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Henderson v. Cargill Packing Plant

United States District Court, D. Kansas

December 3, 2018




         The Court has reviewed plaintiff William Henderson's Complaint (ECF No. 1), Motion to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees (ECF No. 3), and Motion for Appointment of Counsel (ECF No. 4). Although the Court GRANTS Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees (ECF No. 3), the Court requires Plaintiff to amend his complaint. Additionally, the Court takes Plaintiff's Motion for Appointment of Counsel (ECF No. 4) under advisement, pending both amendment of the Complaint and supplementation of the Motion as ordered below.

         I. Motion to Proceed Without Payment of Fees (ECF No. 3)

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), the Court has the discretion[1] to authorize the filing of a civil case “without prepayment of fees or security thereof, by a person who submits an affidavit that . . . the person is unable to pay such fees or give security thereof.” “Proceeding in forma pauperis in a civil case ‘is a privilege, not a right-fundamental or otherwise.'”[2] To determine whether a party is eligible to file without prepayment of the fee, the Court commonly reviews that party's financial affidavit and compares his or her monthly expenses with the monthly income disclosed therein.[3] In his application and financial affidavit (ECF No. 3, 3-1, sealed), Plaintiff indicates he is currently employed. However, he possesses minimal assets, and his monthly expenses exceed his monthly income. In keeping with the Court's liberal policy toward permitting proceedings in forma pauperis, [4] and after careful review of Plaintiff's Motion and Affidavit of Financial Status (ECF No. 3, 3-1 sealed), the Court finds he is financially unable to pay the filing fee.

         IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion to Proceed without Prepayment of Fees (ECF No. 3) is GRANTED. A grant of in forma pauperis status to a filing party would normally invoke service of process by the clerk of court under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(c)(3). However, in light of this Court's order requiring Plaintiff to file an amended complaint (see Section II below), the clerk is directed to stay service of process pending Plaintiff's filing of an amended complaint and the Court's review of the amendment.[5]

         II. Sufficiency of Plaintiff's Complaint (ECF No. 1)

         Although the Court grants Plaintiff's request to proceed without payment of fees, this authority to proceed is not without limitation. On review of the Complaint, the Court determines Plaintiff's Complaint, on its face, requires amendment for this case to proceed.

         A. Background

         In the Complaint, Plaintiff states he is suing the Cargill Packing Plant for employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964[6] and under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.[7] (ECF No. 1 at pp. 2-3). He indicates the discrimination occurred on November 16, 2017 at 9:00 a.m. (ECF No. 1 at p. 8), and generally Defendant failed to hire him because of his race or color, and because of his age (Id. at p. 9). Plaintiff discloses he filed a charge of discrimination with the Kansas Human Rights Commission and with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), and includes a copy of his Dismissal and Notice of Rights mailed to him from the EEOC on June 19, 2018. (Id. at p. 11.)

         However, Plaintiff's brief statement of the essential facts of his claim, on pages 9 and 10 of his Complaint, is difficult to understand, at best. Plaintiff mentions an unnamed female at Cargill's employment office, where he completed an application. (ECF No. 1 at p. 10.) He references the date June 7, 2018; however, in another section of his Complaint, he indicates the discriminatory act took place on November 16, 2017. There is no indication of how these dates relates to his claims or what occurred on each date. (Compare Complaint, ECF No. 1 at p. 8, citing November 16, 2017, with p. 10, citing June 7, 2018.) He indicates he went to work for a staffing service in the same building as Cargill, and was contacted by phone by Cargill while working for the staffing service, but does not describe how these alleged facts relate to his claims. (Id. at p. 10.) But these meager facts are the extent of the information provided by Plaintiff in his Complaint. No other facts are given regarding why Plaintiff perceived Cargill's failure to hire him as discrimination, or what Cargill did that violated Plaintiff's rights. No conduct is specifically described, and the dates listed by Plaintiff are confusing. And, although in one section of the Complaint form, Plaintiff contends he would like to be compensated for his hardship and damages, his requested relief is difficult to understand.[8]

         B. Legal Standard

         When reviewing an in forma pauperis application under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, sua sponte dismissal of the case is required if the court determines that the action 1) is frivolous or malicious, 2) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or 3) seeks relief from a defendant who is immune from suit.[9] Furthermore, “[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.”[10] After application of these standards, Plaintiff is ordered to file an amended complaint to avoid a recommendation of dismissal for the reasons set forth below.

         This Court reviews the sufficiency of Plaintiff's Complaint under the same standards as those used when considering a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).[11] Plaintiff “must allege sufficient facts to state a claim which is plausible- rather than merely conceivable-on its face.”[12] “Factual allegations in a complaint must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.”[13]

         Because Plaintiff proceeds pro se, his pleadings must be liberally construed.[14]However, he still bears the burden to allege “sufficient facts on which a recognized legal claim could be based”[15] and the Court cannot “take on the responsibility of serving as [his] attorney in constructing arguments and searching the record.”[16] Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 “demands more than naked assertions.”[17]

         Ultimately, the court must ascertain whether Plaintiff's claim provides the defendant with sufficient notice of his claims such that the defendant could prepare an appropriate answer.[18] Under Rule 8(a), a complaint must contain three minimal pieces of information: (1) the pleading should contain a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief; (2) a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction; and (3) a statement of the relief requested. If the court finds any of these requirements absent, even after affording liberal construction to plaintiff's Complaint, the court “is compelled to recommend that the action be dismissed.”[19] If the complaint is “too general, ” then it does not accomplish these purposes.[20] Similarly, “allegations of conclusions or opinions are not sufficient when no facts are alleged by way of the statement of the claim.”[21]

         C. Discussion

         After review of the Complaint, this Court finds the document, on its face, does not comply with the pleading requirements of Rule 8. Plaintiff clearly names the defendant, Cargill Packing Plant, and cites the federal employment discrimination statutes which would supply jurisdiction over his claims. However, Plaintiff's statement of the “essential facts” of his claim (found in ECF No. 1, paragraph 10, pages 9-10) lacks sufficient information to support his claim of employment discrimination. The absence of facts makes it impossible for Defendant to have fair notice of what is being alleged against it.[22]

         Rule 8 does not require Plaintiff to state precisely each element of his claim or describe every fact with specific detail, but it does require him to set forth sufficient factual allegations on which a recognized legal claim could be based.[23] In short, while Rule 8(a) relieves Plaintiff from pleading technicalities and from alleging detailed facts that establish a right to judgment, it still requires minimal factual allegations on the material elements that must be proved to recover damages.[24] And, while pro se pleadings are liberally construed, the Court cannot craft legal theories or supply factual allegations for a pro se plaintiff[25]

         Rather than recommending Plaintiffs claim for dismissal, [26] however, the Court extends latitude to him as a pro se litigant, and will permit him the opportunity to amend his Complaint to fully comply with Rule 8. ...

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