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Federal court denies inmates’ request not to pay court fees in filing their complaint

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DISTRICT Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona has denied the request of federal inmates Francisco N. Basa and Edwin P. Blas to proceed without paying court fees in the complaint they filed, alleging violations of their constitutional rights.

Basa and Blas, in a handwritten complaint, named as defendants Don Hall and Alfred Celis of the U.S. Marshals Service-Saipan, CNMI Department of Corrections officials Georgia Cabrera, Jose K. Pangelinan, Maria Aldan, Raymond Mafnas and Vince Attao, an unnamed senator, and an unnamed Saipan food service contractor.

Basa and Blas, who are both serving jail time in Guam, have also asked the District Court for the NMI for a protective order, citing potential retaliation from the defendants.

In her order on Thursday,  Judge Manglona noted that the two plaintiffs are both serving their revocation sentences.

On Feb. 20, 2020, the judge revoked Blas’s supervised release and sentenced him to 18 months in prison.

On June 16, 2020, the court revoked Basa’s supervised release and sentenced him to 11 months in prison.

The judge said both inmates were remanded to the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service to be transported to the Bureau of Prisons.

She said at some point in time, they were transported from Saipan to Guam.

Basa and Blas are alleging that the defendants deprived and violated their rights and privileges under the U.S. Constitution. Their complaint alleges violations of their First, Fifth, Eighth, and 14th amendment rights.

They are suing the defendants for negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and are demanding an award of damages.

Basa and Blas also want to be allowed to complete their prison sentences on Saipan.

In addition, Blas intends to sue his probation officer for requiring him to work in a cleanup crew during his supervised release.

Blas said the job assignment was cruel and unusual punishment in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.

According to Judge Manglona, based on the plaintiffs’ various letters, “it appears that the remedy they are most after is a court order allowing them to serve the remainder of their sentences on Saipan.”

She said the plaintiffs also asked the court not to send them to a prison on the mainland U.S.

“Anyone intending to file a new civil lawsuit in this court must first pay a $400 filing fee,” the judge said.

“Pro se prisoners are not exempt from this fee requirement. A prisoner may commence a lawsuit in forma pauperis — in other words, without prepaying the filing fee — only if the prisoner proves an inability to pay,” she added.

Judge Manglona said Basa attests that his girlfriend mailed him a $13,500 unemployment check.

The judge added that Basa also reports receiving $125 in monthly rental income and a $1,500 stimulus check. “His only debt is $600 in federal restitution.”

As for Blas, the judge said he does not report having any cash on hand, but he does claim to have earned $150 per week during the three months that he worked at a take-out store.

Based on Basa’s statements, the court does not find that he has proven an inability to pay the $400 filing fee.

Moreover, citing a previous ruling, the judge said “[w]here there are multiple plaintiffs in a single action, the plaintiffs may not proceed in forma pauperis unless all of them demonstrate inability to pay the filing fee.”

Judge Manglona said the court cannot allow the plaintiffs to proceed in forma pauperis. “To continue with this lawsuit, plaintiffs must pay the filing fee in full. Failure to pay the filing fee within 30 days of this order will result in the dismissal of this action without prejudice,” she added.

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