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Biltz v. Google, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

February 20, 2018

GOOGLE, INC., et al., Defendants.


          Derrick K. Watson, United States District Judge


         On February 14, 2018, Plaintiff Mark Andrew Biltz, proceeding pro se, filed a Complaint against Alphabet Inc., Google Inc., Google AdWords, and Sundar Pichai, alleging breach of contract, fraud, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). Dkt. No. 1. Biltz also filed an Application to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP Application”).[1] Dkt. No. 3. The Court GRANTS the IFP Application. Biltz's Complaint, however, fails to include sufficient factual allegations to state a claim for IIED or to satisfy the heightened pleading requirement applicable to his fraud claim. Because amendment of these claims may be possible, the Complaint is DISMISSED IN PART as to Counts II and III with leave to amend, with instructions below.


         Because Biltz 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 § 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).

         Here, the IFP Application indicates that Biltz is not employed, has no assets, currently receives $750.00 in disability benefits per month, and has no other source of funds, such as a checking or savings account. Based upon the IFP Application, Biltz's income falls below the poverty threshold identified by the Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”) 2018 Poverty Guidelines. See Annual Update of the HHS Poverty Guidelines, available at -of-the-hhs-poverty-guidelines. Accordingly, the Court finds that Biltz has made the required showing under Section 1915 to proceed without prepayment of fees, and GRANTS his IFP Application.

         II. The Complaint Is Dismissed in Part

         At this preliminary stage and construed liberally, the Court finds that the Complaint alleges a plausible state-law claim for breach of contract for purposes of this initial screening.[2] Even given a liberal construction, however, the factual allegations in the Complaint are insufficient to state a claim upon which relief may be granted for IIED, and the fraud claims likewise are not pled with the particularity required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b). Counts II and III are therefore dismissed, albeit with leave to amend.

         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).

         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); see also Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011) (“[A]llegations in a complaint or counterclaim may not simply recite the elements of a cause of action, but must contain sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively.”).

         “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Factual allegations that only permit the Court to infer “the mere possibility of ...

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