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Smith v. Goree

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

February 6, 2018

KATIE R. SMITH
v.
T. LAMAR GOREE, JR., ET AL.

          Judge HORNSBY

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          ELIZABETH ERNY FOOTE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). [Record Document 13]. The parties have filed an opposition and a reply, which have been reviewed by the undersigned. [Record Documents 19 and 20]. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART. To the extent that the motion seeks dismissal of claims asserted by Katie Smith on her own behalf, the motion is GRANTED. To the extent that the motion seeks dismissal of any claims that properly belong to Y.S,, it is DENIED. The Clerk of Court is ORDERED to adjust the caption of the case to indicate that Y.S. is a plaintiff and to provide notice to Shandra Smith as described below. Additionally, Katie Smith and Shandra Smith are ORDERED to enter appearances through counsel by the deadlines given below if either wishes to represent Y.S. in this matter.

         I. Background

          Plaintiff Katie Smith ("Smith") has commenced this action pro se against the Caddo Parish School Board, T. Lamar Goree, Jr., Natasha Whitehorn, Rudgerick Brown, and Brenda McDonald (collectively "Defendants"). [Record Document 1]. Y.S., Smith's granddaughter, was a student at a Caddo Parish elementary school from which she was suspended multiple times before being expelled in February 2017. [Record Documents 1 at 5 and 13-1 at 1], Smith alleges that the suspensions and expulsion violated the Civil Rights Act, the United States Constitution, and the "U.S. Education Act." [Record Document 1 at 3].

         According to Y.S.'s school records, her mother, Shandra Smith, is Y.S.'s legal guardian. [Record Documents 13 at 2 and 19-1 at 1]. Shortly after Defendants filed the instant motion, Y.S.'s mother filed a Petition for Voluntary Transfer of Custody in the Caddo Parish Juvenile Court, seeking to transfer both physical and legal custody of Y.S. to Smith so that Smith could pursue the instant case; the record does not reveal the outcome of this state court proceeding. [Record Document 19-1].

         Defendants seek dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. [Record Document 13]. They argue that because Smith lacks procedural capacity to sue on Y.S.'s behalf, she lacks standing. [Id. at 2-3]. In response, Smith filed a copy of the state court custody petition. [Record Document 19-1]. Defendants have replied that a voluntary transfer of custody is not the equivalent of a tutorship and so does not divest Y.S.'s mother of her parental right to initiate suit on her daughter's behalf. [Record Document 20 at 2-3].

         II. Law and Analysis

         To evaluate the instant motion, the Court must (1) determine who is currently before the Court as a plaintiff; (2) determine whether Smith has standing and procedural capacity to sue on Y.S's behalf; and (3) craft an appropriate order to repair any defects in the procedural posture of this litigation.

         A. Identifying the Plaintiffs

         The case caption currently identifies Smith as the only plaintiff. However, a pro se litigant's pleadings must be interpreted liberally. See Calhoun v. Hargrove, 312 F.3d 730, 733 (5th Cir. 2002) (citing Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378 (5 th Cir. 2002)). In the caption of her complaint, which she filed on the court-provided form for pro se litigants, Smith wrote her name on the line above the designation for "Plaintiff(s)" and then wrote Y.S.'s name underneath that line and next to the word "Plaintiff(s)." [Record Document 1 at 1]. Similarly, in her prayer, Smith wrote that "Plaintiffs seek" compensatory and punitive damages. [Id. at 4]. Interpreting this writing liberally, the Court finds that Smith intended to name both herself and Y.S. as plaintiffs. Cf Aduddle v. Body, No. CIV.A. H-05-3358, 2007 WL 189373, at *4-5 (S.D. Tex. Jan. 22, 2007) (construing a pro se complaint by a grandfather that named his granddaughter as an additional plaintiff as intending to bring suit in next friend capacity), affd, 277 Fed.Appx. 459 (5th Cir. 2008). Therefore, the Court orders the Clerk of Court to alter the caption of the case to indicate that Y.S. is a plaintiff in this matter.

         B. Smith's Standing and Procedural Capacity

         Defendants argue that Smith lacks procedural capacity to sue on Y.S.'s behalf and therefore lacks standing. [Record Document 13 at 2-3]. "Frequently, attorneys and courts confuse the concept[] of standing with that of capacity to sue" Norris v. Causey, 869 F.3d 360, 366 (5th Cir. 2017) (quoting In re Unger & Assocs. Inc., 292 B.R. 545, 550 (Bankr. E.D. Tex. 2003)). The doctrine of standing derives from the constitutional limit placed on the federal judiciary to decide only "cases" and "controversies." Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 102 (1998) (citing Muskrat v. United States, 219 U.S. 346, 356-57 (1911)). To have standing, a plaintiff must have "(1) suffered an injury in fact, (2) that is fairly traceable to the challenged conduct of the defendant, and (3) that is likely to be redressed by a favorable judicial decision." Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016) (citing Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560-61 (1992); Friends of the Earth, Inc. v. Laidlaw Envt'l Servs., Inc., 528 U.S. 167, 180-81 (2000)). Capacity to sue has nothing to do with whether a person has been injured; it merely designates the person entitled to enforce a particular right through litigation. See Norris, 869 F.3d at 366.

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