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McKnight v. Nevada Department of Health and Human Services

United States District Court, D. Nevada

October 30, 2017

TERRIA MCKNIGHT, Plaintiff,
v.
NEVADA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, et al, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This Report and Recommendation is made to the Honorable Miranda M. Du, United States District Judge. The action was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and LR IB 1-4. Before the court is Terria McKnight's ("plaintiff') application to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 1) and pro se complaint (ECF No. 1-1). Having reviewed the record, the court recommends that plaintiffs application to proceed in forma pauperis be granted, and that the complaint be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. IN FORMA PAUPERIS APPLICATION

         As set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), the court may authorize a plaintiff to proceed in forma pauperis if he or she is unable to pay the prescribed court fees. The plaintiff need not "be absolutely destitute to enjoy the benefits of the statute." Adkins v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 339 (1948). Rather, "[a]n 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). In her application, plaintiff indicates that her monthly income is $126 after expenses. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) Requiring plaintiff to pay the $400.00 filing fee would surely impose a significant burden on her ability to pay for food, board, and other necessities of life. Based on the foregoing, the court finds that plaintiff is unable to pay the filing fee in this matter. Accordingly, the court recommends that plaintiffs application to proceed in forma pauperis be granted.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Applications to proceed in forma pauperis are governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Section 1915 provides, in relevant part, that "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action or appeal (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Dismissal of a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted is provided for in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and the court applies the same standard under section 1915 when reviewing the adequacy of a complaint. See Resnick v. Hayes, 213 F.3d 443, 447 (9th Cir. 2000).

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must dismiss the complaint if it fails to "state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). Courts accept as true all well-pled factual allegations, set aside legal conclusions, and verify that the factual allegations state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Although the complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it must offer more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" and "raise a right to relief above a speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.

         The complaint is construed in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. Chubb Custom Ins. Co. v. Space Systems/Loral Inc., 710 F.3d 946, 956 (9th Cir. 2013). The court takes particular care when reviewing the pleadings of a pro se party, for a more forgiving standard applies to litigants not represented by counsel. Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). Still, a liberal construction may not be used to supply an essential element of the claim not initially pled. Pena v. Gardner, 976 F.2d 469, 471 (9th Cir. 1992). If dismissal is appropriate, a pro se plaintiff must be given some notice of the deficiencies of his or her complaint, and leave to amend, unless the opportunity to amend would be futile. Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995). Despite this leniency, a district court may in its discretion dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint if the claim "lacks an arguable basis in either law or fact." Id. This includes claims based on untenable legal conclusions (e.g., claims against defendants who are immune from suit) or fanciful factual allegations. See Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1228-29 (9th Cir. 1984).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Background Allegations

         Plaintiff brings this action against the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services Division of Welfare and Supportive Services ("DWSS") and the DWSS Administrative Adjudication Office ("AAO"). (ECFNo. 1-1 at 1.)

         According to the complaint, plaintiff is a person with disabilities. (Id. at 2.) She resides in Lyon County, Nevada with her son who is diagnosed with autism; they both receive Social Security disability benefits. (Id.) On March 22, 2017, plaintiff submitted a redetermination application for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ('SNAP") benefits. (Id.) The DWSS Yerington Office interviewed plaintiff concerning her application. (Id. at 3.) While "inputting expenses into the computer to be calculated, " an interviewer refused to accept plaintiffs evidence of her medical and shelter expenses. (Id.) On March 29, 2017, DWSS sent plaintiff an "Insufficient Information Request, " which disregarded plaintiffs claimed shelter expenses. (Id.) This document was "unclear in how the conclusion was reached." (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed an appeal on May 2, 2017 and a telephone hearing was subsequently held on May 22, 2017. (Id.) During the hearing, fifty-three pages of documents and exhibits were faxed to plaintiff and "read very fast by the person on the other line." (Id.) The faxed documents had information "blackened out" and were generally unreadable, due to an error in copying the original documents. (Id.) Plaintiff notified the hearing officers that she was confused and that she "did not receive the documents early enough to go through them;" elsewhere, plaintiff claims that the documents were not faxed to her until over thirty minutes into the hearing. (Id; Id. at 9-10.) A hearing officer replied that "this is the way we always do this." (Id.) Plaintiff "tried to say what issues [she] had" and stated that she would wait for the hearing decision before taking further action. (Id.)

         The AAO sent plaintiff the hearing decision on July 10, 2017. (Id.) The decision concluded that plaintiff was responsible for heating and cooling costs but did not provide an amount. (Id.) The decision also contained SNAP eligibility calculations regarding her shelter expenses. (Id.) On April 28, 2017, the hearing office upheld the hearing decision. (Id. at 4.)

         Plaintiff alleges that defendants' denial of plaintiffs application for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program ("SNAP") benefits violated her constitutional and federal statutory rights, enumerated in Counts 1 through VII. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as ...


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