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Leaston v. Umass Correctional Health Care

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 14, 2015

JAMAR LEASTON, Plaintiff,
v.
UMASS CORRECTIONAL HEALTH CARE, ET AL., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

GEORGE A. O'TOOLE, Jr., District Judge.

BACKGROUND

This action is one of many severed prisoner civil rights lawsuits alleging inadequate medical care at MCI Norfolk. See Stote, et al. v. UMASS Correctional Health Care, et al., C.A. No. 13-10267-NMG (multi-prisoner suit). On June 25, 2014, Judge Gorton issued a Memorandum and Order (Docket No. 20) severing the individual prisoner claims into separate cases. The Memorandum and Order ("June Order") granted each plaintiff 60 days to pay the full filing fee, or seek leave to proceed without prepayment of the fee. Additionally, each plaintiff who wished to file an Amended Complaint was granted an opportunity to do so within that 60day period.

On October 23, 2014, plaintiff Jamar Leaston "Leaston" filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis (Docket No. 6) along with his prison account statement. Additionally, he filed a Motion for an Extension of Time (Docket No. 7) to file an Amended Complaint. By Memorandum and Order (Docket No. 8), this Court granted the Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis and assessed the filing fee pursuant to the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"). See 28 U.S.C. ยง 1915(b). This Court also outlined the various pleading deficiencies under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure with respect to Leaston's inadequate medical care claim, and declined to appoint pro bono counsel. Leaston was directed file an Amended Complaint that set forth claims in accordance with Rule 8, by May 11, 2015. On May 11, 2015, Leaston filed a Motion for an Extension of Time to File his Amended Complaint (Docket No. 11). This Court allowed that motion by Electronic Order, on May 18, 2015 (Docket No. 12) and directed Leaston to file his Amended Complaint by August 17, 2015.

Also on May 18, 2015, this Court entered an Electronic Order (Docket No. 14) modifying the filing fee assessment previously made inasmuch as Leaston was not obligated to pay the $50.00 administrative fee of the Court, only the $350.00 filing fee. Thus, the balance due after payment of the initial partial filing fee was $320.07, not $370.07.

On June 25, 2015, Leaston filed a Motion to Dismiss Complaint and Request for Return of Funds (Docket No. 15). In that motion, Leaston states that he lacks sufficient knowledge to proceed with his case pro se, and he does not know whom he should sue. He alleges that when the multi-prisoner suit was filed, he had guidance from a jailhouse lawyer to assist in filing pleadings. He believed that the jailhouse lawyer would handle the entire action. When the case was severed, however, he no longer had this assistance. Moreover, Leaston alleges that he was transferred to the Souza Baranowski Correctional Center and all the material that should have been used in this case are in the possession of the person who originally filed the multi-prisoner suit. He contends that he was never informed correctly about the implications of filing a civil action, nor was he informed as to what would occur during the litigation process.

Next, Leaston requests that this Court waive the balance of the filing fee assessed against him, and refund the amount of payments already made, totaling $132.37. He contends that the money in his prison account was placed there by family and friends and, since he is serving a long sentence, those funds are needed for living expenses. Attached to his motion is his prison account statement reflecting that as of May 29, 2015, Leaston has $293.69 in his personal prison account, and $235.20 in his savings account. There are no holds on this account, nor outstanding loans or restitution owed.

DISCUSSION

I. Leaston's Motion to Dismiss Complaint

The Court construes Leaston's Motion to Dismiss Complaint as a Notice of Voluntary Dismissal pursuant to Rule 44(a)(1)(A)(i) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Since no party has been served or answered, there is no need for a court order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(1)(A).[1]

Accordingly, Leaston's Motion to Dismiss Complaint (Docket No. 15) shall be terminated as moot. This action shall be DISMISSED in its entirety without prejudice to Leaston seeking to reopen this case within 35 days of the date of this Memorandum and Order, by filing a Motion to Reopen with good cause shown, along with an Amended Complaint. This case shall be terminated from the Court's dockets.

II. Leaston's Request for the Return of Funds

The PLRA has "change[d] the meaning of in forma pauperis " for prisoners. Wooten v. District of Columbia Metro. Police Dept., 129 F.3d 206, 207 (D.C. Cir. 1997). Pursuant to the PLRA, the only issue for a court presented with a prisoner complaint is whether the filing fee must be paid "up-front"" or whether the fee may be paid in installments through the inmate's prison account. McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 604 (6th Cir. 1997). "Even a voluntary dismissal of a complaint or an appeal does not eliminate a prisoner's obligation to pay the required filing fees. Section 1915(b)(1) compels the payment of the respective fees at the moment the complaint or notice of appeal is filed." Id. at 607. See Purkey v. Green, 28 Fed.Appx. 736, 746 (10th Cir. 2001) ("Section 1915(b) does not waive the filing fee, however, nor does it condition payment of the filing fee on success on the merits.... Notwithstanding the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's action, he is still required to pay the full filing fee to the district court.").

The purpose of the PLRA - to discourage prisoners from filing frivolous actions, Wooten, 129 F.3d at 207 - would be undermined if a court were to order the return of the filing fee in the type of situation presented here, because it would allow a prisoner, unlike other litigants, to "test the waters" regarding the merits ...


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