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Bucklew v. Clair

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

May 15, 2019

OFFICER MATT ST. CLAIR, et al., Defendants.

         Referred to U.S. Magistrate Judge



         By Order of Reference, filed December 14, 2018 (doc. 19), this pro se case has been referred for full case management.[1] Before the Court for recommendation is Defendants Officer Matt St. Clair, Officer M. Clark, and City of Garland's Motion to Rescind Court's Prior Order Granting Plaintiff's Pauper Status and to Dismiss and Brief in Support, filed September 10, 2018 (doc. 14). Based on the relevant filings and applicable law, the motion should be GRANTED, and Plaintiff's case should be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND[2]

         On August 14, 2018, Sarah Bucklew (Plaintiff) filed this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 against Garland Police Officers Matt St. Clair and M. Clark (Officers), in their individual capacities, and the City of Garland (City) (collectively, Defendants), for allegedly violating her Fourth Amendment rights when she was involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric hospital on May 1, 2018. (See doc. 1 at 2, 7-12.) She seeks compensatory damages “against all Defendants, jointly and severally, in an amount to be determined at trial;” nominal damages for violations of her civil rights; punitive damages against the officers; costs, expenses, and attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b); and “other relief” the Court deems “just and deserving.” (Id. at 14.)

         A. Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         Also on August 14, 2018, Plaintiff applied for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) . (See doc. 2.) Her IFP application was signed and dated on June 14, 2018, and it declared under penalty of perjury that the information in the IFP application was true, and that Plaintiff understood that “a false statement may result in a dismissal” of her claims. (Id. at 1.) It reported that her average monthly income amount during the prior twelve months was $0, there were no funds in her Wells Fargo checking and savings accounts, and “sarabucklewcom” was her last employer from January 2013 to June 2017, with gross monthly pay of $12, 000. (Id. at 1-2.) The application explained that Plaintiff was self-employed as a web developer but had been unable to work since June 2017 because her “network was hacked.” (Id. at 6.) It estimated that she was paying $2, 250 a month for expenses, including rent/mortgage payments, utilities, maintenance, food, clothing, laundry, medical and dental expenses, and transportation. (Id. at 4-5.) Her paid monthly expenses did not include payments for any type of insurance, taxes, credit card or other installment debts, alimony or child support, or any unspecified expenses. (Id.) The application stated that Plaintiff's only asset was a home valued at $407, 000. (Id. at 3.)

         B. Bankruptcy Proceedings

         Two months before filing this lawsuit, Plaintiff filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy protection in the Northern District of Texas.[3] (doc. 14 at 8-46.) On June 15, 2018, a day after signing her IFP application in this case, Plaintiff filed various statements signed under penalty of perjury in that case detailing her financial situation. (Id.) The statement of current monthly income listed $11, 183.33 as her total average monthly income in the prior six months. (Id. at 8.) A Schedule A/B listed a home valued at $405, 000 and a Bank of Texas checking account with $1, 000. (Id. at 26, 30.) Her Schedule I described her employment status as “employed” and estimated her current monthly income at $11, 185.00. (Id. at 42-43.) A Schedule J estimated her then current monthly expenses at $6, 010.00. (Id. at 45.)[4]

         C. State Court Criminal Proceedings

         On or about June 28, 2018, Plaintiff was indicted in Dallas County, Texas, for harassment. (doc. 28 at 9-10.)[5] In support of her request for appointed counsel for that case, she submitted a Confidential Affidavit of Financial Condition, dated July 16, 2018, in which she swore “under penalty of perjury” that the information she provided was “true, correct, and complete, ” and “that all information in this affidavit is subject to verification and that falsifying this information is a criminal offense.” (Id. at 13.) In it, she swore that she did not have a salary but was receiving $1, 200 a month from “spouse's salary/other household income.” (doc. 28 at 13.) She estimated her monthly expenses at $4, 040, including $900 for car payments and insurance and $500 for child support. (Id.) Under nonexempt assets, she listed a vehicle valued at $5, 000, and expressly indicated that she did not have real property or bank accounts. (Id.)[6]

         On September 10, 2018, Defendants moved for a determination of whether Plaintiff submitted a false affidavit of poverty in this case, and if so, for dismissal of this entire action. (doc. 14 at 2.) Plaintiff responded on January 15, 2019. (doc. 26.) Defendants filed their reply brief and appendix on January 24, 2019, and Plaintiff objected to the reply and appendix on February 5, 2019. (docs. 27-29.)

         II. 28 U.S.C. § 1915

         “The federal [IFP] statute, codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1915, allows an indigent litigant to commence a civil or criminal action in federal court without paying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit.” Denton v. Hernandez,504 U.S. 25, 27 (1992). It was designed to ensure that litigants would not be deprived of meaningful access to the federal judicial system due to their financial circumstances. Neitzke v. Williams,490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989). A litigant seeking IFP status must submit an affidavit identifying all assets she ...

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