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Stone v. Hawaii Department of Education

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

May 22, 2017

JACK STONE, Plaintiff,
v.
HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER (1) GRANTING APPLICATION TO PROCEED WITHOUT PREPAYMENT OF FEES OR COSTS; AND (2) DISMISSING COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND

          Derrick K. Watson United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         On May 17, 2017, Plaintiff Jack Stone, proceeding pro se, filed a Complaint against the State of Hawaii Department of Education (“DOE”) and its Superintendent, Kathryn Matayoshi, and an Application to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP Application”). Stone alleges that the DOE denied him employment as a teacher in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a) and the Fourteenth Amendment's Equal Protection Clause, and seeks $250, 000 in compensatory and punitive damages. Because the Complaint fails to plausibly state a claim for discrimination or retaliation against any defendant, however, the Court DISMISSES the Complaint and GRANTS Stone leave to file an amended complaint in accordance with the terms of this order by no later than June 26, 2017. The Court GRANTS the IFP Application, as discussed more fully below.[1]

         DISCUSSION

         Because Stone is appearing pro se, the Court liberally construes his filings. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Eldridge v. Block, 832 F.2d 1132, 1137 (9th Cir. 1987) (“The Supreme Court has instructed the federal courts to liberally construe the ‘inartful pleading' of pro se litigants.”) (citing Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365 (1982) (per curiam)). The Court recognizes that “[u]nless it is absolutely clear that no amendment can cure the defect . . . a pro se litigant is entitled to notice of the complaint's deficiencies and an opportunity to amend prior to dismissal of the action.” Lucas v. Dep't of Corr., 66 F.3d 245, 248 (9th Cir. 1995); see also Crowley v. Bannister, 734 F.3d 967, 977-78 (9th Cir. 2013).

         I. Plaintiff's IFP Application Is Granted

         Federal courts can authorize the commencement of any suit without prepayment of fees or security by a person who submits an affidavit that demonstrates an inability to pay. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). “An affidavit in support of an IFP application is sufficient where it alleges that the affiant cannot pay the court costs and still afford the necessities of life.” Escobedo v. Applebees, 787 F.3d 1226, 1234 (9th Cir. 2015) (citing Adkins v. E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 339 (1948)); see also United States v. McQuade, 647 F.2d 938, 940 (9th Cir. 1981) (The affidavit must “state the facts as to affiant's poverty with some particularity, definiteness and certainty.”) (internal quotation omitted).

         When reviewing an application filed pursuant to Section 1915(a), “[t]he only determination to be made by the court . . . is whether the statements in the affidavit satisfy the requirement of poverty.” Martinez v. Kristi Kleaners, Inc., 364 F.3d 1305, 1307 (11th Cir. 2004). While Section 1915(a) does not require a litigant to demonstrate absolute destitution, Adkins, 335 U.S. at 339, the applicant must nonetheless show that he is “unable to pay such fees or give security therefor.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a).

         Stone's IFP Application indicates that he is not currently employed, earns no income from wages, and has two dependents. He receives $1, 248 per month in unemployment benefits, which expire within six months. Based upon the IFP Application, Stone's income falls below the poverty threshold identified by the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) 2017 Poverty Guidelines. See 2017 HHS Poverty Guidelines, https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/ 2017/01/31/2017-02076/annual-update-of-the-hhs-poverty-guidelines. Accordingly, the Court finds that Stone has made the required showing under Section 1915 to proceed without prepayment of fees, and GRANTS his IFP Application.

         II. Plaintiff's Complaint Is Dismissed With Limited Leave to Amend

         Upon review of the Complaint, the Court finds that Stone fails to state a claim for violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a) or the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Liberally construing his allegations to also include possible claims for employment discrimination and retaliation under federal law, the Court further finds that Stone fails to demonstrate that he exhausted his administrative remedies. The Court grants Stone leave to file an amended complaint, with instructions below.

         A. Standard of Review

         The Court subjects each civil action commenced pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) to mandatory screening and can order the dismissal of any claims it finds “frivolous, malicious, failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeking monetary relief from a defendant immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc) (stating that 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) “not only permits but requires” the court to sua sponte dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim); Calhoun v. Stahl, 254 F.3d 845, 845 (9th Cir. 2001) (per curiam) (holding that “the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) are not limited to prisoners”). Because Stone is appearing pro se, the Court liberally construes the Complaint.

         The Court may dismiss a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted[.]” A Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal is proper when there is either a “‘lack of a cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts alleged.'” UMG Recordings, Inc. v. Shelter Capital Partners, LLC, 718 F.3d 1006, 1014 (9th Cir. 2013) (quoting Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990)). A plaintiff must allege “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) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)); see also Weber v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, 521 F.3d 1061, 1065 (9th Cir. 2008). This tenet - that the court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in the complaint - “is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Accordingly, “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); se ...


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