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Ceasar v. U.S. Department of Education

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

April 29, 2019

RONNIE CEASAR, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION and PAUL COXE, Defendants.

          FINDINGS, CONCLUSIONS, AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          DAVID L. HORAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Ronnie Ceasar filed a pro se complaint against the United States Department of Education (“DOE”) and an attorney employed in DOE's Office for Civil Rights's (“OCR”) Dallas office, alleging that OCR's closing his complaint against Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana - after Ceasar failed to provide a signed consent requested by OCR - violated his civil rights. See Dkt. No. 3. This resulting action has been referred to the undersigned United States magistrate judge for pretrial management under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and a standing order of reference from United States District Judge David C. Godbey.

         On March 25, 2019, the Court entered a notice of deficiency (the “NOD”) informing Ceasar that his original complaint was subject to dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and/or for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted and requiring that, by April 24, 2019, he file an amended complaint that cures the deficiencies noted and either pay the full filing fee to initiate this action or move for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (“IFP”). See Dkt. No. 4.

         Ceasar responded to the NOD by filing an IFP motion, see Dkt. No. 6, and a motion to strike the NOD, see Dkt. No. 5. The Court granted the IFP motion and denied the motion to strike. See Dkt. No. 7.

         Ceasar then moved to recuse the undersigned, see Dkt. No. 8, a motion Judge Godbey has denied, see Dkt. No. 9.

         The undersigned now enters these findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation that, for the reasons explained below, the Court should dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3) or, alternatively, with prejudice for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         Legal Standards

          Federal courts have an independent duty to examine their own subject matter jurisdiction. See Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 583-84 (1999). The Court will not assume it has jurisdiction. And a party choosing to bring a case into federal court bears the burden to establish federal jurisdiction. See, e.g., Butler v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, __F. App'x, __ No. 18-10262, 2019 WL 1410726, at *1 (5th Cir. Mar. 27, 2019) (per curiam) (“[A]ssertions [that] are conclusory [ ] are insufficient to support [an] attempt to establish subject-matter jurisdiction.” (citing Evans v. Dillard Univ., 672 Fed.Appx. 505, 505-06 (5th Cir. 2017) (per cuiam); Jeanmarie v. United States, 242 F.3d 600, 602 (5th Cir. 2001))). If he does not, his lawsuit must be dismissed. See 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.”).

         Further, a district court is required to screen a civil action filed IFP and may summarily dismiss that action, or any portion of the action, if, for example, it fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii); see also, e.g., Bynum v. City of Mesquite, No. 3:02-cv-1301-D, 2002 WL 32182292, at *2 n.2 (N.D. Tex. Oct. 30, 2002) (“In cases in which a plaintiff seeks to proceed without the payment of the required filing fee and attendant fees for service of process, courts have long had the authority to dismiss in forma pauperis complaints if satisfied that the claims asserted are frivolous or malicious.”); Walters v. Scott, Civ. A. No. H-14-1637, 2014 WL 5878494, at *1 (S.D. Tex. Nov. 11, 2014) (“A party proceeding in forma pauperis is subject to the screening requirements permitted by 28 U.S.C. § 1915” - a provision that “applies equally to prisoners and non-prisoners.” (citing Newsome v. Equal Emp't Opportunity Comm'n, 301 F.3d 227, 231-33 (5th Cir. 2002))).

         Dismissal for failure to state a claim “turns on the sufficiency of the ‘factual allegations' in the complaint, ” Smith v. Bank of Am., N.A., 615 Fed.Appx. 830, 833 (5th Cir. 2015) (per curiam) (quoting Johnson v. City of Shelby, Miss., 574 U.S.__, 135 S.Ct. 346, 347 (2014) (per curiam); emphasis added by Smith), and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “do not countenance dismissal of a complaint for imperfect statement of the legal theory supporting the claim asserted, ” Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 346.

         Indeed, to survive dismissal under the framework of Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009), a plaintiff need only “plead facts sufficient to show” that the claims asserted have “substantive plausibility” by stating “simply, concisely, and directly events” that she contends entitle her to relief. Johnson, 135 S.Ct. at 347 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)-(3), (d)(1), (e)); see Harold H. Huggins Realty, Inc. v. FNC, Inc., 634 F.3d 787, 796 (5th Cir. 2011) (“A claim for relief is implausible on its face when ‘the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct.'” (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679)); Gentilello v. Rege, 627 F.3d 540, 544 (5th Cir. 2010) (a court need “not accept as true conclusory allegations, unwarranted factual inferences, or legal conclusions” (citations omitted)).

         This rationale has even more force here, as the Court “must construe the pleadings of pro se litigants liberally, ” Andrade v. Gonzales, 459 F.3d 538, 543 (5th Cir. 2006), “to prevent the loss of rights due to inartful expression, ” Marshall v. Eadison, 704CV123HL, 2005 WL 3132352, at *2 (M.D. Ga. Nov. 22, 2005) (citing Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980)); but see Smith v. CVS Caremark Corp., No. 3:12-cv-2465-B, 2013 WL 2291886, at *8 (N.D. Tex. May 23, 2013) (“[L]iberal construction does not require that the Court or a defendant create causes of action where there are none.”).

         “Ordinarily, ‘a pro se litigant should be offered an opportunity to amend his complaint before it is dismissed.' ... Granting leave to amend, however, is not required if the plaintiff has already pleaded [his] ‘best case.' A plaintiff has pleaded [his] best case after [he] is apprised of the insufficiency of [his] complaint. [And a] plaintiff may indicate [he] has not pleaded [his] best case by stating material facts that [he] would include in an amended complaint to overcome the deficiencies identified by the court.” Wiggins v. La. State Univ. - Health Care Servs. Div., 710 ...


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