787 F.3d 1226 (9th Cir. 2015), 12-16244, Escobedo v. Applebees

Docket Nº:12-16244
Citation:787 F.3d 1226, 91 Fed.R.Serv.3d 1702
Opinion Judge:PONSOR, Senior District Judge:
Party Name:MARIA ESCOBEDO, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. APPLEBEES, Defendant, and APPLE AMERICAN GROUP; APPLE NEVADA, LLC, Defendants-Appellee
Attorney:Katelin Eastman (argued) and Sarah Gerdes (argued), Pepperdine University School of Law, Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic, Malibu, California; Jeremy B. Rosen, Horvitz & Levy LLP, Encino, California, for Plaintiff-Appellant. Melissa Leigh Griffin (argued) and Beth Freuchtenicht Aney, San F...
Judge Panel:Before: Kim McLane Wardlaw and Richard A. Paez, Circuit Judges, and Michael A. Ponsor,[*] Senior District Judge.
Case Date:June 04, 2015
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
SUMMARY

Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint charging Apple Nevada with sexual harassment and discrimination, as well as an application to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP). The district court dismissed the complaint based on untimeliness. The court held that the filing date of a complaint is the date it is delivered to the clerk, whether it is submitted with or without an IFP application; if an IFP... (see full summary)

 
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Page 1226

787 F.3d 1226 (9th Cir. 2015)

91 Fed.R.Serv.3d 1702

MARIA ESCOBEDO, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

APPLEBEES, Defendant,

and

APPLE AMERICAN GROUP; APPLE NEVADA, LLC, Defendants-Appellee

No. 12-16244

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

June 4, 2015

Argued and Submitted, Pasadena, California November 18, 2014.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Nevada. D.C. No. 2:11-cv-00895-PMP-CWH. Philip M. Pro, Senior District Judge, Presiding.

SUMMARY[**]

Labor Law

The panel reversed the district court's (1) dismissal of a Title VII action as untimely and (2) denial of an application to proceed in forma pauperis.

The panel held that for purposes of the ninety-day filing limit set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1), the filing date of a complaint is the date it is delivered to the court clerk, whether it is submitted with or without an in forma pauperis application.

The panel further held that it is an abuse of discretion to deny an in forma pauperis application based upon a spouse's financial resources, unless there is a reasonable inquiry into (a) whether the spouse's resources are actually available to the would-be plaintiff and (b) whether the spouse in fact has sufficient funds, given his or her own expenses, to assist in paying the fee.

Katelin Eastman (argued) and Sarah Gerdes (argued), Pepperdine University School of Law, Ninth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Clinic, Malibu, California; Jeremy B. Rosen, Horvitz & Levy LLP, Encino, California, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

Melissa Leigh Griffin (argued) and Beth Freuchtenicht Aney, San Francisco, California, for Defendants-Appellees.

Before: Kim McLane Wardlaw and Richard A. Paez, Circuit Judges, and Michael A. Ponsor,[*] Senior District Judge.

OPINION

Page 1227

PONSOR, Senior District Judge:

Appellant Maria Escobedo, acting pro se, submitted her complaint, charging Appellee Apple Nevada with sexual harassment and discrimination, to the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada on June 2, 2011. The complaint arrived at the clerk's office sixty-nine days after Escobedo received her right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, well within the ninety-day

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limit set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1).1

Along with her complaint, Escobedo filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (" IFP" ). Thirty-four days later, on July 6, 2011, outside the ninety-day deadline, a magistrate judge first heard argument on the application and erroneously denied it, based upon ungrounded assumptions regarding the availability of Escobedo's husband's resources. During the hearing, however, the magistrate judge told Escobedo that she would have an additional thirty days to pay the $350 fee. Escobedo paid the fee on August 5, 2011, within the allotted thirty days. Despite this, the district court subsequently dismissed her complaint for violating the ninety-day limitations period.

Escobedo (represented bycounsel) contends, first, that the district court erred in dismissing her complaint as untimely and, second, that the magistrate judge erred in denying her IFP application. We agree on both points and reverse.2

We now hold that the filing date of a complaint is the date it is delivered to the clerk, whether it is submitted with or without an IFP application. Obviously, if an IFP application is submitted with the complaint in lieu of the filing fee, and the application is thereafter denied, the district court will be free to dismiss the complaint if the fee is not paid within a reasonable time following the denial. The filing date, however, will be the date on which the complaint was originally delivered to the clerk's office along with the IFP application.

