Stinnett Gray v. Social Security

Filing 6

ORDER. IT IS ORDERED that 4 Plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED with the caveat that the fees shall be paid if recovery is made. IT IS ORDERED that the Clerk of Court shall file the Complaint. IT IS FURTHER ORDERE D that the Complaint is DISMISSED with leave to amend. Plaintiff will have until 11/6/17, to file an Amended Complaint, if Plaintiff believes she can correct the noted deficiencies. Signed by Magistrate Judge Nancy J. Koppe on 10/6/17. (Copies have been distributed pursuant to the NEF - ADR)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 8 DISTRICT OF NEVADA 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 BRENDA F. STINNETT-GRAY, ) ) Plaintiff, ) ) vs. ) ) NANCY A. BERRYHILL, ) Acting Commissioner of Social Security, ) ) Defendant. ) __________________________________________) Case No. 2:17-cv-02123-APG-NJK ORDER 16 Plaintiff has requested authority pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 to proceed in forma pauperis (Docket 17 No. 4), and submitted a Complaint (Docket No. 1-1), and a supplemental exhibit to her complaint (Docket 18 No. 5). 19 I. Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis 20 Plaintiff has submitted the affidavit required by § 1915(a) showing an inability to prepay fees and 21 costs or give security for them. Docket No. 4. Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis will 22 be granted pursuant to § 1915(a). The Court will now review Plaintiff’s Complaint. 23 II. Screening the Complaint 24 Proceeding in forma pauperis is a privilege, not a right. E.g., Williams v. Field, 394 F.2d 329, 332 25 (9th Cir. 1968). When a party seeks permission to pursue a civil case in forma papueris, courts will screen 26 the complaint pursuant to federal statute. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). In particular, the governing statute 27 provides that courts shall dismiss a case at any time if it determines that, inter alia, it is frivolous or 28 malicious, or fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. See id. A central function of this 1 screening process is to “discourage the filing of, and waste of judicial and private resources upon, baseless 2 lawsuits that paying litigants generally do not initiate because of the cost of bringing suit.” Neitzke v. 3 Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). 4 In civil cases in which the plaintiff seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, courts require that the 5 plaintiff comply with the robust authority that complaints must provide sufficient notice of the basis of the 6 claims presented and state a claim for relief. See, e.g., Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 7 2012). Complaints are subject to the pleading standards set out in Rule 8. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 8 534 U.S. 506, 512 (2002). Although Rule 8 does not require detailed factual allegations, the complaint 9 must set forth the grounds of the plaintiff’s entitlement to relief and may not rest on “labels and 10 conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 11 662, 678 (2009). Courts must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations contained in the complaint, 12 but the same requirement does not apply to legal conclusions. Id. at 679. Mere recitals of the elements of 13 a cause of action, supported only by conclusory allegations, do not suffice. Id. at 678. Moreover, where 14 the claims in the complaint have not crossed the line from conceivable to plausible, the complaint should 15 be dismissed. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). When a court dismisses a 16 complaint under § 1915(e), the plaintiff should be given leave to amend the complaint with directions as 17 to curing its deficiencies, unless it is clear from the face of the complaint that the deficiencies could not be 18 cured by amendment. See Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995). In cases such as this, 19 in which the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court liberally construes her pleadings. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 20 F.3d 338, 342 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2010). 21 A complaint in a social security appeal is not exempt from the Section 1915(e) screening of in forma 22 pauperis cases generally. Hoagland v. Astrue, 2012 WL 2521753, *1 (E.D. Cal. June 28, 2012) (screening 23 is required “even if the plaintiff pursues an appeal of right, such as an appeal of the Commissioner’s denial 24 of social security disability benefits”); see also Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000) (en 25 banc) (“section 1915(e) applies to all in forma pauperis complaints”). Moreover, although a complaint in 26 a social security appeal may differ in some ways from other civil cases, it is also “not exempt from the 27 general rules of civil pleading.” Hoagland, 2012 WL 2521753, at *2. With respect to social security 28 appeals specifically, the undersigned and several other judges in this District have outlined some of the 2 1 basic requirements for complaints to satisfy the Court’s screening. First, the plaintiff must establish that 2 he has exhausted his administrative remedies pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and that the civil action was 3 commenced within sixty days after notice of a final decision. Second, the complaint must indicate the 4 judicial district in which the plaintiff resides. Third, the complaint must state the nature of the plaintiff’s 5 disability and when the plaintiff claims she became disabled. Fourth, the complaint must contain a plain, 6 short, and concise statement identifying the nature of the plaintiff’s disagreement with the determination 7 made by the Social Security Administration and show that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See, e.g., Graves 8 v. Colvin, 2015 WL 357121, *2 (D. Nev. Jan. 26, 2015) (collecting cases). 9 It is the fourth element above on which social security plaintiffs most often stumble. “Every 10 plaintiff appealing an adverse decision of the Commissioner believes that the Commissioner was wrong.” 