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Otuonye v. King

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

January 21, 2015



WILLIAM L. OSTEEN, Jr., District Judge.

Plaintiff Kenneth E. Otuonye ("Plaintiff"), proceeding pro se, commenced this action by filing a Complaint (Doc. 2) on July 14, 2014, against Defendant Phyllis Lile King ("Defendant"). Presently before this court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 4). This court has carefully considered Defendant's Motion, Defendant's Supporting Brief (Doc. 6) and Plaintiff's Response (Doc. 7). For the reasons stated fully below, this court will dismiss the present action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1).


Plaintiff alleges "fraud" against Defendant stemming from both (1) an alleged payment agreement between Plaintiff and Defendant regarding payment for representation in Case Number 1:13CV76 and (2) a settlement agreement entered into in 1:13CV76.[1] Defendant was Plaintiff's attorney for a portion of the settled action. (Complaint ("Compl.") (Doc. 2) at 3.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant "gave me some papers containing $22, 500 and ask[ed] me to sign... [A]fter signed, [she] told me not to tell anybody because it is a secret deal." (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff asks this court to "help me get the money she defrauded from me." (Id. at 5.)

Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss on July 16, 2014 (Doc. 4) and a Supporting Brief (Doc. 6) on July 25, 2014. Defendant moves this court to dismiss the present action asserting that federal jurisdiction is inappropriate, because there is neither a federal question at issue nor diversity jurisdiction. (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss (Doc. 4) at 1.) Plaintiff filed his Response (Doc. 7) on August 4, 2014. Defendant's Motion is thus ripe for adjudication.


When a defendant makes a facial challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff, in effect, is afforded the same procedural protection as he would receive under a Rule 12(b)(6) consideration. In that situation, the facts alleged in the complaint are taken as true, and the motion must be denied if the complaint alleges sufficient facts to invoke subject matter jurisdiction.

Kerns v. United States , 585 F.3d 187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Rule 12(b)(6) protects against meritless litigation by requiring sufficient factual allegations "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" so as to "nudge[] the[] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. at 570). A claim is facially plausible provided the plaintiff provides enough factual content to enable the court to reasonably infer that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Id . The pleading setting forth the claim must be "liberally construed" in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, and allegations made therein are taken as true. Jenkins v. McKeithen , 395 U.S. 411, 421 (1969). However, the "requirement of liberal construction does not mean that the court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege any facts [that] set forth a claim." Estate of Williams-Moore v. Alliance One Receivables Mgmt., Inc. , 335 F.Supp.2d 636, 646 (M.D. N.C. 2004).

When a party is proceeding pro se, that party's filings are "to be liberally construed and a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, " Erickson v. Pardus , 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). It is important to note that, in the case of a pro se plaintiff, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has "not read Erickson to undermine Twombly's requirement that a pleading contain more than labels and conclusions, " Giarratano v. Johnson , 521 F.3d 298, 304 n.5 (4th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted) (dismissing pro se complaint).


"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am. , 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Generally, federal court jurisdiction stems from either (1) a federal question or (2) diversity of the parties. "Article III of the Constitution gives the federal courts power to hear cases arising under' federal statutes." Merrell Dow Pharm. Inc. v. Thompson , 478 U.S. 804, 807 (1986). This is federal question jurisdiction. "The general-diversity statute, § 1332(a), authorizes federal court jurisdiction over cases in which the citizenship of each plaintiff is diverse from the citizenship of each defendant." Caterpillar Inc. v. Lewis , 519 U.S. 61, 62 (1996). In addition, for federal diversity jurisdiction, the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a).

In the present action, Plaintiff's pleadings fail to support this court's jurisdiction on either federal question or diversity grounds. First, Plaintiff does not assert a cause of action arising under any federal question or law. Plaintiff specifically asserts:

I the plaintiff alleged a fraud under Paragraph 1, because of the agreement we had, stating that if she goes to the Court and win[s] the amount I was demanding from my former employer I will pay her by percentage, but if only to settle out of the Court, I will [pay] her [a] couple of hundreds of dollar for finishing what I have already ...

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