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Doyle v. Warren

United States District Court, D. Maine

August 11, 2017



          John H. Rich III, United States Magistrate Judge

         The plaintiff has filed suit under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that certain constitutional deprivations were committed against him by a justice of the Maine Superior Court and that the State of Maine also is responsible for those alleged harms.[1] He seeks permission to proceed without paying fees or costs. I deny the plaintiff's request for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and recommend that the court dismiss the action with prejudice, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         I. Application To Proceed in Forma Pauperis

         In forma pauperis status is available under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). In his motion to proceed in forma pauperis, the plaintiff declares under penalty of perjury that his gross pay or wages are “Not Known, ” but that his take home pay or wages are less than $3, 000.00 per year. ECF No. 4 ¶ 2. The plaintiff lists Social Security payments of $1, 113.00 per month, and approximately $2, 350.00 in net income for 2015 from Uber. Id. ¶ 3.

         He lists $57.00 in a checking account and a Honda vehicle with a “negative value” of $22, 000.00. Id. ¶¶ 4-5. These assets are balanced against recurring monthly expenses of approximately $1, 277.00 for rent and utilities. Id. ¶ 6. The plaintiff states that he has no dependents, but that he has financial obligations in excess of $20, 000.00. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. These include state tax arrears of approximately $1, 000.00 that he lists as “in dispute, ” a medical bill of approximately $800.00, and the $18, 800.00 civil judgment against him that he notes is “the subject of this suit.” Id. ¶ 8.

         A typical analysis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, based on the foregoing figures submitted by the plaintiff, would yield approval to proceed in forma pauperis. The plaintiff's application here lists the same Social Security payments of $1, 113.00 per month, and the same “net income” of approximately $2, 350.00 in 2015 from Uber, as his application in an earlier case. ECF No. 4, Doyle v. Town of Scarborough, et al. (“Scarborough”), No. 2:15-cv-00227-JAW (D. Me.).

         However, in that earlier case, the court vacated its grant of in forma pauperis status after the Town of Scarborough asserted that information had come to light in a separate state court proceeding indicating that the plaintiff had failed to disclose facts concerning his work as an Uber driver. Scarborough, 2017 WL 118019, at *1, *4 (D. Me. Jan. 12, 2017) (rec. dec., aff'd Feb. 7, 2017). The town noted that the Maine Superior Court had determined that the plaintiff had “failed to disclose relevant information on his application to that Court for leave to proceed in forma pauperis.” Id. at *1.

         In view of that new information, the court in Scarborough ordered the plaintiff to file a second application with an updated affidavit of income and other financial documentation he deemed relevant. Id. Those documents revealed that the plaintiff's gross income from Uber was $55, 634.83 in 2015. Id. at *2 & n.1. On January 12, 2017, just two days after the plaintiff filed his complaint and IFP application in the instant case, Magistrate Judge Nivison recommended that the court vacate its prior grant of in forma pauperis status, dismiss the plaintiff's complaint without prejudice, and order the plaintiff, if he refiled his claim, to show cause why he should not be required to pay the filing fee in Scarborough as a condition to his ability to proceed in the new action. Id. at *4. Judge Woodcock adopted that recommended decision on February 7, 2017. ECF No. 65, Scarborough.

         In this case, as in Scarborough, the plaintiff “materially understated the income earned and available to him.” Scarborough, 2017 WL 118019, at *2. That discrepancy prevents this court from finding that there is reliable information on which to make a finding of poverty on behalf of the plaintiff. Accordingly, the plaintiff's leave to proceed in formal pauperis is denied.

         II. Section 1915(e)(2)(B) Review

         A. Applicable Legal Standard

         The federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is designed to ensure meaningful access to the federal courts for those persons unable to pay the costs of bringing an action. When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, however, “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines[, ]” inter alia, that the action is “frivolous or malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         “Dismissals [under § 1915] are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance of process, so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such complaints.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989); see also Mallard v. United States Dist. Court S.D.

         Iowa, 490 U.S. 296, 307-08 (1989) (“Section 1915(d), for example, authorizes courts to dismiss a ‘frivolous or malicious' action, but there is little doubt they would have power to do so ...

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