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Zeng v. Goodstein

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

April 18, 2016

Chang Hua Zeng, Plaintiff,
Diane S. Goodstein, as Circuit Court Judge for State of South Carolina, Defendant.


          MARY GORDON BAKER, Magistrate Judge.

         This is a civil action filed by a pro se (non-prisoner) litigant. Plaintiff has paid the full filing fee (DE# 1, $400 receipt number SCX200013360). Under Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) of the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, pretrial proceedings in this action have been referred to the assigned United States Magistrate Judge. Having carefully reviewed the Complaint, the Magistrate Judge recommends that this case be dismissed without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, for the following reasons:

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed this federal Complaint on April 8, 2016. (DE# 1). In such Complaint, Plaintiff indicates that on March 1, 2013, he sued his landlord in state court for breach of contract, fraud, and discrimination. ( Id. at 3, ¶ III "Statement of Claim"). He proceeded pro se (i.e. without the assistance of counsel). Circuit Court Judge Diane S. Goodstein presided over the state case, which went to trial on April 8, 2014. See Zeng v. Coosaw Partners, LLC, et al, Case No. 2013-CP-18-3687 (C.P. Dorchester Cty. June 6, 2014). Plaintiff alleges that Judge Goodstein "made a very obvious mistake to my case." ( Id. ). Plaintiff indicates he appealed the state court decision to the South Carolina Court of Appeals, which affirmed. See Zeng v. Coosaw Partners, LLC, 2015 WL 4755833 (S.C. Ct. App. Aug. 12, 2015).

         Plaintiff indicates that he "removed" the state case to federal court on May 15, 2015. See Zeng v. Coosaw Partners LLC, D.S.C. Case No. 2:15-cv-2023-RMG-MGB (DE# 1, with 339 pages of attachments). Although Plaintiff refers to "removal, " this is not accurate. The docket reflects that Plaintiff simply filed a federal lawsuit on such date. In that federal lawsuit, Plaintiff attempted to re-litigate the issues that had been adjudicated in state court. As the same claims had already been adjudicated between the same parties in state court, this Court dismissed the federal suit on the basis of res judicata. ( Id., DE# 38 at 6, "It is apparent from the face of the second amended complaint that Plaintiff's allegations were tried in state court" and that "the parties in that case were identical to the parties in the present case").

         Plaintiff has now filed a second lawsuit in federal court. See Zeng v. Coosaw Partners LLC, D.S.C. Case No. 2:16-cv-1097-RMG-MGB. In the present Complaint, Plaintiff acknowledges that this Court dismissed his prior federal lawsuit on March 11, 2016 "because I was tried in state court before." (DE# 1 at 5). Plaintiff complains that United States District Judge Gergel "ignore the state's (sic) judge had made a mistake." ( Id., as in original). For relief, Plaintiff seeks damages from state Circuit Judge Goodstein for her decision in Plaintiff's state case. Plaintiff contends that Judge Goodstein "should be required to compensate for all of the damage caused by her mistake." (DE# 1 at 5). Plaintiff does not seek any injunctive relief.

         II. 28 U.S.C. § 1915 inapplicable

         Initially, the Magistrate Judge observes that pre-screening under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 is inapplicable in pro se, non-prisoner, fee-paid cases (such as the present case). See Chong Su Yi v. Social Sec. Admin., 554 F.Appx. 247 (4th Cir. 2014) ("Because Yi is neither a prisoner nor proceeding in forma pauperis in district court, the provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2), 1915A (2006), permitting sua sponte dismissal of complaints which fail to state a claim are inapplicable, " but further observing that "frivolous complaints are subject to dismissal pursuant to the inherent authority of the court, even when the filing fee has been paid"); Bardes v. Magera, Case No. 2:08-487-PMD-RSC, 2008 WL 2627134 at *8-10 (D.S.C. June 25, 2008) (holding that pre-screening under § 1915 does not apply in pro se, non-prisoner, fee-paid cases). Therefore, the Magistrate Judge is not conducting initial review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915.

         III. Discussion

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction Lacking

         However, payment of the full filing fee does not cure a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See, e.g., Myers v. McKnight, Case No. 2:10-cv-3259-RMG-RSC, 2011 WL 221867 at *7 (D.S.C. Jan. 5, 2011) (dismissing lawsuit because it concerned matters exclusively within the jurisdiction of the state courts). This Court has the inherent authority to review a Complaint to ensure that subject matter jurisdiction exists. See, e.g., Davis v. Wilson, Case No. 9:13-cv-382-GRA-BHH, 2013 WL 1282024, *1 (D.S.C. Mar. 8, 2013), adopted by, 2013 WL 1282024 (D.S.C. March 27, 2013), aff'd by 539 F.Appx. 145 (4th Cir. 2013), cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 940 (2014), reh'g denied, 134 S.Ct. 1371 (2014).

         Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, "constrained to exercise only the authority conferred by Article III of the Constitution and affirmatively granted by federal statute." In re Bulldog Trucking, Inc., 147 F.3d 347, 352 (4th Cir. 1998). A federal district court may sua sponte consider whether a valid basis for its jurisdiction exists and must "dismiss the action if no such ground appears." Id. at 352; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3) ("If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action."). Although the absence of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time during the case, determining jurisdiction at the outset of the litigation is the most efficient procedure. Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir.1999); and see, e.g., Cuyler v. Dept. of Army, Case No. 3:14-cv-3228-CMC-SVH, 2014 WL 4635570 (D.S.C. Sept. 15, 2014) (summarily dismissing without issuance of summons).

         Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1) requires that the complaint provide "a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction." See Dracos v. Hellenic Lines, Ltd., 762 F.2d 348, 350 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 474 U.S. 945 (1985) ("[P]laintiffs must affirmatively plead the jurisdiction of the federal court."). Even liberally construed, the Plaintiff's present Complaint fails to allege facts that would provide any proper basis for subject matter jurisdiction (under either federal question or diversity jurisdiction). The Complaint is therefore subject to summary dismissal. See, e.g., Brunson v. United States, Case No. 3:14-cv-2540-JFA-PJG, 2014 WL 4402803 (D.S.C. Sept. 3, 2014) (summarily dismissing complaint because allegations were insufficient to establish subject matter jurisdiction); Carter v. Ervin, Case No. 0:14-cv-865-TLW-PJG, 2014 WL 2468351 (D.S.C. June 2, 2014) (summarily dismissing complaint without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction), appeal dism'd by 585 F.Appx. 98 (4th Cir. 2014); Darby v. Cty. of Orangeburg, Case No. 5:12-cv-2351-CMC-PJG, 2012 WL 4890221 (D.S.C. Sept. 26, 2012), adopted by, 2012 WL 4891581 (D.S.C. Oct. 15, 2012) (summarily dismissing fee-paid pro se case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction); Stanfield v. Wigger, Case No. 2:14-839-PMD, 2015 WL 58077, *3 (D.S.C. Jan.5, 2015) (summarily dismissing fee-paid case filed by a pro se litigant) (collecting cases).

         The present Complaint does not refer to any federal statute or any specific constitutional rights. Although Plaintiff generally refers to the right to a fair trial, he does not allege any facts that would suggest any cognizable federal claim. Although courts liberally construe pro se pleadings, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has instructed that courts should not "ignore a ...

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