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Daniels v. Department of Army

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

October 28, 2014

ALTHEA ALLEN DANIELS, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION, ORDER, AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

L. PATRICK AULD, Majistrate Judge.

This case comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Application for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Docket Entry 1), filed in conjunction with Plaintiff's pro se Complaint (Docket Entry 2). The Court will grant Plaintiff's request to proceed as a pauper for the limited purpose of recommending dismissal of this action, under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) as frivolous and for failure to state a claim.

LEGAL BACKGROUND

"The federal in forma pauperis [IFP'] statute, first enacted in 1892 [and now codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1915], is intended to guarantee that no citizen shall be denied access to the courts solely because his poverty makes it impossible for him to pay or secure the costs.'" Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr. , 64 F.3d 951, 953 (4th Cir. 1995) (en banc) (quoting Adkins v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co. , 335 U.S. 331, 342 (1948)). "Dispensing with filing fees, however, [is] not without its problems. Parties proceeding under the statute d[o] not face the same financial constraints as ordinary litigants. In particular, litigants suing [IFP] d[o] not need to balance the prospects of successfully obtaining relief against the administrative costs of bringing suit." Nagy v. Federal Med. Ctr. Butner , 376 F.3d 252, 255 (4th Cir. 2004). To address this concern, the IFP statute provides, in relevant part, that "the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that -... (B) the action or appeal - (i) is frivolous... [or] (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted...." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

As to the first of these grounds for dismissal, the United States Supreme Court has explained that "a complaint, containing as it does both factual allegations and legal conclusions, is frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact." Neitzke v. Williams , 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). "The word frivolous' is inherently elastic and not susceptible to categorical definition.... The term's capaciousness directs lower courts to conduct a flexible analysis, in light of the totality of the circumstances, of all factors bearing upon the frivolity of a claim." Nagy , 376 F.3d at 256-57 (some internal quotation marks omitted). Because a plaintiff who brings an action in federal court "has the burden of proving the existence of subject matter jurisdiction, " Jones v. American Postal Workers Union , 192 F.3d 417, 422 (4th Cir. 1999); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a) (requiring pleadings to set forth "a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support"), the obvious failure to establish federal subject-matter jurisdiction may render an action frivolous, see, e.g., Overstreet v. Colvin, No. 4:13CV261-FL, 2014 WL 353684, at *3 (E.D. N.C. Jan. 30, 2014) (unpublished) ("A court may consider subject matter jurisdiction as part of the frivolity review.").

Alternatively, a complaint falls short when it does not "contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (emphasis added) (internal citations omitted) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). This standard "demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation." Id . In other words, "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id.[1]

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's Complaint names the Department of the Army, Antonio Matthew Jasinski, and James A. Luevano as Defendants. (Docket Entry 2 at 1-2.) Although the Complaint itself contains no factual allegations, it refers to several attachments that together suggest Plaintiff alleges she suffered injuries when a vehicle driven by Defendant Jasinski, a Staff Sergeant in the Army, struck Plaintiff's vehicle while at a gas station. (See Docket Entry 2-1 at 1-3 (Department of the Army Form 2823 containing Plaintiff's sworn statement), 4 (GSA Standard Form 91 to report accident involving federal motor vehicle), 7-8 (Plaintiff's letter to insurer requesting reconsideration of her claim).) In support of Plaintiff's claims, Plaintiff presents the following factual allegations:

1) "on November 28, 2011[, ] [Plaintiff] drove to [a] BP Gas Station located [in Winston-Salem, North Carolina]... [and she] was in the left turning lane and [she] turn[ed] into BP Gas Staition [sic]" (id. at 1);

2) "when [Plaintiff] was in half way near the first pump[, ] [Defendant Jasinski's] Silver Ford Focus accelerated with speed and [Defendant Jasinksi] did not have both hands on the steering wheel [and] [h]e had a Gatorade bottle to his mouth" (id.);

3) [Defendant Jasinski] hit [Plaintiff's] van and [they] looked at each other" (id.);

4) [Plaintiff] felt a shock in [her] back when [she] turned to the left" (id.);

5) [Defendant Jasinski] then moved his car to the right side of the BP Gas sign [and] [h]e kept moving the car so it would not [line] up with [her] van" (id.);

6) "a police officer [who] was driving [p]as[t] the scene of the accident... name[d] Tim Wilson... was approached by a witness that was behind [Plaintiff] to turn [into the] BP Gas Station[, which witness] gave her telephone number and full name to [O]fficer [W]ilson... ...


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