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Michael Stewart v. St. Vincent De Paul

August 6, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Roger T. Benitez United States District Judge



Currently before this Court are Motions to Dismiss ("Motions") filed by Defendants St. Vincent de Paul ("St. Vincent") and Studio 15 Housing Partners, L.P. ("Studio 15") and Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction. The Defendants' Motions are in response to pro se Plaintiff Michael L. Stewart's purported class action complaint alleging a violation of civil rights as a result of Defendants' alleged policy prohibiting him and other persons with mental, physical, or emotional disabilities, some of whom are also "low income" or homeless, from assembling on a public sidewalk.

The Court now finds the Motions suitable for disposition on the papers without oral argument pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7.1.d. Because Plaintiff's Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the Motions are GRANTED. Plaintiff's Motion for a Preliminary Injunction is therefore DENIED as moot.


Plaintiff alleges that Defendants have violated his constitutional rights by prohibiting him and others from assembling on the sidewalk in front of their properties. (Compl., pgs. 1-2.) Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants' tactics included threats, calls to police, and the denial of restroom access and free food and shelter to residents who congregate on the sidewalk. Id. Plaintiff seeks an injunction prohibiting Defendants from engaging in such conduct. Defendants move separately to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint.


I. Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint in part arguing the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction.*fn1 FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1). "Jurisdiction is essentially the authority conferred by Congress to decide a given type of case one way or the other." The Fair v. Kohler Die & Specialty Co., 228 U.S. 22, 25 (1913). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and thus there is a general presumption against federal court review. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). "Because the petitioner bears the burden of raising a colorable constitutional claim or question of law . . . it necessarily follows that we must presume that we lack jurisdiction absent such a showing." Mendez-Castro v. Mukasey, 552 F.3d 975, 978 (9th Cir. 2009). Jurisdictional issues must be decided before those going to the merits of the claim. Alvares v. Erickson, 514 F.2d 156, 160 (9th Cir. 1975).

Generally, federal courts have jurisdiction to decide a federal claim for relief. "Dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because of the inadequacy of the federal claim is proper only when the claim is 'so insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of this Court, or otherwise completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal controversy.'" Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998) (quoting Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. Co. of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661, 666 (1974)). This "substantiality" question is a threshold issue addressed prior to determining whether the complaint properly states a claim. See Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 683-84 (1946) ("[T]he complaint does in fact raise serious questions, both of law and fact, which the district court can decide only after it has assumed jurisdiction over the controversy.").

"The test for dismissal [due to lack of jurisdiction] is a rigorous one and if there is any foundation of plausibility to the claim, federal jurisdiction exists." 13D Wright, Miller & Cooper, Federal Practice & Procedure, Jurisdiction 3d § 3564. Furthermore, since Plaintiff is proceeding without counsel, the Court will liberally construe his Complaint.*fn2 Having reviewed the Complaint, Plaintiff has pleaded a federal cause of action sufficient to invoke federal jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction . . . is not defeated . . . by the possibility that the averments might fail to state a cause of action on which petitioners could actually recover . . . . If the court . . . exercise[s] its jurisdiction to determine that the allegations in the complaint do not state a ground for relief, then dismissal of the case would be based on the merits, not for want of jurisdiction. Cement Masons Health & Welfare Trust Fund for N. Cal. v. Stone, 197 F.3d 1003, 1008 (9th Cir. 1999) (quoting Bell, 327 U.S. at 678, 682).

The Court agrees with Defendants that there are flaws on the face of Plaintiff's Complaint. They are not so serious, however, as to deprive the ...

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