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JP Mac Properties v. Oglesby

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

April 4, 2019

JP Mac Properties, Plaintiff,
Kristen Oglesby, Defendant.



         Kristen Oglesby (“Defendant”), [*] proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, files this action purportedly to remove an eviction proceeding from the Greenville County magistrate court to this Court. This matter is before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2), D.S.C. Having reviewed the pleadings filed in this action in accordance with applicable law, the Court concludes that this action should be summarily remanded to the state court.


         This matter arises from a state court eviction action, at case No. 2019CV2311000678, filed in the Gantt Summary Court in Greenville County, South Carolina, against Defendant by JP Mac Properties (“Plaintiff”). [Doc. 1-1.] On March 29, 2019, Defendant filed a “Petition for Removal and Federal Stay of Eviction Pursuant to 28 USC 1441 (B)” (hereinafter, the “Petition”), which is construed as a notice of removal. [Doc. 1.] In the Petition, Defendant alleges that Plaintiff is attempting to collect a debt in violation of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act of 1978 (“FDCPA”) and that the state court action constitutes an unlawful eviction proceeding in violation of the Uniform Commercial Code (“UCC”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692. [Id. at 1-2.] Based on these allegations, Defendant contends that this Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), and that removal is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b). [Id. at 2.] Attached to Defendant's Petition is a copy of the state court Rule to Vacate or Show Cause (Eviction) notice, ordering Defendant to vacate the premises for failing to pay rent when due in the amount of $1, 250, which was entered by the magistrate judge on February 21, 2019. [Doc. 1-1.]


         Under established local procedure in this judicial district, a careful review has been made of the pro se Petition. Pursuant to the provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) D.S.C., the undersigned Magistrate Judge is authorized to review the Petition and submit findings and recommendations to the District Court. Further, Defendant filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, the in forma pauperis statute. This statute authorizes the District Court to dismiss a case if it is satisfied that the action “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” is “frivolous or malicious, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         Because Defendant is a pro se litigant, her Petition is accorded liberal construction and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam). However, even under this less stringent standard, the pro se Petition is subject to summary dismissal. 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 Defendant could prevail, it should do so, but the Court may not rewrite a petition to include claims that were never presented, Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1133 (10th Cir. 1999), or construct Defendant's legal arguments for her, Small v. Endicott, 998 F.2d 411, 417-18 (7th Cir. 1993), or “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 cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).

         Further, this Court would possess the inherent authority to review pro se pleadings to ensure that subject matter jurisdiction exists and that a case is not frivolous, even if the complaint were not subject to the prescreening provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 1915. See Mallard v. U.S. Dist. Court, 490 U.S. 296, 307S08 (1989) (“Section 1915(d) . . . authorizes courts to dismiss a ‘frivolous or malicious' action, but there is little doubt they would have power to do so even in the absence of this statutory provision.”); Ross v. Baron, 493 Fed.Appx. 405, 406 (4th Cir. 2012) (“[F]rivolous complaints are subject to dismissal pursuant to the inherent authority of the court, even when the filing fee has been paid . . . [and] because a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over an obviously frivolous complaint, dismissal prior to service of process is permitted.”) (citations omitted); see also Fitzgerald v. First E. Seventh St. Tenants Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 364 (2d Cir. 2000) (“[D]istrict courts may dismiss a frivolous complaint sua sponte even when the plaintiff has paid the required filing fee[.]”); Ricketts v. Midwest Nat'l Bank, 874 F.2d 1177, 1181 (7th Cir. 1989) (“[A] district court's obligation to review its own jurisdiction is a matter that must be raised sua sponte, and it exists independent of the ‘defenses' a party might either make or waive under the Federal Rules.”); Franklin v. State of Or., State Welfare Div., 662 F.2d 1337, 1342 (9th Cir. 1981) (providing a judge may dismiss an action sua sponte for lack of subject matter jurisdiction without issuing a summons or following other procedural requirements).


         Defendant purports to remove to this Court a Rule to Vacate or Show Cause Order filed in a state court eviction proceeding. This case is subject to summary remand because Defendant fails to demonstrate that this Court has federal subject matter jurisdiction over her claim.

         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 litigant 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.”). As such, 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[.]”

         Generally, federal district courts have original jurisdiction over two types of cases, referred to as (1) federal question cases, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and (2) diversity cases, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. As discussed below, the allegations contained in Defendant's Petition and the causes of action in the underlying state court proceedings do not fall within the scope of either form of this Court's limited jurisdiction.

         Federal Question Jurisdiction

         First, federal question jurisdiction arises from 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which provides that the “district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. To determine whether a plaintiff's claims “arise under” the laws of the United States, courts typically use the “well-pleaded complaint rule, ” which focuses on the allegations of the complaint. Prince v. Sears Holdings Corp.,848 F.3d 173, 177 (4th Cir. 2017) (citing Aetna Health Inc. v. Davila,542 U.S. 200, 207 (2004)). “In other words, federal question jurisdiction exists ‘only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly-pleaded ...

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