United States District Court, D. Nevada
BRENDA F. STINNETT-GRAY, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
J. KOPPE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
has requested authority pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 to
proceed in forma pauperis (Docket No. 4), and
submitted a Complaint (Docket No. 1-1), and a supplemental
exhibit to her complaint (Docket No. 5).
Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis
has submitted the affidavit required by § 1915(a)
showing an inability to prepay fees and costs or give
security for them. Docket No. 4. Accordingly, the request to
proceed in forma pauperis will be granted pursuant
to § 1915(a). The Court will now review Plaintiff's
Screening the Complaint
in forma pauperis is a privilege, not a right.
E.g., Williams v. Field, 394 F.2d 329, 332 (9thCir.
1968). When a party seeks permission to pursue a civil case
in forma papueris, courts will screen the complaint
pursuant to federal statute. See 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e). In particular, the governing statute provides that
courts shall dismiss a case at any time if it determines
that, inter alia, it is frivolous or malicious, or
fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.
See Id. A central function of this screening process
is to “discourage the filing of, and waste of judicial
and private resources upon, baseless lawsuits that paying
litigants generally do not initiate because of the cost of
bringing suit.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S.
319, 327 (1989).
civil cases in which the plaintiff seeks to proceed in
forma pauperis, courts require that the plaintiff comply
with the robust authority that complaints must provide
sufficient notice of the basis of the claims presented and
state a claim for relief. See, e.g., Watison v.
Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012). Complaints
are subject to the pleading standards set out in Rule 8.
Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 512
(2002). Although Rule 8 does not require detailed factual
allegations, the complaint must set forth the grounds of the
plaintiff's entitlement to relief and may not rest on
“labels and conclusions” or a “formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Courts
must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations
contained in the complaint, but the same requirement does not
apply to legal conclusions. Id. at 679. Mere
recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported only
by conclusory allegations, do not suffice. Id. at
678. Moreover, where the claims in the complaint have not
crossed the line from conceivable to plausible, the complaint
should be dismissed. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). When a court dismisses a complaint
under § 1915(e), the plaintiff should be given leave to
amend the complaint with directions as to curing its
deficiencies, unless it is clear from the face of the
complaint that the deficiencies could not be cured by
amendment. See Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103,
1106 (9th Cir. 1995). In cases such as this, in which the
plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court liberally
construes her pleadings. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d
338, 342 & n.7 (9th Cir. 2010).
complaint in a social security appeal is not exempt from the
Section 1915(e) screening of in forma pauperis cases
generally. Hoagland v. Astrue, 2012 WL 2521753, *1
(E.D. Cal. June 28, 2012) (screening is required “even
if the plaintiff pursues an appeal of right, such as an
appeal of the Commissioner's denial of social security
disability benefits”); see also Lopez v.
Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000) (en
banc) (“section 1915(e) applies to all in forma
pauperis complaints”). Moreover, although a complaint
in a social security appeal may differ in some ways from
other civil cases, it is also “not exempt from the
general rules of civil pleading.” Hoagland,
2012 WL 2521753, at *2. With respect to social security
appeals specifically, the undersigned and several other
judges in this District have outlined some of the basic
requirements for complaints to satisfy the Court's
screening. First, the plaintiff must establish that he has
exhausted his administrative remedies pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), and that the civil action was commenced within
sixty days after notice of a final decision. Second, the
complaint must indicate the judicial district in which the
plaintiff resides. Third, the complaint must state the nature
of the plaintiff's disability and when the plaintiff
claims she became disabled. Fourth, the complaint must
contain a plain, short, and concise statement identifying the
nature of the plaintiff's disagreement with the
determination made by the Social Security Administration and
show that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See,
e.g., Graves v. Colvin, 2015 WL 357121, *2 (D.
