United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division
Kenneth D. Bell, United States District Judge
MATTER is before the Court on its sua
sponte inquiry into subject-matter jurisdiction
following entry of Summary Judgment in this matter in favor
of Defendant Amzon.com, Inc. (“Amazon”). After a
careful review of Plaintiff Ernest King's
(“Plaintiff”) remaining claims against Defendant
Regina Thomas (“Thomas”), the Court finds that it
must dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint without prejudice for
lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
filed a pro se complaint against Amazon and Thomas
on October 2, 2018. In it he alleged (1) property flipping,
(2) false documentation, (3) amount in controversy, and (4)
prayer for relief. (Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff argues that
“this court has jurisdiction of this action under local
and long-arm statutes pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(a)(2)
and 28 U.S.C. § 1332 of diversity
jurisdiction.” Id. at 1.
contends that Thomas, who was acting as his agent at the
time, published his book From Brooklyn to the Grave
on Amazon's self-publishing website without his consent.
Specifically, Plaintiff asserts that Thomas stole his book
manuscript and unlawfully kept any profits made from its
sales. Id. at 3 (“Ms. Thomas, acting on behalf
of Plaintiff-‘supposedly'- defendant Thomas
separated herself from Plaintiff King disappearing with his
book manuscript and shortly thereafter began to reap the
benefits of sells [sic].”). He asks for $1, 000, 000 in
compensatory damages and another $1, 000, 000 in punitive
damages. Id. at 8.
December 4, 2018, Amazon filed a motion to dismiss for
failure to state a claim. (Doc. No. 19). To assist in its
ruling, the Court sent a Roseboro Order to Plaintiff ordering
him to file supplemental briefings explaining how the Court
has subject matter jurisdiction over his claims. (Doc. No.
44). Plaintiff responded in a document titled “Motion
to Amend Supplemental Pleadings.” (Doc. No. 45).
Liberally construing Plaintiff's complaint, the Court
interpreted “property flipping” and “false
documentation” as a cause of action for fraud, but then
dismissed Plaintiff's fraud claim for lack of
particularity. (Doc. 47, at 3-4). Plaintiff's claims for
“amount in controversy” and “prayer for
relief” were also dismissed. Id. at 5. The
Court did find that Plaintiff asserted a copyright
infringement claim by asserting that “Defendants
violated his federally-registered copyrights.”
Id. at 4. The Court, however, explicitly stated that
while these claims were dismissed against Amazon, the order
did not affect any of Plaintiff's claims against Thomas.
(Doc. No. 47, at 5) (“Because Defendant Thomas has not
made a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), all of
Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Thomas are still
intact.”) (emphasis deleted).
filed a motion for summary judgment on July 1, 2019 asking
the Court to grant summary judgment in its favor on
Plaintiff's copyright infringement claim. (Doc. No. 50).
The Court granted Amazon's motion on November 27, 2019.
(Doc. No. 65). Thus, the only remaining claims in this action
are those Plaintiff asserts against Thomas.
United States Courts are courts of specifically limited
jurisdiction and may exercise only that jurisdiction which
Congress has prescribed.” Chris v. Tenet, 221
F.3d 648, 655 (4th Cir. 2000) (citing Kokkonen v.
Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377
(1994)). Therefore, whether the Court has jurisdiction over
the subject matter of a case must be considered before
addressing its merits. Jones v. Am. Postal Workers
Union, 192 F.3d 417, 422 (4th Cir. 1999). Indeed,
subject matter jurisdiction is so limited that federal
“[c]ourts have an independent obligation to determine
whether subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even when no
party challenges it.” Hertz Corp. v. Friend,
559 U.S. 77, 94 (2010) (internal citations omitted).
“No party can waive the defect, or consent to [subject
matter] jurisdiction. No. court can ignore the defect; rather
a court, noticing the defect, must raise the matter on its
own.” Wisconsin Dep't of Corr. v. Schacht,
524 U.S. 381, 389 (1998) (internal citations omitted);
see also Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U.S. 134, 141
(2012) (“When a requirement goes to subject-matter
jurisdiction, courts are obligated to consider sua
sponte issues that the parties have disclaimed or have
subject matter jurisdiction exists if the plaintiff's
civil action arises under federal law, see 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331 (2012), or if the amount in controversy exceeds
$75, 000 and the suit is between citizens of different
states, see 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1)
(2012).” Hughes v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 617
Fed.Appx. 261, 263 (4th Cir. 2015). The burden to prove
diversity jurisdiction rests with the party advocating for
federal jurisdiction. Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d
648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999) (“It is elementary that the
burden is on the party asserting jurisdiction to demonstrate
that jurisdiction does, in fact, exist.”). If a
district court determines at any time before final judgment
that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, it is bound to
dismiss the case.
reviewing Plaintiff's filing, the Court is mindful that
pro se filings are held “to less stringent
standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.”
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). However,
Plaintiff's pro se status does not excuse his
burden of proving subject matter jurisdiction. “Nor
does the leniency afforded pro se litigants give
this Court license to serve as de facto counsel for
him or to rewrite otherwise deficient pleadings on his behalf
in order to sustain an action.” Dexter v.
Alabama, No. 08-0427, 2008 WL 2941156, at * 1 n.1 (S.D.
Ala. July 24, 2008).
Federal question jurisdiction is lacking.
district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil
actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of
the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. “The
presence or absence of federal-question jurisdiction is
governed by the ‘well-pleaded complaint rule,'
which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a
federal question is presented on the face of the
plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.”
Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392
(1987); see also Martin v. Lagualt, 315 F.Supp.2d
811 (E.D. Va. 2004) (applying the well-pleaded complaint rule
in the context of a pro se complaint). “The
mere assertion of a federal claim is not sufficient to obtain
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 . . . .”
Lovern, 190 F.3d at ...