United States District Court, D. Nevada
BENJAMIN W. ESPINOSA, Plaintiff,
JAMES STOGNER et al., Defendants.
C. JONES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Joseph Espinosa is a prisoner in the custody of the Nevada
Department of Corrections. He sued several Defendants in this
Court under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of
the First Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment. The American Humanist Association
(“AHA”) has joined the action. Pending before the
Court is the Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) of the Magistrate Judge as to
Defendants' motion for summary judgment against the AHA
based on lack of standing.
Complaint, Plaintiff alleged violations of the Free Exercise,
Establishment, and Equal Protection Clauses due to
Defendants' refusal to recognize “secular/religious
Humanism” as an accepted faith group under relevant
prison regulations. Upon screening, the Court declined
supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims and dismissed
the federal claims with leave to amend, because Plaintiff had
not alleged how his Humanist beliefs differed from
traditional secular moral philosophy in a way sufficient to
qualify as a religion under the religion clauses.
filed the First Amended Complaint (“FAC”), which
added the AHA as a Plaintiff and amplified the allegations,
and later filed the Second Amended Complaint to correct
Defendant Stogner's first name. An inspection of the FAC
indicates that Plaintiff did not cure the deficiencies
identified in the screening order. However, the Magistrate
Judge issued an order sua sponte declining to
rescreen the action as amended, i.e., declining to submit an
R&R as to screening, see Fed. R. Civ. P.
72(b)(1); Local R. IB 1-4(j), because Plaintiff had
associated counsel. The Court respectfully disagrees with
this approach, however, and this issue is antecedent to the
present summary judgment motion.
Prison Litigation Reform Act requires screening without
reference to whether a prisoner is represented or has paid
filing fees. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a)
(“shall review”); In re Prison Litig. Reform
Act, 105 F.3d 1131, 1134 (6th Cir. 1997)
(“District courts are required to screen all civil
cases brought by prisoners, regardless of whether the inmate
paid the full filing fee, is a pauper, is pro se, or is
represented by counsel, as [§ 1915A] does not
differentiate between civil actions brought by
prisoners”). That is because § 1915A's
screening requirement for “civil action[s] in which a
prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer
or employee of a governmental entity” is separate from
§ 1915's screening requirement for “suit[s],
action[s] or proceeding[s], civil or criminal, or appeal
therein, without prepayment of fees or security
therefor.” The requirement to all screen all prisoner
complaints as early as possible stems from concerns-namely, a
glut of prisoner complaints and their often unmeritorious
nature, Woodford v. Ngo, 548 U.S. 81, 84 (2006);
Woods v. Carey, 722 F.3d 1177, 1182 (9th Cir.
2013)-beyond those concerns manifest in pro se complaints
generally, i.e., unskilled or indecipherable pleadings. In
any case, a district court is not free to disregard the
statutory requirements, regardless of its view of the
remaining question is whether a district court is required to
screen amended complaints under §§ 1915 and/or
1915A, either generally, or at least where amendment has been
required due to a deficiency noted during screening of the
original complaint, as here. It appears that a district court
should screen amended complaints under § 1915 wherever a
case has been commenced without prepayment of filing fees, as
here. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)
(“Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion
thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the
case at any time if the court determines that . . .
.”). Section 1915A(a) refers to “a complaint,
” and it could therefore arguably be read not to apply
to amended complaints- although application to amended
complaints is also a permissible reading and would better
serve the purposes of the statute-but §§ 1915(e)(2)
and 1915(e)(2)(B) refer to “the case” and
“the action, ” respectively, implying no
distinction between initial and amended complaints. And the
clear purpose of both statutes is to ensure that each claim
in an action subject to screening is screened for pleading
deficiencies before proceeding to discovery and trial.
Permitting a claim that has been dismissed upon screening
(with leave to amend) to proceed after amendment without any
examination of the sufficiency of the amendment would
frustrate the statute's purpose of preventing
unmeritorious claims from proceeding to discovery and trial.
In summary, the Court is of the view that §§ 1915
and 1915A require screening of the FAC.
does not cure the deficiencies of the Complaint as noted in
the screening order. Plaintiff alleges, for example, that his
Humanist belief system “provides meaning, ”
(First Am. Compl. ¶ 13, ECF No. 8), is
“non-theistic, ” (id. ¶ 16), has
been described by a leading proponent as “a
naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism and
relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human
compassion, ” (id. ¶ 19), “offers a
basis or moral values . . . and an overall sense of purpose .
. . [but] rejects the existence of a supreme being, ”
(id. ¶ 20).
Court has no basis to doubt Plaintiff's sincerity as to
his professed beliefs and of course has no opinion as to the
value of those beliefs, but the allegations in the FAC
confirm that despite the title Plaintiff gives his belief
system (“Religious Humanism”), it is not a
religion for the purposes of the religion clauses. See
Peloza v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 37 F.3d 517,
521 (9th Cir. 1994) (“[N]either the Supreme Court, nor
this circuit, has ever held that evolutionism or secular
humanism are ‘religions' for Establishment Clause
purposes. Indeed, both the dictionary definition of religion
and the clear weight of the caselaw are to the
contrary.” (footnotes omitted)). “[R]eligion is
the ‘belief in and reverence for a supernatural power
accepted as the creator and governor of the
universe.'” Id. 521 n.4 (quoting
Webster's II New Riverside University Dictionary 993
(1988)); see also Africa v. Pennsylvania, 662 F.2d
1025, 1033-34 (3rd Cir. 1981) (citing Wisconsin v.
Yoder, 406 U.S. 216 (1972)); Alvarado v. City of San
Jose, 94 F.3d 1223, 1229 (9th Cir. 1996) (quoting
Africa, 622 F.2d at 1032); id. at 1230
(“We are hard put to imagine a more unworkable
definition of religion or religious symbol or believer for
purposes of the Establishment Clause or Free Exercise than
that which is offered here. Few governmental activities could
escape censure under a constitutional definition of
‘religion' which includes any symbol or belief to
which an individual ascribes ‘serious or
almost-serious' spiritual significance. ‘If
anything can be religion, then anything the government does
can be construed as favoring one religion over another, and .
. . the government is paralyzed. . . .' 6 Seton Hall
Const. L. J. at 70. While the First Amendment must be held to
protect unfamiliar and idiosyncratic as well as commonly
recognized religions, it loses its sense and thus its ability
to protect when carried to the extreme proposed by the
plaintiffs.” (footnote omitted)). ///
HEREBY ORDERED that the Report and Recommendation (ECF No.
40) is REJCETED, and the Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No.
29) is DENIED as moot.
FURTHER ORDERED that the Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 8)
is DISMISSED, without leave to amend.
FURTHER ORDERED that the Clerk shall enter judgment and close
the case. ...