United States District Court, N.D. New York
MICHAEL J. RODRIGUEZ, Plaintiff,
DAVE FAVRO, Clinton County Sheriff, et al., Defendants.
Michael J. Rodriguez, Pro Se, 20140081, Clinton County Jail, 25 McCarthy Drive, Plattsburgh, NY 12901, for Plaintiff.
REPORT, RECOMMENDATION, AND ORDER
DAVID E. PEEBLES, Magistrate Judge.
Pro se plaintiff Michael J. Rodriguez, an inmate currently confined in the Clinton County Jail, located in Plattsburgh, New York, has commenced this action, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the Clinton County Sheriff, an administrator at the jail, and the jail itself alleging deprivation of his civil rights. Plaintiff's complaint and accompanying application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") have been referred to me for review. Having considered plaintiff's complaint and IFP application, I grant him leave to proceed IFP and recommend that he be permitted to proceed with his claims against all of the named defendants, with the exception of the Clinton County Jail.
On or about March 19, 2014, plaintiff submitted the complaint in this action, naming the sheriff of Clinton County, identified as Dave Favro; Major Smith, a jail administrator; and the Clinton County Jail as defendants. Dkt. No. 2 at 1-2. The complaint alleges that, on February 13, 2014, plaintiff, a Rastafarian, was told that he is not permitted to wear his religious head covering, or crown, during movement at the facility, visitation, recreation, and court visits. Id. at 3-4. Plaintiff contends that the directive violates his First Amendment right to freely exercise his chosen religion as a Rastafarian. Id.
As originally filed in the Southern District of New York, plaintiff's complaint was accompanied by a motion for leave to proceed IFP. Dkt. No. 1. Upon initial review of the case in this district, following the transfer, District Judge David N. Hurd determined that plaintiff's IFP application was incomplete and accordingly denied the application, ordered that the case be closed administratively, and afforded the plaintiff thirty days to either pay the filing fee in full or submit a completed IFP application with a signed inmate authorization form. Dkt. No. 5. Upon receipt of a completed inmate authorization form on April 24, 2014, the case was reopened and forwarded to me for review. Dkt. Nos. 6, 7.
A. IFP Application
When a civil action is commenced in a federal district court, the statutory filing fee, set at $350 at the time plaintiff filed his complaint, must ordinarily be paid. 28 U.S.C. § 1914(a). A court is authorized, however, to permit a litigant to proceed IFP if it determines that he is unable to pay the required filing fee. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). In this instance, because I conclude that plaintiff now meets the requirements for IFP status, his application for leave to proceed IFP is granted.
B. Sufficiency of Plaintiff's Complaint
1. Standard of Review
Because I have found that plaintiff meets the financial criteria for commencing this case IFP, I must next consider the sufficiency of the claims set forth in his complaint in light of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). Section 1915(e) directs that, when a plaintiff seeks to proceed IFP, "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... the action... (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on 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). Similarly, 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b) directs a court to review any "complaint in a civil action in which a prisoner seeks redress from a governmental entity or officer or employee of a governmental entity, " and the court must "identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint... is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or... seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b); see also Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007) ("We have found both sections [1915 and 1915A] applicable to prisoner proceedings in forma pauperis. ").
In deciding whether a complaint states a colorable claim, a court must extend a certain measure of deference in favor of pro se litigants, Nance v. Kelly, 912 F.2d 605, 606 (2d Cir. 1990) (per curiam), and extreme caution should be exercised in ordering sua sponte dismissal of a pro se complaint before the adverse party has been served and the parties have had an opportunity to address the sufficiency of plaintiff's allegations, Anderson v. Coughlin, 700 F.2d 37, 41 (2d Cir. 1983). However, the court also has an overarching obligation to determine that a claim is not legally frivolous before permitting a pro se plaintiff's complaint to proceed. See, e.g., Fitzgerald v. First East Seventh St. Tenants Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 363 (2d Cir. 2000) (holding that a district court may sua sponte dismiss a frivolous complaint, notwithstanding the fact that the plaintiff paid the statutory filing fee). "Legal frivolity... occurs where the claim is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory [such as] when either the claim lacks an arguable basis in law, or a dispositive defense clearly exists on the face of the complaint.'" Aguilar v. United States, Nos. 99-MC-0304, 99-MC-0408, 1999 WL 1067841, at *2 (D. Conn. Nov. 8, 1999) (quoting Livingston v. Adirondack Beverage Co., 141 F.3d 434, 437 (2d Cir. 1998)); see also Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989) ...