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Lindiment v. Jones

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

September 15, 2017

ERICA LINDIMENT, et al., [1] Plaintiffs,
BRIDGETT JONES, et al., Defendants.


          L. Patrick Auld, United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter comes before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge on the Application to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (the “Application”) (Docket Entry 1) filed by Erica Lindiment (the “Plaintiff”) in conjunction with her pro se Complaint (Docket Entry 2) against (i) the Rockingham County Child Protective Services (the “Rockingham County CPS”), Marry [sic] Harris, Martha Meadows, Andre Chambers, Michael S. Mitchell DM, Jennifer Watkins (collectively, the “Original Defendants”), (ii) James E. Reaves (“Reaves”), Felissa H. Ferrell LCSW/Director, Stephanie Harriet, “My kids G.A.L. name unknown at this time” (id. at 2), [2] Lori Priddy, Bridgett Jones (“Jones”), “Rockingham Co. Court System” (id. at 6), Judge Christine Strayer (collectively, the “Additional Defendants”), and (iii) Beverly Smith (“Smith, ” and collectively with Original Defendants and Additional Defendants, the “Defendants”). The undersigned will grant the Application for the limited purpose of recommending dismissal of this action.


         “The federal in forma pauperis 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) (internal quotation marks omitted). “Dispensing with filing fees, however, [i]s not without its problems. . . . In particular, litigants suing in forma pauperis d[o] not need to balance the prospects of successfully obtaining relief against the administrative costs of bringing suit.” Nagy v. FMC Butner, 376 F.3d 252, 255 (4th Cir. 2004). To address this concern, the in forma pauperis statute provides that “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action . . . (i) is frivolous or . . . (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         As to the first of these grounds, “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). In determining frivolousness, the Court may “apply common sense.” Nasim, 64 F.3d at 954.

         As to the second ground, a plaintiff “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), when the complaint 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) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “Where a complaint pleads facts that are merely consistent with a defendant's liability, it stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). 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.[3]

         Furthermore, federal courts possess limited jurisdiction, such that they may “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). No presumption of jurisdiction applies, Pinkley, Inc. v. City of Frederick, Md., 191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999); instead, federal courts must determine if a valid jurisdictional basis exists and “dismiss the action if no such ground appears, ” Bulldog Trucking, 147 F.3d at 352; see also Constantine v. Rectors & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 411 F.3d 474, 480 (4th Cir. 2005) (“A federal court has an independent obligation to assess its subject-matter jurisdiction, and it will ‘raise a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction on its own motion.'”); 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.”). Generally, federal courts possess jurisdiction over “actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States, ” 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and actions involving citizens of different states, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Facts supporting jurisdiction must appear in the complaint, Pinkley, 191 F.3d at 399, and the party asserting federal jurisdiction bears the burden of “show[ing] that jurisdiction does, in fact, exist, ” Davis v. Pak, 856 F.2d 648, 650 (4th Cir. 1988) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Court may consider subject-matter jurisdiction in assessing frivolity under § 1915. See Cummings v. Rahmati, No. 1:17cv196, 2017 WL 1194364, at *1 (M.D. N.C. Mar. 30, 2017), recommendation adopted, slip op. (M.D. N.C. Apr. 20, 2017).


         In October 2016, Plaintiff initiated a lawsuit (the “Original Suit”) raising substantially the same claims against Smith and Original Defendants. See Lindiment v. Smith, No. 1:16-cv-1269, Docket Entry 2 (the “Original Complaint”) (M.D. N.C. Oct. 28, 2016). The Court (per United States Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake) recommended dismissing the Original Suit “for being frivolous and for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Lindiment v. Smith, No. 1:16-cv-1269, Docket Entry 5 (the “Recommendation”) at 6 (M.D. N.C. Nov. 25, 2016). More specifically, the Recommendation advised that the domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction, id. at 2-3, the Younger abstention doctrine, id. at 3, and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, id., rendered frivolous Plaintiff's Original Complaint. It further concluded that, “[i]n addition to th[o]se bases for dismissal, a review of the specific allegations that Plaintiff makes as to each [d]efendant shows that she has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Id. at 4. At the conclusion of this analysis, the Recommendation observed that the dismissal should occur “without prejudice to Plaintiff pursuing whatever state law claims she may have.” Id. at 6.[4]

         In her “Response to Recommendation[], ” Plaintiff presented certain new claims and asked for time to “rewrite and reenter these Court proceedings and the latest happenings in this suit.” Lindiment v. Smith, No. 1:16-cv-1269, Docket Entry 7 (the “Objections”) at 1-2 (M.D. N.C. Dec. 12, 2016). Thereafter, the Court (per United States District Judge Loretta C. Biggs) adopted the Recommendation and dismissed the Original Suit. Lindiment v. Smith, No. 1:16-cv-1269, Docket Entry 8 (the “Dismissal Order”) at 1-2 (M.D. N.C. Dec. 28, 2016). In so doing, the Dismissal Order stated:

To the extent that Plaintiff attempts to summarily assert new claims in her [O]bjections and then asks for more time to “rewrite and reenter” the new claims, the Court notes that this case is being dismissed without prejudice to Plaintiff filing her new claims on the proper forms correcting the problems noted in the Recommendation.

Id. at 1. The Court cautioned, however, that the claims against Smith, Jones, and the specified Original Defendants expressed in the Objections “fail for the same reasons set out in the Recommendation.” Id.

