Johnson v. Saul

Decision Date25 January 2021
Docket NumberCase No.: 20-CV-747 JLS (AHG)
PartiesJAMES JOHNSON, Petitioner, v. ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner, Social Security Administration, Respondent.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of California


Presently before the Court are Petitioner James Johnson's Petitions for Emergency Writs of Mandamus (1 to 6) ("Am. Writs," ECF Nos. 19-19-3);1 Supplemental Argument ("Br.," ECF No. 19-4); Declaration of Facts Regarding Prior Noticing of Respondent ("Decl. of Facts," ECF No. 19-5); Request for Appointment of Counsel ("Counsel Mot.," ECF No. 20); Ex Parte Motion for Local Rule Waiver re Exhibit Substitution and Labeling("1st Rule Waiver Mot.," ECF No. 21), Ex Parte Motion for Local Rule Waiver re Amendment Redlining ("2d Rule Waiver Mot.," ECF No. 22), and Ex Parte Motion for Local Rule Waiver re Page Count ("3d Rule Waiver Mot.," ECF No. 23) (collectively, the "Local Rule Waiver Motions"); Ex Parte Motion for Declaratory Judgment ("DJ Mot.," ECF No. 24); and Updated Facts re Case No. 20cv747 ("Updated Facts," ECF No. 28).2 Having carefully considered Petitioner's Motions and Amended Writs, Petitioner's legal arguments, and the applicable law, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART Petitioner's Local Rule Waiver Motions; DISMISSES WITHOUT PREJUDICE Petitioner's Amended Writs; and DENIES WITHOUT PREJUDICE AS MOOT Petitioner's Counsel and DJ Motions.


Petitioner initiated this action on April 20, 2020. See ECF No. 1. On June 15, 2020, the Court granted Petitioner's motion to proceed in forma pauperis but dismissed without prejudice Petitioner's writs for failure to state a claim. See generally ECF No. 11. On June 18, 2020, Petitioner filed a motion seeking to proceed under a pseudonym and requesting permission to file certain documents under seal. See ECF No. 12. The Court granted in part and denied in part Petitioner's motion. See ECF No. 13.

After seeking and obtaining an extension of time, see ECF Nos. 16 and 17, Petitioner filed his Amended Writs on August 18, 2020, see ECF No. 19.


"Although [courts] construe pleadings liberally in their favor, pro se litigants are bound by the rules of procedure." Ghazali v. Moran, 46 F.3d 52, 54 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing King v. Atiyeh, 814 F.2d 565, 567 (9th Cir. 1987)). Consequently, the Court is unable and unwilling to provide a blanket waiver to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and this District's Local Rules.

Petitioner moves ex parte for three "Local Rule waivers": (1) an order excusing Petitioner's failure to file the Amended Writs with the exhibits referenced therein as required by Civil Local Rule 15.1(a) and directing the Clerk to "refile" the exhibits to his original writs with his Amended Writs, see generally 1st Rule Waiver Mot.; (2) an order excusing Petitioner's failure to submit a redline of his Amended Writs against the originals, as required by Civil Local Rules 15.1(b) and (c), see generally 2d Rule Waiver Mot.; and (3) an order excusing the page-count limits applicable to his Amended Writs and their attendant exhibits, see generally 3d Rule Waiver Mot.

Good cause appearing, the Court GRANTS Petitioner's First and Second Rule Waiver Motions. The Court will not reject Petitioner's Amended Writs for failure to include redlines, and the Court excuses Petitioner's failure to refile the exhibits submitted with the original writs and will consider those exhibits incorporated by reference by the Amended Writs.

As to the Third Rule Waiver Motion, the Court will not reject Petitioner's Amended Writs outright solely for exceeding any applicable page count limits. However, to the extent Petitioner's Third Rule Waiver Motion essentially seeks a waiver of his responsibility to comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)'s "short and plain statement of the claim" requirement, the Court DENIES the Third Rule Waiver Motion, for the reasons provided infra at 10-12. The Court reiterates its entreaty for Petitioner "to be mindful of the Court's finite resources." ECF No. 11 at 3. Sometimes less is more.

