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Stringfellow v. Department of Children and Family Services

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

January 15, 2019

NAKEEMA STRINGFELLOW
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CHILDREN AND FAMILY SERVICES

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          KAREN L.HAYES, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the undersigned magistrate judge, on reference from the District Court, is a hybrid motion to dismiss [doc. # 13] for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, for insufficient service of process, and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), (5), & (6), or alternatively, motion for more definite statement, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(e), filed by defendant, State of Louisiana, through the Department of Children and Family Services. The motion is opposed. For reasons assigned below, it is recommended that the motion be GRANTED-IN-PART, and that plaintiff's complaint, as amended, be dismissed without prejudice, in its entirety, as to all parties.

         Background

         On September 12, 2018, Nakeema Stringfellow filed the instant pro se suit against the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services (“DCFS”) on a court-supplied form entitled, “Complaint Under Section 706(f) of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” (Compl.).[1] From what the court may discern, the thrust of plaintiff's complaint is that in October 2015, Mavis Stringfellow, the grandmother of plaintiff's three children, F.S., M.S., and J.S., filed a complaint with DCFS that apparently resulted in DCFS's removal of plaintiff's three children from her home. According to the complaint, Mavis Stringfellow served as “caretaker” for the children for over one year, and then Natasha Stringfellow tried to care for them. Plaintiff later was notified by social worker, Kierra Richardson, and her supervisor, Pamela Henderson, that her children had been placed in a shelter and other foster care.

         Stringfellow further alleged that in June 2017, her visits with her children inexplicably ceased.[2] She was under the impression that her parental rights had been suspended but temporarily, and that she had done everything asked of her to secure her children's return. Stringfellow also asserted that Judge Aisha Clark discriminated against her rights and concerns, apparently by failing to question Mavis Stringfellow or to speak with the social workers. In March and September 2018, Judge Tammy Lee was supposed to hold unspecified hearings, but never did. The foster care and social workers ceased to speak with Stringfellow.

         On November 13, 2018, DCFS filed the instant motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, for insufficient service of process, and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or alternatively, motion for more definite statement.

         On November 19, 2018, plaintiff filed an amended complaint(s) on court-supplied forms, entitled, “Complaint and Request for Injunction, ” and “Complaint for a Civil Case Alleging Negligence.” [doc. # 16]. Her amended complaint(s) joined additional defendants: Pamela Henderson, Kierra Richardson, Mavis Stringfellow, plus a current (unknown) social worker. Plaintiff alleged that she advised Henderson of Richardson's rude attitude and negligence. Moreover, Henderson made discriminating comments such as “[y]ou can't never get your children.” Plaintiff further alleged that in October 2015, the “case plan was negligent, ” and contained false information. She requested that her children be returned home safely in a timely manner. She also asked for reimbursement of travel expenses for transportation and for having to relocate to different residences “over a period of time.”

         On November 30, 2018, plaintiff submitted a document styled as a “Motion to Review, ” [doc. # 18] which the court construed as her opposition to the DCFS's motion to dismiss. The gist of the rambling five page submission is that plaintiff was dissatisfied with the process that resulted in her children being permanently removed from her home, and that she wants to be reunited with her children.

         On December 11, 2018, plaintiff filed (another) opposition to the motion to dismiss in which she asserted, inter alia, that she had been discriminated against as the birth mother of her children. [doc. # 22]. DCFS filed its reply brief that same day. [doc. # 21].[3] Therefore, the matter is ripe.

         Discussion

         Before reaching the merits of a case, federal courts are obliged to ensure that they enjoy subject matter jurisdiction to hear the matter. See Sinochem Intern. Co. Ltd. v. Malaysia Intern. Shipping Corp., 549 U.S. 422, 430-431, 127 S.Ct. 1184, 1191 (2007); Smith v. Texas Children's Hospital, 172 F.3d 923, 925 (5th Cir. 1999) (courts must examine the basis for the exercise of federal subject matter jurisdiction). This practice ensures that a court without jurisdiction does not end up “prematurely dismissing a case with prejudice.” See In Re: Fema Trailer Formaldehyde Products Liability Litigation (Mississippi Plaintiffs), In Re: Fema Trailer Formaldehyde Products Liability Litigation (Alabama Plaintiffs), 668 F.3d 281 (5th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time. Giles v. Nylcare Health Plans, Inc., 172 F.3d 332, 336 (5th Cir. 1999).

         “A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate the case.” Home Builders Ass'n of Miss., Inc. v. City of Madison, 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir. 1998) (quoting Nowak v. Ironworkers local 6 Pension Fund, 81 F.3d 1182, 1187 (2nd Cir. 1996)). The party seeking to invoke jurisdiction bears the burden of demonstrating its existence. See Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001); Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 916 (5th Cir. 2001). “[T]here is a presumption against subject matter jurisdiction that must be rebutted by the party bringing an action to federal court.” Coury v. Prot, 85 F.3d 244, 248 (5th Cir. 1996) (citation omitted).

         “A court can find that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking based on (1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Enable Mississippi River Transmission, L.L.C. v. Nadel & Gussman, L.L.C., 844 F.3d 495, 497 (5th Cir.2016) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

         In the case sub judice, plaintiff checked the boxes on her complaint form indicating that the basis for federal court jurisdiction was federal question, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and diversity, 28 U.S.C. § 1332. (Amend. ...


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