We further hold that it is an abuse of discretion to deny an IFP application based upon a spouse's financial resources, unless there is a reasonable inquiry into (a) whether the spouse's resources are actually available to the would-be plaintiff and (b) whether the spouse in fact has sufficient funds, given his or her own expenses, to assist in paying the fee.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Escobedo worked as a prep cook for seven years at an Applebee's restaurant in Las Vegas, Nevada owned by Apple Nevada. On November 3, 2010, Escobedo reported to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that her employer had subjected her to sexual harassment, discrimination on the basis of her gender and national origin, and retaliation. A review of her claims reveals that they could not, by any means, be characterized as frivolous. EEOC records apparently suggest that a letter may have gone out to Escobedo on December 16, 2010, containing a Notice of Right to Sue. Escobedo never received it. On January 30, 2011, Applebee's fired Escobedo. In March 2011, concerned that she had not heard anything, Escobedo contacted the EEOC. On March 25, 2011, the EEOC

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sent out, and Escobedo for the first time received, a copy of the Notice of Right to Sue3

On June 2, 2011, sixty-nine days after receiving the right-to-sue letter, Escobedo submitted her pro se complaint to the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, bringing claims of sexual harassment and discrimination on the basis of gender and national origin against Applebee's.4 With her complaint, Escobedo filed an IFP application, in which she certified that she could not pay the filing fee for her complaint because of her poverty. She stated in her application that she had income of $210 per week and paid $684 per month in rent, as well as $15 a month on existing credit card debts. Given that these expenses left her with less than $150 per month for all other expenses, including food and medical costs, Escobedo contended that the $350 filing fee was sufficiently onerous that it should be waived.

On July 6, 2011, thirty-nine days after Escobedo filed her complaint, and 103 days after receiving her March 25 right-to-sue letter, Escobedo obtained a hearing before a magistrate judge on her IFP application. When asked by the judge how she paid $684 per month for rent when she only received $180 a week5 in unemployment compensation, Escobedo replied that her husband helped with her housing expense. The magistrate judge next inquired into her husband's monthly income, which Escobedo stated was $1800 per month in social security benefits. Based on this information and the amount of Escobedo's income, the magistrate judge denied Escobedo's IFP application. The record does not reveal any inquiry by the magistrate judge as to whether her husband's financial resources were actually available to Escobedo (beyond the help with the cost of housing), or whether her husband had other offsetting legitimate expenses that would reduce or eliminate his ability to assist in paying the filing fee.

Following this, the magistrate judge set a deadline of August 5, 2011, for Escobedo to pay the fee. In this portion of the hearing, the magistrate judge and Escobedo had the following ambiguous exchange:

The Court:

All right. Ms. Escobedo, what I'm going to do is deny the motion to proceed in forma pauperis. Because of your household income, the Court is going to require you to pay the filing fee in this case. Once you pay that Page 1230

filing fee, then the complaint will be filed and it can be served by you on the Defendant Applebees.

Obviously, you're aware that there may be a motion to dismiss your complaint by Applebees based on a failure to timely file. The Court cannot and will not address that issue until you serve Applebees and they're actually in the lawsuit to respond to that question. I will indicate and you see the letter already from the EEOC Commission that those requirements of filing dates are very firm and there will not be room to waive that if you've missed a filing date. Now, today is the 6th of July. Can you pay that filing fee by August the 5th? That would be one month from now. The Plaintiff: How much would it be? The Court: I believe the filing fee now is $350. The Plaintiff: Very good. The Court: Okay. That'll be due then by August 5, 2011. If nothing's paid or filed by then, then of course the case would be dismissed.

Escobedo managed to pay the filing fee on August 5, 2011, within the district court's time frame, but 133 days following the receipt of the right-to-sue letter. Even if the ninety-day clock were tolled during the thirty-four days while Escobedo's IFP application awaited a ruling (to which Applebees vigorously objects), Escobedo would still be nine days outside the ninety-day limitations period, if we were to agree with the lower court that the complaint could only be deemed " filed" once the fee was paid and not when it was first delivered to the clerk.

On March 8, 2012, Apple Nevada filed...

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