SCREENING PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)
I. Standard of Review

Because Petitioner is proceeding in forma pauperis ("IFP"), his Amended Writs require a pre-answer screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). See, e.g., Bell-Sparrow v. Am. Arbitration Ass'n, No. 19-CV-00997-TSH, 2019 WL 1767203, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 22, 2019) (screening IFP writ); Banks v. Song, No. 17-CV-1460 JLS (WVG), 2017 WL 4810097, at *1 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 25, 2017) (same); Street v. Arizona, No. CV-11-08009-PCT-NVW, 2011 WL 206143, at *1 (D. Ariz. Jan. 20, 2011) (same); Bird v. Bowen, No.CIVS081088MCECMK, 2008 WL 3059466, at *1 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 5, 2008) (same). Courts in this District also screen amended pleadings filed IFP. See, e.g., Lorretz v. Jewish Fed'n, No. 12-CV-1055-BEN NLS, 2012 WL 1850957, at *1 (S.D. Cal. May 18, 2012) (screening amended complaint filed by plaintiff proceeding IFP and pro se and noting screening is "mandatory"); accord Contreras v. Vazquez, No. 09CV1267-IEG(CAB), 2009 WL 3248088, at *2 (S.D. Cal. Oct. 7, 2009) (noting, as to amended complaint, that, "as the Court indicated when it dismissed in part Plaintiff's original complaint, the Court is under a continuing duty to dismiss an in forma pauperis case 'any time' the Court determines that the action 'fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted'" and engaging in screening) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii)).

Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court must sua sponte dismiss a complaint, or any portion of it, which is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks damages from defendants who are immune. See Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126-27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). "The purpose of [screening] is 'to ensure that the targets of frivolous or malicious suits need not bear the expense of responding.'" Nordstrom v. Ryan, 762 F.3d 903, 920 n.1 (9th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted).

"When a court does not have jurisdiction to hear an action, the claim is considered frivolous." Johnson v. E. Band Cherokee Nation, 718 F. Supp. 6, 6 (N.D.N.Y. 1989). Moreover, "[t]he Court has an independent obligation to determine whether it has subject-matter jurisdiction." Cox v. Lee, No. CV-20-0275-PHX-DMF, 2020 WL 1904625, at *2 (D. Ariz. Apr. 17, 2020) (citing Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 583 (1999)); see also Henderson ex rel. Henderson v. Shinseki, 562 U.S. 428, 434 (2011) ("[F]ederal courts have an independent obligation to ensure that they do not exceed the scope of their jurisdiction, and therefore they must raise and decide jurisdictional questions that the parties either overlook or elect not to press.") (citation omitted). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3), "[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action" (emphasis added). As the plain language of Rule 12(h)(3) suggests, this requirement is mandatory. See Arbaugh v.Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006) (noting that "'subject-matter jurisdiction, because it involves a court's power to hear a case, can never be forfeited or waived'"; therefore, "when a federal court concludes that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the complaint in its entirety") (citation omitted).

"The standard for determining whether a plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as the Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) standard for failure to state a claim." Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012). Rule 12(b)(6) requires a complaint "contain 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) (internal quotation marks omitted); Wilhelm, 680 F.3d at 1121. Detailed factual allegations are not required, but "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. "Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Id. The "mere possibility of misconduct" or "unadorned, the defendant-unlawfully-harmed me accusation[s]" fall short of meeting this plausibility standard. Id.; see also Moss v. U.S. Secret Serv., 572 F.3d 962, 969 (9th Cir. 2009).

Further, "[w]hile factual allegations are accepted as true, legal conclusions are not." Hoagland v. Astrue, No. 1:12-cv-00973-SMS, 2012 WL 2521753, at *3 (E.D. Cal. June 28, 2012) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). Courts cannot accept legal conclusions set forth in a complaint if the plaintiff has not supported his contentions with facts. Id. (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, in deciding whether Petitioner has stated a plausible claim for relief, the Court also may consider exhibits attached to his filing. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c) ("A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is a part of the pleading for all purposes."); Hal Roach Studios, Inc. v. Richard Feiner & Co., Inc., 896 F.2d 1542, 1555 n.19 (9th Cir. 1990) (citing Amfac Mortg. Corp. v. Ariz. Mall of Tempe, Inc., 583 F.2d 426 (9th Cir. 1978) (noting that "material which is properly submitted as part of the complaint may be considered" in ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss)). However, "[i]t is notthe Court's responsibility to sift through plaintiff's multiple exhibits in an attempt to glean whether plaintiff has an adequate basis upon which to state any other claim for relief." El-Shaddai v. Zamora, No. CV 13-2327 RGK(JC), 2019 WL 2026683, at *10 (C.D. Cal. ...

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