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Richter v. Campbell

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

August 13, 2019

RUTH RICHTER, Plaintiff,
v.
JOAN CAMPBELL, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff filed her Complaint on March 20, 2019. (Filing No. 1.) She has been given leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing No. 5.) The court now conducts an initial review of Plaintiff's Complaint to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         I. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT

         Plaintiff brings this action against Defendant Joan Campbell alleging Defendant has failed to distribute the proceeds and interest earned from two “T-note accounts” that were established by Plaintiff's father and funded by Plaintiff's SSI disability benefits awarded between 1984 and 1990. (Filing No. 1.) Plaintiff's father managed the T-note accounts until his death in 1996, at which time “Defendant was given the T-note investment funded by Plaintiff's earlier SSI checks.” (Id. at CM/ECF p. 1.)

         Plaintiff alleges that, on or about October 31, 2007, Defendant, through her lawyer, agreed to pay Plaintiff interest in the amount of $4, 407.72 if Plaintiff “agreed to end the matter.” (Id. at CM/ECF p. 3.) Plaintiff agreed to the proposed settlement but “heard nothing further from lawyer or Defendant and no check from Defendant.” (Id.) As relief, “Plaintiff seeks the amount Defendant proposed in 2007 and additional damages from 2007 onward to present.” (Id.)

         II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS ON INITIAL REVIEW

         The court is required to review in forma pauperis complaints to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). The court must dismiss a complaint or any portion of it that states a frivolous or malicious claim, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         Pro se plaintiffs must set forth enough factual allegations to “nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” or “their complaint must be dismissed.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569-70 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“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.”).

         “The essential function of a complaint under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to give the opposing party ‘fair notice of the nature and basis or grounds for a claim, and a general indication of the type of litigation involved.'” Topchian v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 760 F.3d 843, 848 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Hopkins v. Saunders, 199 F.3d 968, 973 (8th Cir. 1999)). However, “[a] pro se complaint must be liberally construed, and pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties.” Topchian, 760 F.3d at 849 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION OF CLAIMS

         In evaluating Plaintiff's claims, the court must determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction is proper. 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.”). Furthermore, a plaintiff must sufficiently state a claim for relief that contains, “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction, unless the court has jurisdiction and the claim needs no new jurisdictional support.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1). Liberally construed, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges breach of contract claims. However, as discussed below, the Complaint's allegations fail to establish that jurisdiction is proper.

         A. Federal Question Jurisdiction

         Subject-matter jurisdiction is proper where a plaintiff asserts “[a] non-frivolous claim of a right or remedy under a federal statute, ” commonly referred to as “federal question” jurisdiction. Northwest South Dakota Prod. Credit Ass'n v. Smith, 784 F.2d 323, 325 (8th Cir. 1986). The mere suggestion of a federal question is not sufficient to establish the jurisdiction of federal courts, rather, the federal court's jurisdiction must affirmatively appear clearly and distinctly. Bilal v. Kaplan, 904 F.2d 14, 15 (8th Cir. 1990). Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and must show that the deprivation of that right was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Courts have held that a private party's actions can be considered state action, or actions under color of state law, if the private party is a willful participant in joint activity with the State to deny constitutional rights. See Magee v. Tr. of Hamline Univ, Minn., 747 F.3d 532, 536 (8th Cir. 2014).

         Here, Plaintiff does not allege any violation of her constitutional rights, and the Complaint lacks any indication that Defendant is a state actor. Moreover, even construing the Complaint liberally, it simply does not contain allegations reasonably suggesting Defendant violated a federal statute. Accordingly, ...


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