United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Monique Barnes, power of attorney over Bobby Robbins, Plaintiff,
D.S.S.; Tina Kirfler; Mental Health; Pine Grove Elementary; Jhante Robbins; Richland Police Department; Ms. Dinky; Mr. Williams; Ms. Bradham; Ms. Walters; Aubrey Raymond, R.C.S.D.; School Officer Hills; Palmetto Richland Hospital; Lexington Medical Center; Richland 1 School Board; Forest Heights Elementary; Main Street 1701; LaDawn; Ms. Foster; Ms. Jennifer Jeter; Sony Good; E.E. Taylor Elementary; Fake Attorney Watson; Mental Health Dr. Peters; Counselor Akilah; Latonys Jackson; Nicole Williams; D.S.S. Terri Thompson; D.S.S. Supervisor Kimberly Garvin; and Crystal Heyward, R.C.D.S.S., Defendants.
ORDER AND NOTICE
V. Hodges United States Magistrate Judge
Barnes (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in
forma pauperis, purports to be proceeding on her own behalf
and on behalf of Bobby Robbins, for whom she claims to have a
power of attorney. She filed this complaint against a number
of South Carolina state agencies and employees, local area
hospitals, schools, and school districts concerning the
custody of Barnes' children and Robbins' child
support obligations. [ECF No. 1]. Pursuant to the provisions
of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Civ. Rule
73.02(B)(2)(e) (D.S.C.), the undersigned is authorized to
review such complaints for relief and submit findings and
recommendations to the district judge.
filed her complaint 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. To protect against possible
abuses of this privilege, the statute allows a district court
to dismiss a 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). A
finding of frivolity can be made where the complaint lacks an
arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton v.
Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992). A claim based on a
meritless legal theory may be dismissed sua sponte under 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). See Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 (1989). Pro se complaints
are held to a less stringent standard than those drafted by
attorneys. Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th
Cir. 1978). A federal court is charged with liberally
construing a complaint filed by a pro se litigant to allow
the development of a potentially meritorious case.
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In
evaluating a pro se complaint, the plaintiff's
allegations are assumed to be true. Fine v. City of
N.Y., 529 F.2d 70, 74 (2d Cir. 1975). The mandated
liberal construction afforded to 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. Nevertheless, the requirement of liberal construction
does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in
the pleading to allege facts that 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.
and Procedural Background
filed this complaint alleging the South Carolina Department
of Social Service (“DSS”) kidnapped her two
children on May 9, 2018, while she was in Florida, because
her son's teacher was abusing him. [ECF No. 1 at 7].
Plaintiff also states Robbins was ordered to pay child
support on March 6, 2008, but recently learned he was not the
biological father of her oldest son. Id. Plaintiff
claims DSS is aware Robbins is not the father, but has still
sued Robbins for failure to pay child support. Id.
Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief for
herself and Robbins. Id. at 7, 9.
in this action is styled “Monique Barnes, power of
attorney over Bobby Robbins, ” and based on the
allegations in the complaint, it appears Plaintiff is
attempting to pursue her own claims and claims on behalf of
Robbins. Plaintiff, however, does not allege she is an
attorney licensed to practice in South Carolina. While
Plaintiff has the authority to litigate her own claims pro
se, see 28 U.S.C. § 1654, she does not have the
authority to litigate on another's behalf. See
Oxendine v. Williams, 509 F.2d 1405, 1407 (4th Cir.
1975) (“[W]e consider the competence of a layman
representing himself to be clearly too limited to allow him
to risk the rights of others.”); Estate of Kerner
v. United States, 895 F.2d 1159, 1162 & n.3 (7th
Cir. 1990) (“‘the plaintiff generally must assert
his own legal rights and interests, and cannot rest his claim
for relief on the legal rights or interests of third
parties.'” (emphasis added)).
the court assumes Plaintiff has a full and complete power of
attorney effective under South Carolina, because Plaintiff is
not an attorney, she may not litigate pro se the rights of
Robbins. See Myers v. Loudoun Co. Public Schools,
418 F.3d 395, 401 (4th Cir. 2005); Leyfert v.
Commonwealth of Pa. House of Representatives, No. Civ.
A. 05-4700, 2005 WL 3433995 at *3 (E.D. Pa. 2005) (finding
that a non-attorney, who held a power of attorney for her
parents, lacked standing to file an action on behalf of her
parents and therefore the court lacked jurisdiction over the
case); Umstead v. Chase Manhattan Mortgage Corp.,
No. Civ.A. 7:04CV00747, 2005 WL 2233554 at *2 (W.D. Va. 2005)
(finding that pleadings filed through lay representation on
behalf of another using a power of attorney must be
disregarded as a nullity and those claims were “void ab
initio”). Plaintiff lacks standing to pursue claims on
Robbins' behalf. Accordingly, this court does not have
subject matter jurisdiction over those claims.
court also does not have subject matter jurisdiction over
Plaintiff's claims. 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
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. General 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, 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[.]”
When a complaint fails to include “an affirmative
pleading of a jurisdictional basis, a federal court may find
that it has jurisdiction if the facts supporting jurisdiction
have been clearly pleaded.” Pinkley, 191 F.3d
at 399 (citation omitted). However, if the court, viewing the
allegations in the light most favorable to a plaintiff, finds
insufficient allegations in the pleadings, the court will
lack subject matter jurisdiction. Id.; see also Holloway
v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood, Inc., 669 F.3d 448,
452-53 (4th Cir. 2012) (holding that when the alleged federal
claim is “‘so insubstantial, implausible,
foreclosed by prior decisions of this Court, or otherwise
completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal
controversy, '” then subject matter jurisdiction
does not exist) (citation omitted).
indicates the court has jurisdiction over her claims pursuant
to the diversity statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. [ECF No. 1
at 3-6]. 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, 373‒74 nn.13‒
16 (1978). Plaintiff's complaint fails to demonstrate
complete diversity of parties, as Plaintiff alleges that she
and at least one of the named defendants are citizens of
South Carolina. Because Plaintiff has not shown that the
court has diversity jurisdiction over her claim, and she has
not alleged a claim arising under the Constitution or federal
statutes, her complaint is subject to summary dismissal.
may attempt to correct the defects in her complaint by filing
an amended complaint within 14 days of this order, along with
any appropriate service documents. Plaintiff is reminded that
an amended complaint replaces the original complaint and
should be complete in itself. See Young v. City of Mount
Ranier, 238 F.3d 567, 572 (4th Cir. 2001) (“As a
general rule, an amended pleading ordinarily supersedes the
original and renders it of no legal effect.”) (citation
and internal quotation marks omitted). If Plaintiff files an
amended complaint, the undersigned will conduct screening of
the amended complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. ...