Nev. Jan. 26, 2015) (collecting cases).
the fourth element above on which social security plaintiffs
most often stumble. “Every plaintiff appealing an
adverse decision of the Commissioner believes that the
Commissioner was wrong.” Hoagland, 2012 WL
2521753, at *3. A complaint merely stating that the
Commissioner's decision was wrong is plainly insufficient
to satisfy a plaintiff's pleading requirement. See,
e.g., Cribbet v. Comm'r of Social Security, 2012 WL
5308044, *3 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 29, 2012) (citing Brown v.
Astrue, 2011 WL 3664429, *2 (D.N.H. Aug. 19, 2011)).
“Similarly, a social security complaint that merely
parrots the standards used in reversing or remanding a case
is not sufficient to withstand a screening pursuant to
Section 1915(e).” Graves, 2015 WL 357121, at
*2 (citing Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678). Instead,
“[a] complaint appealing the Commissioner's denial
of disability benefits must set forth a brief statement of
facts setting forth the reasons why the
Commissioner's decision was wrong.”
Hoagland, 2012 WL 2521753, at *2 (collecting cases)
(emphasis added); see also Graves, 2015 WL 357121,
at *3 (finding complaint failed to state a claim when it
alleged only that “the Commissioner's decision to
deny [the plaintiff] benefits was wrong without any
indication as to why it was wrong other than a recitation of
the general standards that govern this Court's review of
that decision”); Harris v. Colvin, 2014 WL
1095941, *4 (C.D. Cal. Mar. 17, 2014) (finding complaint
failed to state a claim when it did not “specify . . .
the respects in which [the plaintiff] contends that the
ALJ's findings are not supported by substantial evidence
and/or that the proper legal standards were not
applied”); Gutierrez v. Astrue, 2011 WL
1087261, *2 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 23, 2011) (finding complaint
failed to comply with Rule 8's notice requirements when
it stated only that benefits were denied, but had not
“provided any substantive reasons” for appealing
that decision and had not “identified any errors in any
decision rendered by the Administrative Law Judge”).
The plaintiff must provide a statement identifying the basis
of the plaintiff's disagreement with the Social Security
Administration's determination and must make a showing
that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. While this showing
need not be made in great detail, it must be presented in
sufficient detail for the Court to understand the legal
and/or factual issues in dispute so that it can meaningfully
screen the complaint pursuant to § 1915(e). Cf.
Hoagland, 2012 WL 2521753, at *4 (the complaint should
avoid the advocacy and argumentation of the opening brief to
be submitted later, but must specifically set forth the facts
showing an entitlement to relief).
case, Plaintiff has filed a bare-bones complaint. Docket No.
1-1. When the Court denied Plaintiff's original
application to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court
noted that, though it had not yet screened her complaint, a
quick look at Plaintiff's complaint indicates that it is
deficient. Docket No. 3 at 2 n. 1. In seeming response to the
Court's order, Plaintiff filed an exhibit to her
complaint. Docket No. 5. Although not procedurally correct,
the Court has screened Plaintiff's exhibit, which
consists of documents from the Social Security
Administration, including the decision of the Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”) and the notification to
Plaintiff describing how she could appeal the decision, as
well as some medical records fo Plaintiff. Id. If
Plaintiff chooses to file an amended complaint in accordance
with this order, the amended complaint must be complete in
and of itself without reference to any other pleading or
has failed to allege that she exhausted her administrative
remedies, that her appeal was timely filed,  the nature of her
disability, or when she claims she became disabled. Further,
the complaint fails to contain a plain, short, and concise
statement identifying the nature of Plaintiff's
disagreement with the determination made by the Social
Security Administration and show that she is entitled to
relief. Docket Nos. 1-1, 5. Accordingly, her complaint is
clearly insufficient. . . . . . . . .
on the foregoing, IT IS ORDERED that:
Plaintiff s request to proceed in forma pauperis is
GRANTED with the caveat that the fees shall
be paid if recovery is made. At this time, Plaintiff shall
not be required to ...