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Stringfellow v. Henderson

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

May 13, 2019




          Karen L. Hayes Untied States Magistrate Judge.

         Before the undersigned magistrate judge, on reference from the District Court, is a motion for appointment of counsel [doc. # 2] filed by plaintiff pro se Nakeema Stringfellow. For reasons that follow, it is recommended that plaintiff's complaint be dismissed, without prejudice, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. It is further ordered that plaintiff's motion for appointment of counsel is DENIED.


         On September 12, 2018, Nakeema Stringfellow, acting pro se, filed a prior 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.”[1] See Stringfellow v. Department of Children and Family Services, No. 18-1212 (W.D. La.) (“Stringfellow I”). The thrust of plaintiff's prior suit was 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 in Stringfellow I, 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]

         On January 30, 2019, this court dismissed Stringfellow I for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Stringfellow I. In so doing, the court determined that diversity jurisdiction was absent and there was no colorable federal question presented by plaintiff's complaint. Id.

         Undeterred, plaintiff filed the instant pro se complaint on February 14, 2019, in which she again complained about her children being taken away. See Compl. [doc. # 1]. Moreover, she conceded that she had “filed a similar complaint for civil case recently. Some of the same things still apply. Still trying to get Grant [sic] relief for my 3 children to return home. Lawsuit filed employers [sic] still refuses to cooperate with the case plan procedures for case closure.” Id. Moreover, with one exception, Shalonda Ellis - a current “social worker/foster care taker, ” all of the other defendants in this suit also were in Stringfellow I: Pamela Harrison, Kiera Richardson, Mavis Stringfellow, and the DCFS.[3] In conjunction with her complaint, plaintiff filed a motion for appointment of counsel. [doc. # 2].


         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 court must raise the issue sua sponte if it discovers that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Id.

         “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).

         The two most common ways to invoke federal subject matter jurisdiction are via federal question and diversity. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 & 1332. Upon review, it is manifest that the same deficiencies that thwarted jurisdiction in Stringfellow I, continue to plague the current iteration of plaintiff's cause of action. First, the DCFS's presence in the suit precludes the exercise of diversity jurisdiction.[4] Second, the court does not discern a colorable federal question on the face of plaintiff's complaint.[5] In the absence of a colorable claim “arising under” the Constitution or laws of the United States against the defendants, the court lacks jurisdiction to entertain plaintiff's cause of action against them. The court adopts and incorporates herein the additional reasoning set forth in Stringfellow I.

         The undersigned recognizes that “before dismissing a pro se complaint, a district court ordinarily should give the litigant an opportunity to amend.” Bruce v. Little, 568 Fed.Appx. 283 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing inter alia, Bazrowx v. Scott, 136 F.3d 1053, 1054 (5th Cir. 1998)). Here, however, the instant complaint simply rehashes plaintiff's prior suit, which she amended more than once before dismissal. See Stringfellow, supra. Therefore, at this point, further amendment would prove futile.

         The court further observes that it enjoys the inherent authority to impose sanctions, including an injunction, against litigants who use the legal system to harass their opponents through vexatious litigation. Terra Partners v. Rabo Agrifinance, Inc., 504 Fed.Appx. 288, 290-91 (5th Cir. 2012). The court cautions plaintiff that if she continues to re-file this same suit in the absence of federal ...

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