), 1915A(b)(1); Andrews, 493 F.3d at 1055; see also Ciarpaglini 25 v. Saini, 352 F.3d 328, 331 (7th Cir. 2003)(finding that although Plaintiff met “imminent 26 danger” requirement, dismissal was nonetheless appropriate because he had failed to 27 state a claim). Moreover, logically speaking, a determination that a prisoner does not 28 5 1 have a valid constitutional claim is not equivalent to a determination that he is not in 2 imminent danger: thus, while Plaintiff may not have been incarcerated illegally, he may 3 nonetheless have faced imminent danger from bird flu or hepatitis. 4 5 Accordingly, the Court will recommend that Defendants’ motion to revoke Plaintiff’s IFP status be denied. 6 7 8 III. CONCLUSION & RECOMMENDATION Plaintiff adequately alleged an imminent danger in his original complaint, so his 9 IFP status should not be revoked. The Court HEREBY RECOMMENDS that 10 Defendants’ motion to revoke Plaintiff’s IFP status (ECF No. 83) be DENIED. 11 12 These Findings and Recommendations are submitted to the United States District Judge assigned to the case, pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). Within 13 fourteen (14) days after being served with these Findings and Recommendations, any 14 15 party may file written objections with the Court and serve a copy on all parties. Such a 16 document should be captioned “Objections to Magistrate Judge’s Findings and 17 Recommendations.” Any reply to the objections shall be served and filed within fourteen 18 (14) days after service of the objections. The parties are advised that failure to file 19 objections within the specified time may result in the waiver of rights on appeal. 20 Wilkerson v. Wheeler, 772 F.3d 834, 839 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing Baxter v. Sullivan, 923 21 F.2d 1391, 1394 (9th Cir. 1991)). 22 23 24 IT IS SO ORDERED. 25 Dated: July 10, 2015 /s/ 26 Michael J. Seng UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 27 28 6

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