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Schmier v. Fayetteville Public Works Commission

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division

March 15, 2018

Trista Anne Schmier & Jonathan David Schmier, Plaintiffs,
The Fayetteville Public Works Commission, The City of Fayetteville, NC, & David W. Trego, Defendant.


          Robert T. Numbers, II United States Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiffs Tristan Anne Schmier and Jonathan David Schmier allege that the City of Fayetteville, the City's Public Works Department, and an individual named David Treo have overcharged them for various services. After reviewing the Complaint, the undersigned has determined that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the Schemers' claims because there is no diversity of citizenship and the Complaint does not present a federal question. Thus, the district court should dismiss their Complaint without prejudice.

         I. Background

         The Schmiers allege that from June 2016 until October 2017 the Commission has overbilled them by more than $1, 000 for services provided to them. Compl. ¶ 6. In 2016, the Schmiers noticed that their water bill, which had been about $20 a month skyrocketed to around $1, 000 a month. Id. ¶8. The Commission ignored their attempts to address this issue until they threatened to file a lawsuit. Id. Once they gained the Commission's attention, they only relief they received was a test of their water meter, which showed that the meter was working properly. Id. 8.

         The overbilling has continued, with the Schmiers being billed for about 17, 000 more gallons of water usage per month than the average Fayetteville household. Id. ¶ 9. The Schmiers claim that the Commission has refused to investigate their issue any further. Id. ¶ 10.

         There are also issues with their electric bill. The Schmiers claim that although the Commission's website says that consumers should be charged $15 per month as a Basic Facilities Charge, they are being charged $19. Id. ¶ 12. They also object to the fact that billing statements the Commission sends does not show how much consumers are charged per kilowatt hour.

         The Commission has, according to the Schmiers, thwarted their attempts to learn more about these charges. For example, when they met with a Commission employee to discuss their issues, they were shown confusing spreadsheets. Id. ¶ 15.

         They claim that they have made several payments to the Commission, but the Commission has not applied the payments to their outstanding balance. Id. ¶¶ 11, 14. Instead, a member of the Commission's legal staff contacted the Schmiers and tried to strong arm them into paying the outstanding bills by threatening to turn off their utilities. Id. ¶ 16.

         The Schmiers seek an injunction to prohibit the Commission from cutting off their utilities and compensatory damages.

         II. IFP Petition

         Before the court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis. D.E. 1. Along with the Applications, Plaintiffs submitted Proposed Complaint and Summons as well as a Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. D.E. 1-1, 1-3. 1-4, 1-5, 1-6. On February 8, 2018, the Clerk of Court notified the Schmiers that their submission contained several deficiencies, including failure of one Plaintiff to complete the application to proceed in forma pauperis, both parties failed to sign the civil cover sheet, and they failed to submit financial interest disclosure statements and notices of self-representation. D.E. 2. The Clerk of Court directed the Schmiers to correct these deficiencies on or before February 22, 2018, but they did not do so. Given the failure of one of the Plaintiffs to sign the IFP motion, the variety of other shortcomings in their initial filings, and the failure to address these deficiencies after being notified of them by the court, the undersigned recommends that the district court deny the IFP motion.

         III. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Despite the undersigned's determination that the Schmiers' IFP application should be denied, a review of the Complaint demonstrates a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The court has a duty to ensure that it has subject matter jurisdiction and must dismiss a case upon learning that it does not. Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006). Here, the allegations in the Complaint do not present a federal question or establish diversity of citizenship. Thus, the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the Complaint as currently drafted and it is appropriate for the district court to dismiss this action.

         Unlike their state counterparts, federal courts have jurisdiction only over a limited set of cases and controversies. They are “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). Because of the limited nature of federal jurisdiction, there is a presumption that a federal court lacks jurisdiction unless a party shows otherwise. Lehigh Min. & Mfg. Co. v. Kelly,160 U.S. 327, 336 (1895). The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction rests with the Schmiers because they are the parties invoking the court's jurisdiction. Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982) (“The burden of proving subject ...

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