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Walker v. Siebrasse

United States District Court, District of South Dakota, Western Division

May 7, 2015





On March 2, 2015, this court dismissed Mr. Walker’s complaint against David Siebrasse without prejudice. (Docket 8). Mr. Walker, appearing pro se, alleged claims arising under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988. (Docket 1). Mr. Walker’s specific causes of actions against Mr. Siebrasse were an attorney misconduct claim, a civil rights violation claim under § 1983 and the First Amendment, a claim of false imprisonment in violation of civil rights under the Fourth Amendment and § 1983 by “[f]alsely [i]mprisoning, ” and a gross negligence claim. Dockets 1 at p. 3; 7 at p. 1.

The court found Mr. Walker’s complaint was “devoid of any factual allegations supporting a legal theory which would vest this court with federal question jurisdiction to hear Mr. Walker’s claims.” (Docket 8 at p. 5). The court dismissed the complaint without prejudice and denied Mr. Walker’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis as moot. Id. at 5-6. Subsequently, Mr. Walker filed a motion to amend his complaint (Docket 11) and a motion for reconsideration, or, in the alternative, an adjudication with an impartial judge “to reach a reasonable settlement of the controversy.” (Docket 12).


The court is mindful of Mr. Walker’s pro se status. “[P]ro se complaints are to be construed liberally . . . .” Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914 (8th Cir. 2004) (referencing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). “[P]ro se litigants must set forth [a claim] in a manner which, taking the pleaded facts as true, states a claim as a matter of law.” Stringer v. St. James R–1 Sch. Dist., 446 F.3d 799, 802 (8th Cir. 2006). “A pro se [complaint] should be ‘interpreted liberally and . . . should be construed to encompass any allegation stating federal relief.’ ” Bracken v. Dormire, 247 F.3d 699, 704 (8th Cir. 2001) (citing White v. Wyrick, 530 F.2d 818, 819 (8th Cir. 1976)). “Although pro se complaints are to be liberally construed, the complaint must allege specific facts sufficient to state a claim.” Thrash v. McDaniel, No. 4:13-CV-00732-KGB, 2014 WL 2462888, at *1 (E.D. Ark. June 2, 2014), aff’d, 578 F. App’x 619 (8th Cir. 2014) (citing Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985)).

The court is also aware that “[t]he threshold inquiry in every federal case is whether the court has jurisdiction and we have admonished district judges to be attentive to a satisfaction of jurisdictional requirements in all cases.” Rock Island Millwork Co. v. Hedges–Gough Lumber Co., 337 F.2d 24, 26-27 (8th Cir. 1964). “Lack of jurisdiction of the subject matter of litigation cannot be waived by the parties or ignored by the court.” Id. at p. 27. “A federal court has jurisdiction to consider its own subject matter jurisdiction.” Robins v. Ritchie, 631 F.3d 919, 930 (8th Cir. 2011).

“A federal court therefore has a duty to assure itself that the threshold requirement of subject matter jurisdiction has been met in every case.” Mummelthie v. City of Mason City, Ia., 873 F.Supp. 1293, 1304 (N.D. Iowa 1995), aff’d sub nom. Mummelthie v. City of Mason City, Iowa, 78 F.3d 589 (8th Cir. 1996) (citing Bradley v. Am. Postal Workers Union, AFL–CIO, 962 F.2d 800, 802 n.3 (8th Cir. 1992)). “Federal courts have a duty to examine the substantiality of the federal claim throughout the litigation, and must dismiss all claims if the federal claim proves patently meritless even after the trial begins.” Id. at 1305 (citing Pioneer Hi–Bred Int’l v. Holden Found. Seeds, Inc., 35 F.3d 1226, 1242 (8th Cir. 1994); Sanders v. Clemco Indus., 823 F.2d 214, 216 (8th Cir. 1987)).

A district court has “original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Civil Rights Act provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress, except that in any action brought against a judicial officer for an act or omission taken in such officer’s judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable.

42 U.S.C. § 1983.

“The traditional definition of acting under color of state law requires that the defendant in a § 1983 action have exercised power ‘possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law.’ ” Parker v. Boyer, 93 F.3d 445, 447-48 (8th Cir. 1996) (emphasis added) (quoting West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 49 (1988) (further citations omitted). “Section 1983 does not confer subject matter jurisdiction. The statute simply provides a means through which a claimant may seek a remedy in federal court for a constitutional tort when one is aggrieved by the act of a person acting under color of state law.” Jones v. United States, 16 F.3d 979, 981 (8th Cir. 1994).

In neither Mr. Walker’s complaint nor supplement did he allege Mr. Siebrasse was acting under color of state law. There was also no reference to any other statute conferring jurisdiction for the § 1983 claim. The court did not infer from the complaint that Mr. Siebrasse was acting under color of state law and determined § 1983 did not provide jurisdiction for Mr. Walker’s claims. See Lee v. Cleve Her Many Horses, No. ...

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