11 Hoagland, 2012 WL 2521753, at *3. A complaint merely stating that the Commissioner’s decision was 12 wrong is plainly insufficient to satisfy a plaintiff’s pleading requirement. See, e.g., Cribbet v. Comm’r of 13 Social Security, 2012 WL 5308044, *3 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 29, 2012) (citing Brown v. Astrue, 2011 WL 14 3664429, *2 (D.N.H. Aug. 19, 2011)). “Similarly, a social security complaint that merely parrots the 15 standards used in reversing or remanding a case is not sufficient to withstand a screening pursuant to 16 Section 1915(e).” Graves, 2015 WL 357121, at *2 (citing Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678). Instead, “[a] 17 complaint appealing the Commissioner’s denial of disability benefits must set forth a brief statement of 18 facts setting forth the reasons why the Commissioner’s decision was wrong.” Hoagland, 2012 WL 19 2521753, at *2 (collecting cases) (emphasis added); see also Graves, 2015 WL 357121, at *3 (finding 20 complaint failed to state a claim when it alleged only that “the Commissioner’s decision to deny [the 21 plaintiff] benefits was wrong without any indication as to why it was wrong other than a recitation of the 22 general standards that govern this Court’s review of that decision”); Harris v. Colvin, 2014 WL 1095941, 23 *4 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 17, 2014) (finding complaint failed to state a claim when it did not “specify . . . the 24 respects in which [the plaintiff] contends that the ALJ’s findings are not supported by substantial evidence 25 and/or that the proper legal standards were not applied”); Gutierrez v. Astrue, 2011 WL 1087261, *2 (E.D. 26 Cal. Mar. 23, 2011) (finding complaint failed to comply with Rule 8’s notice requirements when it stated 27 only that benefits were denied, but had not “provided any substantive reasons” for appealing that decision 28 and had not “identified any errors in any decision rendered by the Administrative Law Judge”). The 3 1 plaintiff must provide a statement identifying the basis of the plaintiff’s disagreement with the Social 2 Security Administration’s determination and must make a showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. 3 While this showing need not be made in great detail, it must be presented in sufficient detail for the Court 4 to understand the legal and/or factual issues in dispute so that it can meaningfully screen the complaint 5 pursuant to § 1915(e). Cf. Hoagland, 2012 WL 2521753, at *4 (the complaint should avoid the advocacy 6 and argumentation of the opening brief to be submitted later, but must specifically set forth the facts 7 showing an entitlement to relief). 8 In this case, Plaintiff has filed a bare-bones complaint. Docket No. 1-1. When the Court denied 9 Plaintiff’s original application to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court noted that, though it had not yet 10 screened her complaint, a quick look at Plaintiff’s complaint indicates that it is deficient. Docket No. 3 at 11 2 n. 1. In seeming response to the Court’s order, Plaintiff filed an exhibit to her complaint. Docket No. 12 5. Although not procedurally correct, the Court has screened Plaintiff’s exhibit, which consists of 13 documents from the Social Security Administration, including the decision of the Administrative Law 14 Judge (“ALJ”) and the notification to Plaintiff describing how she could appeal the decision, as well as 15 some medical records fo Plaintiff. Id. If Plaintiff chooses to file an amended complaint in accordance with 16 this order, the amended complaint must be complete in and of itself without reference to any other pleading 17 or document. 18 Plaintiff has failed to allege that she exhausted her administrative remedies, that her appeal was 19 timely filed,1 the nature of her disability, or when she claims she became disabled. Further, the complaint 20 fails to contain a plain, short, and concise statement identifying the nature of Plaintiff’s disagreement with 21 the determination made by the Social Security Administration and show that she is entitled to relief. 22 Docket Nos. 1-1, 5. Accordingly, her complaint is clearly insufficient. 23 .... 24 .... 25 26 27 28 1 Plaintiff appears to submit that, since the ALJ found that she meets the insured status requirements of the Social Security Act through December 31, 2017, her appeal is properly filed. See Docket No. 5 at 1, 12. Her insured status, however, is unrelated to either the timeliness of her appeal or the question of whether she exhausted her administrative remedies. 4 1 III. Conclusion 2 Based on the foregoing, IT IS ORDERED that: 3 1. Plaintiff’s request to proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED with the caveat that the fees 4 shall be paid if recovery is made. At this time, Plaintiff shall not be required to pre-pay the 5 filing fee of four hundred dollars ($400.00). 6 2. Plaintiff is permitted to maintain the action to conclusion without the necessity of 7 prepayment of any additional fees or costs or the giving of a security therefor. The Order 8 granting leave to proceed in forma pauperis shall not extend to the issuance of subpoenas 9 at government expense. 10 3. The Clerk of Court shall file the Complaint. 11 4. The Complaint is DISMISSED with leave to amend. Plaintiff will have until November 12 6, 2017, to file an Amended Complaint, if Plaintiff believes she can correct the noted 13 deficiencies. If Plaintiff chooses to amend the complaint, Plaintiff is informed that the 14 Court cannot refer to a prior pleading (i.e., the original Complaint or Plaintiff’s exhibit) in 15 order to make the Amended Complaint complete. This is because, as a general rule, an 16 Amended Complaint supersedes the original Complaint. See Loux v. Rhay, 375 F.2d 55, 17 57 (9th Cir. 1967). Local Rule 15-1 requires that an Amended Complaint be complete in 18 itself without reference to any prior pleading. Once a plaintiff files an Amended Complaint, 19 the original Complaint no longer serves any function in the case. Therefore, in an Amended 20 Complaint, as in an original Complaint, each claim and the involvement of each defendant 21 must be sufficiently alleged. 22 recommended dismissal of this case, without prejudice. 23 Failure to comply with this Order will result in the Dated: October 6, 2017. 24 25 26 ________________________________________ NANCY J. KOPPE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE 27 28 5

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