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Thompson v. Richland County Department of Social Services Child Enforcement Support Division

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

March 30, 2018

Tori Keon Thompson, Plaintiff,
v.
Richland County Department of Social Services Child Enforcement Support Division; Alexis Williams; Susan Alford; Gayle Watson; Linda S. Stroman; John Doe, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          PAIGE J. GOSSETT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         The plaintiff, Tori Keon Thompson, proceeding pro se, brings this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.). Having reviewed the Complaint in accordance with applicable law, the court concludes the Complaint should be summarily dismissed without prejudice and issuance and service of process.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         In the Complaint, Plaintiff questions the constitutionality of the South Carolina Children's Code (Title 63). (Compl., ECF No. 1 at 3.) Otherwise, Plaintiff cites to various case law from federal courts that do not appear to have any coherent connection to each other. Under a section titled “Remedy, ” Plaintiff requests the “return of all property, including any monies lost with damages” to Plaintiff, and “cease and desist all forms communication [sic] and any acts of invasion” to Plaintiff. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff provides no facts about the named defendants or himself.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se Complaint. The Complaint has been filed pursuant to 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. This statute allows a district court to dismiss the case upon a finding that the action “is frivolous or malicious, ” “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         This court is required to liberally construe pro se complaints, which are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by attorneys. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); King v. Rubenstein, 825 F.3d 206, 214 (4th Cir. 2016). Nonetheless, 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 cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (outlining pleading requirements under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for “all civil actions”).

         B. Analysis

         The instant case is subject to summary dismissal because Plaintiff fails to demonstrate federal jurisdiction over this matter. 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). Accordingly, a federal court is required, sua sponte, to determine if a valid basis for its jurisdiction exists, “and to 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).

         There is no presumption that a federal court has jurisdiction over a case, Pinkley, Inc. v. City of Frederick, 191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999), and a plaintiff must allege facts essential to show jurisdiction in his pleadings. McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936); see also Dracos v. Hellenic Lines, Ltd., 762 F.2d 348, 350 (4th Cir. 1985) (“[P]laintiffs must affirmatively plead the jurisdiction of the federal court.”). To this end, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(1) requires that the complaint provide “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction[.]”

         The two most commonly recognized and utilized bases for federal court jurisdiction are (1) “federal question” under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and (2) “diversity of citizenship” pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. As discussed below, the allegations contained in Plaintiff's Complaint do not fall within the scope of either form of this court's limited jurisdiction. First, federal question jurisdiction requires the plaintiff to show that the case is one “arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Plaintiff's allegations do not assert that the defendants have violated a federal statute or constitutional provision, nor is any source of federal question jurisdiction otherwise evident from the face of the pleading. And while Plaintiff appears to question the constitutionality of the South Carolina Children's Code, he provides no argument or citation to authority that would signal to the court that a justiciable federal controversy exists. See Burgess v. Charlottesville Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 477 F.2d 40, 43-44 (4th Cir. 1973) (“[T]he mere assertion in a pleading that the case is one involving the construction or application of the federal laws does not authorize the District Court to entertain the suit[, ] nor does federal jurisdiction attach on the bare assertion that a federal right or law has been infringed or violated or that the suit takes its origin in the laws of the United States.”) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Therefore, federal question jurisdiction does not exist in this case.

         Second, the diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), requires complete diversity of parties and an amount in controversy in excess of $75, 000. Complete diversity of parties in a case means that no party on one side may be a citizen of the same state as any party on the other side. See Owen Equip. & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 372-74 nn. 13-16 (1978). In absence of diversity of citizenship, the amount in controversy is irrelevant. Here, Plaintiff provides no indication in the Complaint, or in any of his filings on the docket, that the parties in this case are diverse.

         III. ...


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