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Warren v. City of Greensboro

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

November 17, 2017

TINIKA S. WARREN, Plaintiff,



         This is an action arising out of the City of Greensboro's condemnation of a residence occupied by Plaintiff Tinika Warren. Before the court is the motion of Defendants City of Greensboro, Brad Tolbert, Terri Jones, Mark Wayman, and Donald Foster to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. (Doc. 18.) Warren, appearing pro se, has filed a response (Doc. 21) as well as several “supplements” to her response (Docs. 22, 23, and 24). Warren has also filed a host of other miscellaneous motions, notices, and “cease and desist” declarations. (Docs. 25 through 35.) Because Defendants' motion is dispositive, these other motions will be denied as moot, and the action will be dismissed.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts, viewed in the light most favorable to Warren as the non-moving party, show the following:[1]

         As of December 2016, Warren resided at 922 Lincoln Street in Greensboro. On December 8, 2016, following notice and hearing, the Greensboro Minimum Housing Standards Commission (“Commission”) adopted an ordinance to demolish the residence after it had been found substandard and unfit for human habitation and occupancy. (Doc. 19-1 at 1-2.) The order of condemnation contained detailed factual findings, including that the residence had been inspected by the City of Greensboro on June 23, 2015, notice had been given to Warren, a hearing had been held on July 28, 2015, multiple violations were found, an order to repair had been issued, and the owner had failed to comply with the order. (Id. at 3-4.) As a result, the Commission ordered that the owner had 90 days from December 8, 2016, to repair or demolish the building and that, failing either, the inspector would demolish and remove the dwelling. (Id. at 4-5.) This gave the owner until March 8, 2017, to repair or demolish the structure. (Id. at 5.)

         Warren appealed the Commission's order to the Guilford County Superior Court. On March 6, 2017, after briefing and a hearing, the Guilford County Superior Court rejected the appeal. (Doc. 19-2 at 1-2.) Specifically, the court adopted the findings of fact and affirmed the conclusions of law of the Commission. (Id.) The court also granted injunctive relief, pursuant to N.C. Gen. Stat. 160A-393(m), to require Warren to vacate the property and to permit the City of Greensboro to demolish it. (Id.)

         Warren moved for reconsideration. Her motion came on for hearing on May 15, 2017. (Doc. 19-3 at 1.) But Warren failed to appear, despite the fact that she had made ten filings with the court since its initial order. (Id.) Consequently, the court denied the motion for reconsideration. (Id. at 1-2.)

         The City of Greensboro then moved to dismiss Warren's notice of appeal. That motion came on for hearing on June 7, 2017. (Doc. 19-4.) Again, Warren failed to appear. (Id.) The court granted the City's motion and dismissed Warren's notice of appeal pursuant to the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure for failure to prosecute. (Id.)

         Warren apparently was proceeding on two fronts, as she filed the present action on December 13, 2016. (Doc. 1.) Her pro se complaint, using the forms of the court, alleges that the City of Greensboro attempted to “humiliate” her and her family through “fraud, corruption and harassment.” (Doc. 2 at 2.) The allegations are conclusory and rambling, especially if one considers all the “supplements” Warren attempts to include as part of the complaint. She claims the City violated her “Constitutional amendment Rights of PROPERTY, LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.” (Doc. 2-1 at 23.) In her civil cover sheet, she invokes federal question jurisdiction but failed to complete the section requiring that she state the statute under which she is filing. (Doc. 3.)[2] In her pleadings, she claims the court has jurisdiction under “28:1331, ” “Rule 71.1 Condemning Real or/ Personal Property, ” and “18 U.S.C. § 242.” (Doc. 2 at 1; Doc. 2-1 at 17.) Elsewhere, she references “14th Amendment, ” “Compensation Act Relocation Act, ” “URA, ” ADA ACT” and “Discrimination under ‘color of law” HUD laws.” (See Doc. 21 at 1.) Warren seeks $25.2 million, an apology, a television broadcast of her case, and “[a]ccommendations [sic] under the ‘ADA ACT.” (Doc. 2 at 5.) In her later filings, she also seeks reimbursement for moving and renting expenses that she has incurred as a result of the condemnation. (Doc. 23 at 6.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         “When reviewing a pro se complaint, federal courts should examine carefully the plaintiff's factual allegations, no matter how inartfully pleaded, to determine whether they could provide a basis for relief. In addition, in order to determine whether the claim of a pro se plaintiff can withstand a motion to dismiss, it is appropriate to look beyond the face of the complaint to allegations made in any additional materials filed by the plaintiff.” Armstrong v. Rolm A. Siemans Co., 129 F.3d 1258 (4th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted) (unpublished table decision). However, the liberal construction of a pro se plaintiff's pleading does not require the court to ignore clear defects in pleading, Bustos v. Chamberlain, No. 3:09-1760-HMH-JRM, 2009 WL 2782238, at *2 (D.S.C. Aug. 27, 2009), or to “conjure up questions never squarely presented in the complaint, ” Brice v. Jenkins, 489 F.Supp.2d 538, 541 (E.D. Va. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Nor does it require that the court become an advocate for the unrepresented party. Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).

         Defendants offer several arguments in support of their motion to dismiss. Collectively, they raise two main challenges. First, Defendants contend that Warren's complaint is barred by the doctrine of res judicata because it seeks to re-litigate issues finally decided in the underlying State condemnation proceedings. Second, they contend that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the complaint is so lacking in substance as to fail to state a claim for relief under federal law and that any challenge Warren could conceivably said to have raised is prohibited by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.[3] Warren's response fails to address any of these arguments, objects only “under constitutional grounds [of] Life, Liberty, Pursuit of Happiness ADA ACT, ” and seeks entry of default ostensibly for Defendants' failure to file an answer to her complaint. (Doc. 21 at 1-3.) For the reasons that follow, the court agrees with Defendants.

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         A court must consider its subject matter jurisdiction as a “threshold matter” prior to addressing the merits of the case. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998); Constantine v. Rectors & Visitors of George Mason Univ., 411 F.3d 474, 480 (4th Cir. 2005). “The plaintiff has the burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction exists.” Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., a Div. of Standex Int'l Corp., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991)). “When a defendant challenges subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), ‘the district court is to regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue, and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.'” Id. (quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R. Co., 945 F.2d at 768). “The district court should grant the ...

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