Stone v. Haw. Dep't of Educ., CIVIL NO. 17-00223 DKW-RLP

CourtU.S. District Court — District of Hawaii
Writing for the CourtDerrick K. Watson United States District Judge
PartiesJACK STONE, Plaintiff, v. HAWAII DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date22 May 2017
Docket NumberCIVIL NO. 17-00223 DKW-RLP

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

CIVIL NO. 17-00223 DKW-RLP

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF HAWAI'I

May 22, 2017


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

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

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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

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(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.

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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[.]"

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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); 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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misconduct" do not show that the pleader is entitled to relief as required by Rule 8. Id. at 679.

B. The Complaint Fails To State A Claim For Relief

Based on the Court's preliminary screening, it appears that Stone seeks to overturn the DOE's hiring decision and obtain damages under federal laws intended to prevent discrimination and ensure equal protection under the law. He fails, however, to assert that he is a member of any protected class, that any defendant discriminated against him based upon membership in a protected class, or that any defendant retaliated against him for engaging in protected conduct. To be clear, for instance, Stone does not allege his race, gender, or religion, or that any of those characteristics played any role in the DOE's decision not to hire him. Rather, the allegations demonstrate that he is simply dissatisfied with his non-selection for a DOE position. In short, the Complaint fails to provide sufficient factual content to enable the Court to draw the reasonable inference that any defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.

Stone asserts that this Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, based upon violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a)2 and the Equal

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Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.3 Complaint at 4, Dkt. No. 1. In the Complaint, Stone states that he "is an American citizen that currently resides in Chigasaki, Japan. [He] has been applying for a teaching position with the [DOE] since December of 2016, and which was to begin on July 1st, 2017. [Stone] received notice that the state-level intake interview conducted on 3.9.17 resulted in 'less than satisfactory' results." Complaint Suppl. Statement at 2, Dkt. No. 2. Stone further alleges, in part, that—

From the initial stage of applying for a teaching position, to the final interview, the petitioner had to deal with people who were incompetent, and did not have the requisite skills required for the position they were employed at. Due to the reasons stated herein, the petitioner cannot accept the denial of having his name included in the teacher's database for schools to consider hiring petitioner as a prospective teacher. The petitioner will also not accept any derogatory information placed in his database file because of bringing this action.

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Finally, the [DOE]'s Professional Development & Educational Research Institute sent the petitioner a communication on 2.3.17 That communication stated that he would be added to the list of applicants for the next cohort of Hawaii Certification Institute of School Leaders. This is a two-year training position for administrative positions within the [DOE], with a salary more than double that of a teacher. This is what the petitioner was mostly interested in, and was willing to work for as a teacher during said training period. Clearly, the damages of being denied employment with the [DOE] are apparent here.

****

Prior to the final interview it had already been communicated
...

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