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Johnson v. Pompeo

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 25, 2019

Destiny Johnson, Plaintiff,
Michael Pompeo, et al., Defendants.


          Honorable John J. Tuchi, United States District Judge

         At issue are pro se Plaintiff Destiny Johnson's Complaint (Doc. 1, Compl.) and Application to Proceed in District Court without Prepaying Fees or Costs (Doc. 2). Having determined that Plaintiff does not have the means to pay the Court's fees in this case, the Court will grant the Application. However, as set forth below, upon screening Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court has found that the Complaint fails to state a claim and the basis for the Court's subject matter jurisdiction. The Court will therefore dismiss the Complaint with leave to amend.


         A. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)

         For cases such as the present one in which a party is permitted to proceed in forma pauperis-that is, the party lacks the means to pay court fees-Congress provided that a district court “shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines” that the “allegation of poverty is untrue” or that the “action or appeal” is “frivolous or malicious, ” “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted, ” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Section 1915(e) applies to all in forma pauperis proceedings. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000). “It is also clear that section 1915(e) not only permits but requires a district court to dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that fails to state a claim.” Id. at 1127.

         B. Rule 8, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

         A complaint must include “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). The complaint must contain “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Even where a complaint has the factual elements of a cause of action present but scattered throughout the complaint and not organized into a “short and plain statement of the claim, ” it may be dismissed for failure to satisfy Rule 8(a). Sparling v. Hoffman Constr. Co., 864 F.2d 635, 640 (9th Cir. 1988). A dismissal for failure to state a claim can be based on either (1) the lack of a cognizable legal theory or (2) insufficient facts to support a cognizable legal claim. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police Dep't, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).

         C. Subject Matter Jurisdiction in Federal Court

         Unlike state courts, federal courts only have jurisdiction over a limited number of cases, and those cases typically involve either a controversy between citizens of different states (“diversity jurisdiction”) or a question of federal law (“federal question jurisdiction”). See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332. The United States Supreme Court has stated that a federal court must not disregard or evade the limits on its subject matter jurisdiction. Owen Equip. & Erections Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 374 (1978). Thus, a federal court is obligated to inquire into its subject matter jurisdiction in each case and to dismiss a case when subject matter jurisdiction is lacking. See Valdez v. Allstate Ins. Co., 372 F.3d 1115, 1116 (9th Cir. 2004); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). To proceed in federal court, a plaintiff must allege enough in the complaint for the court to conclude it has subject matter jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a); Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, 5 Fed. Practice & Procedure § 1206 (3d ed. 2014).

         II. ANALYSIS

         In the Complaint, Plaintiff states that the Court has federal question jurisdiction but fails to state the basis for the Court's jurisdiction by neglecting to identify the federal statute, treaty, or provision of the United States Constitution at issue in this case. (Compl. at 3.) The Court must dismiss the Complaint for this reason alone, but Plaintiff may file an Amended Complaint to identify the basis of the Court's jurisdiction.

         Plaintiff has also failed to allege enough facts to state a claim. Plaintiff states that she was terminated from employment with non-party Peckham Inc. by the U.S. Department of State and that the termination was based on discrimination on account of her disabilities. (Compl. at 4.) Among other damages, Plaintiff seeks lost wages and compensation for a lost retirement fund. (Compl. at 4.) It is unclear from the allegations how a government agency fired Plaintiff from her employment with an apparently private enterprise. Moreover, if Plaintiff was an employee of Peckham Inc., it is unclear how Plaintiff can seek lost wages from a government agency in lieu of her employer.

         If, for example, Plaintiff is attempting to bring an employment discrimination case, she must allege sufficient facts to identify the employment relationship, describe the employment conduct of the named Defendants-Secretary Michael R. Pompeo and Director Gregory B. Smith-that was discriminatory, and state when the conduct occurred. As indicated above, Plaintiff must also state the statute or other legal authority under which she is suing Defendants, who are federal government employees.

         If Plaintiff is attempting to sue Defendants under Title VII, “a plaintiff is required to exhaust his or her administrative remedies before seeking adjudication of a Title VII claim.” Lyons v. England, 307 F.3d 1092, 1103 (9th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted); see also 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(f)(1). “Exhaustion of administrative remedies under Title VII requires that the complainant file a timely charge with the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)], thereby allowing the agency time to investigate the charge.” Lyons, 307 F.3d at 1104 (citing 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-5(b)). The statute requires that an EEOC charge be filed within ...

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