         On June 2, 2017, Plaintiff filed the Application and Complaint. (See Docket Entries 1, 2.) The following week, Plaintiff filed a “Corrections to Defendants List, ” which states that “Ms Felissa H. Ferrell LCSW may or may not be the person that sent the police away. I [sic] may be Philis Conus.” (Docket Entry 5 (the “Correction”) at 1.) On June 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed a supplement to the Complaint, which includes, inter alia, emails dated as of June 19, 2017, regarding Plaintiff's ongoing child custody proceedings. (See Docket Entry 6 (the “Supplement”) at 58-59.) The Complaint, Correction, and Supplement collectively present the claims expressed in the Original Suit against Original Defendants and Smith as well as claims against Additional Defendants and Smith related to developments in Plaintiff's child custody dispute since she filed the Original Suit. As relief for her claims, Plaintiff requests that “all files filed in Roc[kingham] Co. from the date of Sept 5 2016 to now to be dismissed. . . & or [her] kids to be removed from Roc[kingham] Co[unty] CPS to ambulance co. where no conflict is.” (Docket Entry 2 at 15.) Plaintiff further requests “[her] case to be moved from Roc[kingham] Co. & stop [sic] all court filing they have in place . . . & to put in place writs of habeas corpus returning all kids to [her].” (Id.)


         I. Preliminary Matters

         A. Parties

         Ambiguity exists regarding the identity of the purported plaintiff(s) in this action. To begin with, the Complaint's caption identifies only Erica Lindiment as a plaintiff. (See Id. at 1 (listing “Erica Lindiment”); see also Docket Entry 1 at 1 (listing “Erica Sample Lindiment” in the Application's caption).)[5]Meanwhile, the Correction bears the caption “Lindiment v. Jones eta” (Docket Entry 5 at 1), and the Supplement identifies “Erica & Lindiments” as “Plaintiffs, ” but classifies “[her] kids” as “the witnesses” (Docket Entry 6 at 1). Finally, two sections of the Complaint identify Plaintiff's minor children as plaintiffs. (See Docket Entry 2 at 1, 7; see also Docket Entry 1 at 3 (listing minors' ages and relationship).) Under these circumstances, it remains unclear whether Plaintiff attempts to pursue claims on behalf of her minor children. To the extent, though, that Plaintiff seeks to present such claims, they necessarily fail.

         Pursuant to this Court's Local Rules, minors may sue “only by their general or testamentary guardians within this state or by guardians ad litem appointed by this Court.” M.D. N.C. LR 17.1(a).[6]Plaintiff does not contend that she qualifies either as a general or testamentary guardian or as a court-appointed guardian ad litem for the minors. (See Docket Entries 2, 2-1, 5, 6.) Moreover, the record reveals no appointment of Plaintiff as the minors' guardian. (See Docket Entries dated June 2, 2017, to present.) In addition, by naming “[her] kids G.A.L.” as a defendant (Docket Entry 2 at 2), Plaintiff tacitly acknowledges that the North Carolina courts have appointed someone else the minors' guardian ad litem. Finally, Plaintiff's allegations and exhibits regarding ongoing child custody proceedings (see, e.g., id. at 10, 13; Docket Entry 6 at 58-60) establish that North Carolina officials have not appointed her as general guardian of the minors. See Corbett v. Lynch, 795 S.E.2d 564 ( N.C. Ct. App. 2016) (examining relationship between guardianship and custody proceedings and concluding that appointment of general guardian mooted child custody proceeding); McKoy v. McKoy, 202 N.C.App. 509, 515, 689 S.E.2d 590, 594 (2010) (explaining that “the clerk of superior court has exclusive jurisdiction over guardianship matters, ” including any custody matters arising after the guardian's appointment (citing decision involving “abuse, dependency, and neglect proceedings”)).

         Accordingly, the minors do not qualify as parties to this action, and (pro se) Plaintiff cannot assert any claims on their behalf. See M.D. N.C. LR 17.1(a); see also Shepherd v. Wellman, 313 F.3d 963, 970-71 (6th Cir. 2002) (explaining that “parents cannot appear pro se on behalf of their minor children because a minor's personal cause of action is her own and does not belong to her parent or representative” and affirming dismissal of minor's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim). Thus only Plaintiff's individual claims remain before the Court.

         B. Jurisdictional Basis

         The Complaint asserts both diversity jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, and federal question jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (See Docket Entry 2 at 6.) According to the Complaint, Plaintiff and all Defendants qualify as citizens of North Carolina. (See id. at 6, 8-9; see also id. at 1, 3-5.) Under Section 1332(a), “jurisdiction does not exist unless each defendant is a citizen of a different State from each plaintiff.” Owen Equip. & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 373 (1978) (emphasis in original). Because Plaintiff and Defendants do not satisfy this standard, the Court lacks diversity jurisdiction over this matter.

         In regard to federal question jurisdiction, the Complaint states: “The moorish science treaties/I challenged jurisdiction 14 Amendment” (Docket Entry 2 at 6). (See also id. at 9 (detailing “Statement of Claim” as “When I challenged jurisdiction they did not stop to prove they had jurisdiction in my case. & they are hurting my kids”), 10 (alleging that a defendant “violated our rights by . . . calling CPS . . . where he had no jurisdiction of Moorish Americans”).)[7] The statutory basis for federal claims involving constitutional violations by state actors appears in 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See id.; see also Cummings, 2017 WL 1194364, at *2 n.3. “To state a claim for relief in an action brought under § 1983, [Plaintiff] must establish that [she] w[as] deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and that the alleged deprivation was committed under color of state law.” American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999). As a general matter, “Section 1983 provides no remedy for common law torts, ” Bailey v. Prince George's Cty., 34 F.Supp.2d 1025, 1027 (D. Md. 1999) (citing Street v. Surdyka, 492 F.2d 368, 371 (4th Cir. 1974)), or for conduct by state agencies, see Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989).

         C. Res Judicata ...

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