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Blackstock v. Magnolia Health Care

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

January 2, 2018

Sepia Vonnetta Blackstock, Plaintiff,
Magnolia Health Care, Defendant.



         This is a civil action filed by a pro se litigant requesting to proceed in forma pauperis. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1), and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.), this magistrate judge is authorized to review all pretrial matters in such pro se cases and to submit findings and recommendations to the district court.

         I. Factual Background

         Sepia Blackstock (“Plaintiff”) alleges that a doctor who she went to see and his nurse did not provide her with the medication and referrals in a timely fashion. According to Plaintiff, she visited the doctor's office on September 5, 2017, but she did not receive some of the requested medication and the referral until “after September 13, 2017.” ECF No. 1 at 9. Plaintiff alleges that she did not receive an asthma inhaler that she requested at all. She asserts that she has suffered serious effects on her health from not having her inhaler. She alleges that the nurse who she was in contact with “is guilty of misconduct.” Id. at 10. Plaintiff seeks $30, 000.00 in damages for “malpractice and misconduct.” Id. at 4. Plaintiff asserts that this case is brought under federal-question jurisdiction and includes numerous unintelligible sets of numbers which are possibly improperly formulated citations to State of South Carolina statutes-but which are clearly not federal statutes-as being “at issue in this case.” ECF No. 1 at 3, 5-6.

         II. Standard of Review Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se Complaint pursuant to the procedural provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915. The review has been conducted in light of the following precedents: Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324-25 (1989); Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97 (1976); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519 (1972); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147 (4th Cir. 1978).

         The Complaint in this case was filed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in federal court without prepaying the administrative costs of proceeding with the lawsuit. To protect against possible abuses of this privilege, the statute allows a district court to dismiss the case upon a finding that the action “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted” or is “frivolous or malicious.” 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B)(I), (ii). Hence, under 28 U.S.C. §1915(e)(2)(B), a claim based on a meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989).

         This court is required to liberally construe pro se pleadings, Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. at 97, holding them to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys, Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5 (1980). The mandated liberal construction afforded pro se pleadings means that if the court can reasonably read the pleadings to state a valid claim on which the plaintiff could prevail, it should do so, but a district court may not rewrite a pleading to “conjure up questions never squarely presented” to the court. Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985). The requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal district court. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 390-91 (4th Cir. 1990). Even under this less stringent standard, however, the pro se Complaint under review in this case is subject to summary dismissal.

         III. Discussion

         The mere mention of a federal statute in a complaint does not create federal-question jurisdiction. Hill v. Marston, 13 F.3d 1548, 1550 (11th Cir. 1994). Rather, federal-question jurisdiction requires that a party assert a substantial federal claim. Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 536 (1976); see also Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 199 (1962) (holding that if jurisdiction is based on a federal question, the plaintiff must show that he has alleged a claim under federal law that is not frivolous). Here, Plaintiff's allegations are wholly inadequate to allege a substantial federal claim. As a result, this case should be summarily dismissed.

         In order for this court to hear and decide a case, the court must, first, have jurisdiction over the subject matter of the litigation. This federal court has an “independent obligation” to investigate the limits of its subject-matter jurisdiction. See Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006). This is so even when the parties “either overlook or elect not to press” the issue, Henderson v. Shinseki, 562 U.S. 428, 434-35 (2011), or attempt to consent to a court's jurisdiction. See Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U.S. 393, 398 (1975). Our obligation to examine our subject-matter jurisdiction is triggered whenever that jurisdiction is “fairly in doubt.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 671 (2009). It is well settled that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, Willy v. Coastal Corp., 503 U.S. 131, 136-37 (1992); Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541 (1986), which is not to be expanded by judicial decree. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (internal citations omitted); American Fire & Cas. Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6 (1951). It is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, Turner v. Bank of N. Am., 4 U.S. (4 Dall.) 8, 11 (1799), and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction. McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 182-83 (1936). The two most commonly recognized and utilized bases for federal court jurisdiction are (1) “federal question, ” 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and (2) “diversity of citizenship.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332. The allegations contained in the Complaint filed by Plaintiff in this case do not fall within the scope of either form of this court's limited jurisdiction, and there is no other basis for federal jurisdiction evident on the face of the pleading.

         First, there is clearly no basis for a finding of diversity jurisdiction over this Complaint.

         The diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), requires complete diversity of parties and an amount in controversy in excess of seventy-five thousand dollars ($75, 000.00):

(a) The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between─

         (1) citizens of ...

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