United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division
KELVIN D. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
ROBERT L. JOHNSON, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. HANKS JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Williams ("Williams") filed a handwritten original
petition in Texas state court in which he claimed to have
created Black Entertainment Television ("BET") in
1990. Robert Johnson ("Johnson"), the defendant
whom Williams sued, sold BET to Viacom, Inc. in 2001; and
Williams's petition challenged the sale as violative of
his claimed ownership interest (Dkt. 1-1).
removed the case to this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1332 on
the basis of diversity jurisdiction, as Johnson is a citizen
of Florida for jurisdictional purposes. Johnson then
requested a pre-motion conference in accordance with this
Court's local procedures so that he could discuss his
intention to file a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state, a claim upon
which relief can be granted. At the subsequent conference
before Magistrate Judge Edison, Williams confirmed two
critical points: (1) that he is specifically challenging the
2001 sale of BET to Viacom; and (2) that he is standing on
his live pleading.
has now filed his motion under Rule 12(b)(6). Williams has
filed neither a response nor an amended pleading. The Court
will grant Johnson's motion.
THE APPLICABLE PLEADING STANDARD
proceeds pro se in this case. Courts construe
pleadings filed by pro se litigants under a less
stringent standard of review. Haines v. Kerner, 404
U.S. 519 (1972) (per curiam). Under this standard, "[a]
document filed pro se is 'to be liberally
construed,' Estelle [v. Gamble, 429
U.S. 97, 106 (1976)], and 'a pro se complaint,
however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent
standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89,
94 (2007). Nevertheless, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the
elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal,
556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (observing that courts
"are not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion
couched as a factual allegation"). The Supreme Court has
clarified that "a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to
relief that is plausible on its face.'"
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 570). "A claim has facial plausibility when
the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at
678. A motion filed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6) tests a pleading's compliance with this
requirement and is "appropriate when a defendant attacks
the complaint because it fails to state a legally cognizable
claim." Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158,
161 (5th Cir. 2001).
Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Johnson is also asserting a time bar.
"A statute of limitations may support dismissal under
Rule 12(b)(6) where it is evident from the plaintiffs
pleadings that the action is barred and the pleadings fail to
raise some basis for tolling or the like." Jones v.
Alcoa, Inc., 339 F.3d 359, 366 (5th Cir. 2003). When a
federal district court is sitting in diversity, state law
establishes the applicable statute of limitations for a
state-law cause of action. See, e.g., Rogers v.
Dunham, 478 Fed.Appx. 875, 877 (5th Cir. 2012);
Vincent v. Money Store, 915 F.Supp.2d 553, 560-61
(S.D.N.Y. 2013); see also Walker v. Armco Steel Corp.,
AA6 U.S. 740, 745-53 (1980).
live pleading claims that he created BET in 1990 and
"made [Johnson] cofounder" (Dkt. 1-1 at p. 2).
According to the complaint, several witnesses were present
when Williams transferred part ownership to Johnson (Dkt. 1-1
at p. 2). Although the list of purported witnesses-a roster
that includes George H. W. and Barbara Bush; Barack and
Michelle Obama; Princess Diana; Louis Farrakhan; Dr. Dre; and
Bill and Camille Cosby-invites (to put it mildly) some
skepticism, the Court accepts the claims as true. Even
accepted as true, however, the allegations in Williams's
live pleading do not state a claim upon which relief can be
granted; and, at the pre-motion conference before Judge
Edison, Williams simply said that Johnson "sold [his]
company out from under [him]." It is not at all clear,
either from Williams's written allegations or his
statements at the conference, on what basis Williams is
challenging the 2001 sale. For that matter, Williams has
never invoked a particular cause of action. The Court cannot,
based on these allegations, draw any reasonable inference
that Johnson is liable for any misconduct upon which Williams
could base a viable claim for relief.
Williams's judicial admission that the sale about which he
complains took place in 2001-18 years before he filed this
lawsuit-establishes that any possible cause of action is
time-barred. In all likelihood, the applicable limitations
period would be four years, since Texas law establishes a
four-year statute of limitations for claims of fraud and
breach of fiduciary duty. See Tex. Civ. Prac. &
Rem. Code § 16.004. Four years is also the general
catch-all residual limitations period under Texas law, unless
the claim at issue is an action for the recovery of real
property. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §
16.051. Even though Johnson raised the limitations defense in
his Rule 12(b)(6) motion, Williams has not asserted any basis
complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. Additionally, the complaint's allegations,
coupled with Williams's statements in open court,
conclusively establish that any claims that Williams is
trying to assert are time-barred. The Court will dismiss this
case with prejudice.
on the foregoing, the Court ORDERS as
1. Johnson's motion to dismiss (Dkt. 7) is GRANTED, and
this case is DISMISS ...