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King v. Thomas

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

December 12, 2019

ERNEST KING, Plaintiff,


          Kenneth D. Bell, United States District Judge

         THIS 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, 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.


         Plaintiff 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.”[1] Id. at 1.

         Plaintiff 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.

         On 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.”[2] (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).

         Amazon 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.


         “The 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 not presented.”).


         “Federal 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.

         In 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).

         A. Federal question jurisdiction is lacking.

         “The 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 ...

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