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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

May 18, 2018

Tori Keon Thompson, Plaintiff,
v.
Richland County Department of Social Services Child Support Division; Alexis Williams, 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.). Plaintiff was provided the opportunity to file an Amended Complaint in this case after the court originally recommended his original Complaint be summarily dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (ECF No. 16.) Having reviewed the Amended Complaint in accordance with applicable law, the court again concludes the action should be summarily dismissed without prejudice and issuance and service of process.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff claims that Title 63 of the South Carolina Code is unconstitutional. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 20-1 at 1.) He also claims that Title 42 of the United States Code was not ratified because it would force the “payback of the grants given to the states for Mother with dependent children (ADC) [sic], ” and those grants are “trust funds.” (Id.) Plaintiff claims that he was ordered to pay child support to Defendant Alexis Williams in 2012 by the Richland County Family Court. (Id. at 2.) However, Plaintiff claims Williams's benefits ended and he was “coerced into payback a prepaid trust funds (grant) [sic].” (Id.) Plaintiff claims Defendant Richland County Department of Social Services Child Support Division takes money from him “under threat, ” never pays the trust funds back to the federal government, and gives the money to Williams. (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff argues this action is unconstitutional because a state cannot “contract for a citizen, ” and it constitutes “collusion” between Richland County and Williams. (Id. at 1-2.) As to relief, Plaintiff seeks “full possession and beneficial enjoyment of my offspring, ” return of all the money “Defendant” received, “enforce the mother” to repay “the grant, ” and other money damages. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 20 at 5.)

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se Amended Complaint. The Amended 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

         Despite Plaintiff's amendment to his original complaint, the instant case is still subject to summary dismissal because Plaintiff fails to demonstrate federal jurisdiction over his claim in the Amended Complaint. 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[.]” See also Holloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood, Inc., 669 F.3d 448, 452-53 (4th Cir. 2012) (finding that where the alleged federal claim is “so insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of [the United States Supreme Court], or otherwise completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal controversy, ” subject matter jurisdiction does not exist over that claim) (citing Steel Company v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998)).

         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 Amended Complaint does not fall within the scope of either of these forms 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. While Plaintiff makes the conclusory and bare claim that state statutes are unconstitutional, and that the defendants' actions are unconstitutional, Plaintiff does not cite to an actual constitutional provision that he believes has been violated, nor does he provide any facts to support such a claim. Conclusory statements without supporting facts or citation to specific legal precedent establishing a cause of action they seek to pursue fails to adequately establish federal question jurisdiction under Rule 8. 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). Further, no source of federal question jurisdiction is otherwise evident from the face of the pleading. Therefore, federal question jurisdiction does not exist in this case.[1]

         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, Plaintiffs pleading asserts that all of the parties are residents of ...


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