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Winston v. Bradford Window Co.

September 10, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sean J. McLAUGHLIN United States District Judge


Michael Winston is a pro se plaintiff and resident of McKean County, Pennsylvania, prosecuting this and numerous other civil actions before this Court. In this complaint, he has sued Bradford Window Company, a business entity located in McKean County. Presently pending before the Court is the Defendant's motion to dismiss this case for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. For the reasons set forth below, that motion will be granted.


In his complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Todd Hennerd, the owner of Defendant Bradford Window Co., refused to pay the Plaintiff for work performed at the Pennsylvania Housing Authority Building in Bradford, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff claims that he sought to enforce payment through the local District Magistrate's office. Despite being ordered by the Magistrate Judge to send payment to the Magistrate's office, the Defendant refused to comply. At some point, Plaintiff received partial pay for the work.

According to the complaint, Plaintiff went to a local bar after work on the evening of December 20, 2007, where he was accosted and assaulted by "the Defendant and two of his helpers." Judging from the complaint, Plaintiff seems to be complaining that he was beaten by Hennerd and two of his employees, named "Tim" and "Tom." Plaintiff alleges that he somehow escaped from the bar and called 911. As Plaintiff was on the phone, he was again attacked by the same three individuals and beaten. As police officers arrived on the scene, Hennerd and "Tom" departed as "Tim" continued to beat the Plaintiff and chase him into oncoming, "bumper to bumper" traffic. According to the complaint, "the police came and they came around calling his name (the Defendant knew him)."

Based on these allegations, Plaintiff demands "damages and punishment" in the amount of $1 million. Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.


Here, the Defendant is asserting a facial challenge to the court's subject matter jurisdiction. A facial attack on subject matter jurisdiction contests "the sufficiency of the pleadings, and the trial court must accept the complaint's allegations as true." Turicentro, S.A. v. American Airlines Inc., 303 F.3d 293, 300 n. 4 (3d Cir.2002) (citation omitted). Consequently, for present purposes, we need only determine "whether the allegations on the face of the complaint, taken as true, allege facts sufficient to invoke the jurisdiction of the district court.'" Common Cause of Pennsylvania v. Pennsylvania, 558 F.3d 249, 257 (3d Cir.2009) (quoting Taliaferro v. Darby Twp. Zoning Bd., 458 F.3d 181, 188 (3d Cir.2006)). Dismissal for lack of jurisdiction is appropriate where the right claimed is "so insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of this Court, or otherwise completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal controversy." Growth Horizons, Inc. v. Delaware County, 983 F.2d 1277, 1280-81 (3d Cir.1993) (quoting Kulick v. Pocono Downs Racing Ass'n, 816 F.2d 895, 899 (3d Cir.1987)). See also Oneida Indian Nation v. County of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661, 666 (1974).

Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, his complaint must be "'liberally construed'" and "'held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers[.]'" Brown v. City of Long Branch, No. 09-3632, 2010 WL 1980997 at *2 (3d Cir. May 19, 2010) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). Nevertheless, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint -- even a pro se complaint --'must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Thakar v. Tan, No. 09-2084, 2010 WL 1141397 at *2 (3d Cir. March 25, 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ---U.S. ----, ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (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." Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). See also Brown, supra, at *2 ("The factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to "'raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'") (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)).


Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction; accordingly, every case begins with the presumption that the court lacks jurisdiction to hear it. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). In a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the party invoking jurisdiction has the burden of demonstrating that subject matter jurisdiction exists. See Thomson v. Gaskill, 315 U.S. 442, 446 (1942); Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir.1977).

In this case, Plaintiff has asserted federal question subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331, which gives the district courts original jurisdiction over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." Plaintiff contends that such jurisdiction exists "[pursuant] to state and federal labor laws," "battery and negligence tort law," the "Victims of Violent Crimes Act" (cited as 18 U.S.C. § 16), "Equal Pay Law and Collection Law," "Moral Turpitude (conduct so wicked as to be shocking to the community)," and "conspiracy with the Bradford City Police[,] the District Majestrate [sic] (Cercone) and the District Attorneys Office (John Pavloc) to avoid prosecution" (citing 18 U.S.C. §§ 241 and 245). (Complaint [2] at p. 1 of 4.)

Taking Plaintiff's allegations as true, it is clear that Plaintiff's claims based on common law tort principles of battery and negligence provide no basis for federal jurisdiction in this case, as these are not federal common law principles. Furthermore, because the conduct here involves private parties whose citizenship is not diverse, there can be no jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In similar fashion, Plaintiff's invocation of "moral turpitude" principles fails even to state a viable cause of action, much less a basis upon which this Court might exercise federal subject matter jurisdiction.

Although Plaintiff purports to invoke the federal labor laws*fn1 as well as "Equal Pay Law and Collection Law," his complaint utterly fails to comply with the demands of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), which requires the plaintiff to provide a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Here, the complaint fails even to identify the actual statutes upon which Plaintiff purports to rely, let alone a particular provision giving Plaintiff a substantive right to relief on the basis of the facts alleged. On the contrary, Plaintiff has alleged no facts that could plausibly state a claim under these sources of law. This is contrary to the demands of Bell Atlantic Crop. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), which require that a complaint contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim that is plausible on its face." 550 U.S. at 570. See also Thakar, supra, at **2 ("While a litigant's pro se status requires a court to construe the allegations in the complaint liberally, see Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, ...

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