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Nguyen v. Motel 6

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

March 8, 2017

LINDA NGUYEN, Plaintiff,
MOTEL 6, ET AL., Defendants.



         This pro se action has been referred to the undersigned United States magistrate judge for initial screening under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and a standing order of reference from United States District Judge Sam A. Lindsay. The undersigned issues the following findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation that the Court should dismiss this action without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         Applicable Background

         Plaintiff Linda Nguyen has sued Motel 6 and entities and individuals associated with that hotel brand based on allegations that employees of a Motel 6 located in Addison, Texas “committed crimes against her, ” including, “Violations of privacy, Illegal searched [sic], Damaged property and Discrimination.” Dkt. No. 3 at 3. Nguyen also alleges that she filed complaints regarding her experience at the Addison hotel with “the Motel 6 Corporate office.” Id. at 2-3.

         In order to better ascertain Nguyen's claims in this action and to determine whether the Court possesses jurisdiction over those claims, the Court has issued an order to show cause, to which Nguyen has responded, see Dkt. Nos. 7 & 10, and a questionnaire, to which Nguyen has submitted verified responses, see Dkt. Nos. 14 & 15.

         Legal Standards and Analysis

         The federal courts' jurisdiction is limited, and federal courts generally may only hear a case if it involves a question of federal law or where diversity of citizenship exists between the parties. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332. Because Nguyen chose to file a lawsuit in federal court, it is her burden to establish federal jurisdiction. And if she fails to do so, this lawsuit must be dismissed. See, e.g., Smith-Lindley v. Tex., Dep't of Family & Protective Servs., No. 3:12-cv-4819-K, 2013 WL 4766850, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 5, 2013) (“A district court must dismiss a case when the plaintiff fails to establish subject-matter jurisdiction.” (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1))); 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.”).

         In diversity cases, each plaintiff's citizenship must be diverse from each defendant's citizenship, and the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1332(a), (b).

         Federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 “exists when ‘a well-pleaded complaint establishes either that federal law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.'” Borden v. Allstate Ins. Co., 589 F.3d 168, 172 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983)). “A federal question exists ‘if there appears on the face of the complaint some substantial, disputed question of federal law.'” In re Hot-Hed Inc., 477 F.3d 320, 323 (5th Cir. 2007) (quoting Carpenter v. Wichita Falls Indep. Sch. Dist., 44 F.3d 362, 366 (5th Cir. 1995)); see also Jolly v. Klein, 923 F.Supp. 931, 941 (S.D. Tex. 1996) (“In the absence of diversity of citizenship, it is essential that a substantial federal question be presented to support jurisdiction.” (citing Hagans v. Levine, 415 U.S. 528, 536-37 (1974))); Ayika v. Lopez, No. EP-10-CV-456-KC, 2010 WL 5373877, at *2 (W.D. Tex. Dec. 21, 2010) (“Establishing federal question jurisdiction requires a ‘substantial federal question.'” (quoting Raymon v. Alvord Indep. Sch. Dist., 639 F.2d 257, 257 (5th Cir. Unit A Mar. 1981))).

         In this regard, it is established that the mere mention of federal law or bare assertion of a federal claim is not sufficient to obtain federal question jurisdiction, because “federal courts are without power to entertain claims otherwise within their jurisdiction if they are so attenuated and unsubstantial as to be absolutely devoid of merit; wholly insubstantial; obviously frivolous; plainly unsubstantial; or no longer open to discussion.” Hagans, 415 U.S. at 536-37 (internal citation and quotation marks omitted); see Murphy v. Inexco Oil Co., 611 F.2d 570, 573 (5th Cir. 1980) (“[T]he assertion that the claim involves [a federal] question must be more than incantation.”); Raymon, 639 F.2d at 257 (“[A] complaint that alleges the existence of a frivolous or insubstantial federal question is not sufficient to establish jurisdiction in a federal court.” (citing Olivares v. Martin, 555 F.2d 1192, 1195 (5th Cir. 1977); Hagans, 415 U.S. at 538-39)); Southpark Square Ltd. v. City of Jackson, Miss., 565 F.2d 338, 342 (5th Cir. 1977) (a claim “must be more than frivolous to support federal question jurisdiction”).

         The Court will not assume it has jurisdiction. Rather, “the basis upon which jurisdiction depends must be alleged affirmatively and distinctly and cannot be established argumentatively or by mere inference.” Getty Oil Corp. v. Ins. Co. of N.A., 841 F.2d 1254, 1259 (5th Cir. 1988) (citing Ill. Cent. Gulf R. Co. v. Pargas, Inc., 706 F.2d 633, 636 & n.2 (5th Cir. 1983)).

         In her initial complaint, Nguyen failed to “affirmatively and distantly” allege jurisdiction. For example, she failed to specify a federal law that is implicated by her allegations, and she neither alleges the citizenship of the defendants nor identifies an amount in controversy. Cf. Leach v. Indiana, No. 1:07-cv-1376-DFH-JMS, 2007 WL 4256440, at *1 (S.D. Ind. Nov. 30, 2007) (“The problem is that plaintiff's amended complaint does not mention federal law anywhere. The plaintiff is the master of his complaint. If he chooses to rely solely on state law, he may do so even if his allegations might also support a claim for relief under federal law.” (citations omitted)).

         In her response to the show-cause order, Nguyen specifies that she is requesting $4 million and that - “[u]nder the Federal law” - she is “suing for Violation of Privacy, Illegal Search, Damage of property and Discrimination” because her “dirty clothes which includes [her] DNA was in [her] property that the Motel 6 employees removed from [her] hotel room.” Dkt. No. 10 at 1-2 (further providing that “Motel 6 employees violated my human rights as well as every other right” and that “Motel 6 employees had no right to remove my property from my hotel room because my room was paid in full in advance”).

         Because Nguyen has failed to allege the citizenship of any defendant but has alleged facts under which it is plausible that she and several defendants are citizens of Texas (as some defendants manage a hotel in Addison, Texas), the undersigned has accepting Nguyen's assertion that she is suing under federal law. And the court-issued questionnaire requested that Nguyen describe in detail how each defendant violated ...

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