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Colbert v. South Carolina Department of Family Services

United States District Court, D. South Carolina

September 9, 2019

Cecilia Colbert, Plaintiff,
v.
South Carolina Department of Family Services, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          SHIVA V. HODGES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Cecilia Colbert (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, filed this complaint against South Carolina Department of Family Services (“Defendant”). 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. For the following reasons, the undersigned recommends the district judge dismiss the complaint without issuance and service of process.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Plaintiff filed a complaint on August 12, 2019, alleging Defendant has treated her unfairly based on her disabilities and deprived her of custody of her children. [ECF No. 1 at 4-5]. On August 14, 2019, the court notified Plaintiff of pleading deficiencies and granted her an opportunity to cure the deficiencies through an amended complaint. [ECF No. 6]. The court also ordered Plaintiff to complete a summons form, prepare Form USM-285, and provide answers to Local Civ. Rule 26.01 (D.S.C.) Interrogatories. [ECF No. 5]. Both orders alerted Plaintiff her failure to comply by September 4, 2019, could subject her case to summary dismissal. [ECF No. 5 at 1; ECF No. 6 at 6]. Plaintiff has failed to respond to either order.

         II. Discussion

         A. Standard of Review

         Plaintiff 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. 1990).

         B. Analysis

         1. Failure to Prosecute

         It is well established that a district court has authority to dismiss a case for failure to prosecute. “The authority of a court to dismiss sua sponte for lack of prosecution has generally been considered an ‘inherent power,' governed not by rule or statute but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases.” See Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31 (1962). In addition to its inherent authority, this court may also sua sponte dismiss a case for lack of prosecution under Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b). Id. at 630. Based on Plaintiff's failure to respond to the court's August 14, 2019 orders, the undersigned concludes Plaintiff does not intend to pursue the above-captioned matter. Accordingly, the undersigned recommends this case be dismissed without prejudice for failure to prosecute pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 41. Alternatively, Plaintiff's complaint is subject to summary dismissal on the merits.

         2. Failure to State a 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, MD., 191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999), and a plaintiff must allege facts essential to show jurisdiction in her pleadings. McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189-90 (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 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 ...


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