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Bylsma v. State

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

December 18, 2019

DAVID G. BYLSMA, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF HAWAII, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER (1) GRANTING APPLICATION TO PROCEED WITHOUT PREPAYMENT OF FEES OR COSTS; AND (2) DISMISSING ACTION IN PART WITH LEAVE TO AMEND. [1]

          DERRICK K. WATSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         On November 7, 2019, Plaintiff David G. Bylsma, proceeding pro se, filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP Application”), as well as a civil complaint against the State of Hawaii, the Hawaii Department of Human Services Pohulani Processing Center and the Administrative Appeals Office (DHS), Governor David Ige, and several DHS employees. Dkt. No. 1. Bylsma subsequently filed an “updated” IFP Application. Dkt. No. 6. Because the IFP Application reflects that Bylsma does not have the ability to pay the filing fee in this case, the Court GRANTS the IFP Application. However, because Bylsma has sufficiently alleged only one cognizable claim in the complaint, his other asserted claims are DISMISSED, albeit with leave to amend to the extent permitted herein.[2]

         I. The IFP Application

         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). While Section 1915(a) does not require a litigant to demonstrate absolute destitution, Adkins v. E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 339 (1948), the applicant must nonetheless show that he is “unable to pay such fees or give security therefor, ” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a).

         Here, Bylsma has made the required showing under Section 1915(a). In the IFP Application, Dkt. No. 6, Bylsma states that he is self-employed and earns around $350 per month. Further, Bylsma states that he receives no other income and has $350 in a checking or savings account. In light of these figures, Bylsma's income falls below the poverty threshold identified by the Department of Health and Human Services' (“HHS”) 2019 Poverty Guidelines. See HHS Poverty Guidelines, available at: https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines. In addition, Bylsma has insufficient assets to provide security. As a result, the Court GRANTS the IFP Application, Dkt. No. 6.

         II. Screening

         The standard for dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and under 28 U.S.C. Section 1915(e)(2)(B) is the same. Barren v. Harrington, 152 F.3d 1193, 1194 (9th Cir. 1998); Jones v. Schwarzenegger, 723 Fed.Appx. 523, 524 (9th Cir. 2018); see also Wilhelm v. Rotman, 680 F.3d 1113, 1121 (9th Cir. 2012) (same standard under Section 1915A). The Court must take the allegations in the complaint as true, excluding those allegations that are merely conclusory, and if the complaint does not “contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ” the Court must dismiss the action. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks omitted); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Although the Court liberally construes a pro se Complaint, Eldridge v. Block, 832 F.2d 1132, 1137 (9th Cir. 1987), the Court cannot act as counsel for a pro se litigant, such as by supplying the essential elements of a claim. Pliler v. Ford, 542 U.S. 225, 231 (2004); Ivey v. Bd. of Regents of Univ. of Alaska, 673 F.2d 266, 268 (9th Cir. 1982).

         A. Bylsma's Claims

         The thrust of Bylsma's Complaint, Dkt. No. 1, is that Defendants wrongfully withheld his SNAP benefits, id. at ¶¶ 7, 22-23, 32, and have yet to reimburse his SNAP account for the $1, 200 in medical expenses that he paid out of pocket.[3]Bylsma asserts claims for compensatory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983; Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq.; and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (RA), 29 U.S.C. § 794. The individual “defendants are all being sued in their official capacit[ies] only.” Dkt. No. 6, ¶¶ 2-3. For the reasons that follow, Bylsma has only alleged one plausible claim: A claim under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 for prospective injunctive relief against the DHS employee Defendants.

         1. Section 1983 Claims

         First, “a State is not a person” for purposes of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64 (1989); cf. Crumpton v. Gates, 947 F.2d 1418, 1420 (9th Cir. 1991) (listing elements for Section 1983 claim). Second, the majority of Bylsma's Section 1983 claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Absent a valid federal statute unequivocally waiving a State's Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit, “a suit in which the State or one of its agencies or departments is named as the defendant is proscribed by the Eleventh Amendment . . . regardless of the nature of the relief sought.” See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984); Sossamon v. Texas, 563 U.S. 277, 284-85 (2011) (“A State's consent to suit must be unequivocally expressed in the text of the relevant statute . . .”); Sato v. Orange Cty. Dep't of Educ., 861 F.3d 923, 928 (9th Cir. 2017) (reiterating that “agencies of the state are immune under the Eleventh Amendment from private damages or suits for injunctive relief brought in federal court.”), cert. denied, 138 S.Ct. 459 (2017). Hawaii's DHS is clearly an arm of the State. See Sato, 861 F.3d at 928-34 (listing five factors considered in determining whether a government entity is an arm of the State, “the most important” of which is whether a judgment will be satisfied out of State funds). And Section 1983 does not override a State's sovereign immunity. Will, 491 U.S. at 67-68; Stilwell v. City of Williams, 831 F.3d 1234, 1245 (9th Cir. 2016). Therefore, Bylsma's Section 1983 claims against Hawaii and DHS are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Because this defect cannot “possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts, ” Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1130 (9th Cir. 2000); Lucas v. Dep't of Corr., 66 F.3d 245, 248 (9th Cir.1995), Bylsma's Section 1983 claim against DHS and Hawaii is DISMISSED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND.

         Third, “[a] suit [for damages] against a state official in his or her official capacity . . . is no different from a suit against the State itself, ” Will, 491 U.S. at 71 & n.10; cf. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 30-31 (1991), except that when a state official is sued in their official capacity, claims for prospective injunctive relief are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Will, 491 U.S. at 66; Arizonans for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 69 n.24 (1997); Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 102-03; N.E. Med. Servs., Inc. v. Cal. Dep't of Health Care Servs., Health & Human Servs. Agency, Cal. 712 F.3d 461, 466 (9th Cir. 2013).[4] As such, Bylsma's claims for prospective injunctive relief against the individual DHS employee Defendants may go forward, Dkt. No. 1, ¶ 51(d)-(e), [5] but Bylsma's claims for monetary relief under Section 1983 are barred by the State's Eleventh Amendment immunity. Will, 491 U.S. at 66-67; Stilwell v. City of Williams, 831 F.3d 1234, 1245 (9th Cir. 2016); Dkt. No. 1, ¶ 51(b), (g)-(i). Because this defect also cannot “possibly be cured by the allegation of other facts, ” Lopez, 203 F.3d at 1130, Bylsma's Section 1983 damages claims against the individual Defendants in their official capacity are DISMISSED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND.

         Finally, Bylsma has failed to state a claim against Governor Ige. Governor Ige does not oversee the administration of SNAP benefits and Bylsma has not alleged that Governor Ige engaged in any unlawful conduct. Indeed, Bylsma candidly admits that the Governor “committed no wrong doing and is being added as a defendant in an effort to grant immediate relief . . .” Dkt. No. 1, ¶ 3. Therefore, Bylsma's Section 1983 claim against Governor Ige is DISMISSED WITHOUT LEAVE TO AMEND.

         2. Rehabilitation Act and ...


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