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McGee v. Department of Child Support Services State Hearing Office

United States District Court, N.D. California

August 9, 2016

STEPHANIE MCGEE, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SUPPORT SERVICES STATE HEARING OFFICE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DISMISSING AMENDED COMPLAINT WITH LEAVE TO AMEND RE: DKT. NO. 7

          MARIA-ELENA JAMES, United States Magistrate Judge.

         INTRODUCTION

         On May 16, 2016, Plaintiff Stephanie McGee (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint and an Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. Compl., Dkt. No. 1; Appl., Dkt. No. 3. The Court granted Plaintiff’s Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis but pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) dismissed Plaintiff’s Complaint on the ground that Plaintiff’s allegations were unclear at that point, and as such, the Court could not find she stated a claim for relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 or that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this case. Order, Dkt. No. 6. Additionally, the Court noted that, as it appeared Plaintiff was attempting to challenge a state court order, the “Rooker-Feldman doctrine” precluded such de facto appeals. Id. While the Court thus dismissed Plaintiff’s original Complaint, it also granted her leave to file an amended complaint. Id. Plaintiff filed her First Amended Complaint (“FAC”) on July 28, 2016. Dkt. No. 7. As Plaintiff continues to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court is under a continuing obligation to screen Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Having done so, the Court finds that it must DISMISS the FAC with leave to amend.

         SUA SPONTE SCREENING UNDER 28 U.S.C. § 1915(E)(2)

         A. Legal Standards

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), the Court must dismiss the Complaint if it is frivolous, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. To make this determination, courts assess whether there is a factual and legal basis for the asserted wrong, “however inartfully pleaded.” Franklin v. Murphy, 745 F.2d 1221, 1227-28 (9th Cir. 1984) (quotation omitted). Pro se pleadings are liberally construed. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (per curiam). Unless it is clear that no amendment can cure the defects of a complaint, a pro se plaintiff proceeding in forma pauperis is entitled to notice and an opportunity to amend before dismissal. Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987). Because a dismissal pursuant to § 1915(e)(2)(B) is not a dismissal on the merits, but rather an exercise of the court’s discretion under the IFP statute, the dismissal does not prejudice the filing of a paid complaint making the same allegations. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992).

         Additionally, a federal court is a court of limited jurisdiction, and may adjudicate only those cases authorized by the United States Constitution and by Congress. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). The basic federal jurisdiction statutes, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 & 1332, confer “federal question” and “diversity” jurisdiction, respectively. Federal question jurisdiction requires that the complaint (1) arise under a federal law or the Constitution, (2) allege a “case or controversy” within the meaning of Article III, § 2 of the Constitution, or (3) be authorized by a federal statute that both regulates a specific subject matter and confers federal jurisdiction. Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186, 198 (1962). To invoke a federal court’s jurisdiction, a plaintiff must specifically allege facts demonstrating that court has subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1) (a pleading that states a claim for relief must contain “a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction.”). A case presumably lies outside the jurisdiction of the federal courts unless demonstrated otherwise. Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 376-78. Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time by any party or by the court. See Attorneys Tr. v. Videotape Comput. Prods., Inc., 93 F.3d 593, 594-95 (9th Cir. 1996).

         B. Allegations in the FAC

         Plaintiff is a California resident. FAC ¶ 1(a). She alleges she began receiving public assistance for her son through the County of Alameda in 1995, and in 1996, learned a judgment of child support had been entered in her favor, and “an account had been established” in her name to collect child support payments. Id. ¶¶ 4-5. She further alleges the State of California (“Defendant”) collected child support on her behalf, but moved the assets to another account. Id. ¶¶ 7-8. Plaintiff alleges she is owed $347, 000 in child support arrears, but has not “received a cent” of the monies collected by the State in her name. Id. ¶ 7. In 2015, Alameda County sent Plaintiff a letter informing her that, after a 2005 hearing, “it was determined that arrears of $48, 000 was owed to you. We were ordered by the court to set aside those arrears, dismiss and close this case and make no further efforts to collect on those arrears.” Id., Ex. B. Plaintiff characterizes this letter as showing “an error had been made that my judgment of $48, 000 had been paid out in error to the wrong person. The money had been distributed in error by the state.” FAC ¶ 8.

         Based on these facts, Plaintiff alleges Defendant “did not carry out its obligations or administer a program of Child Support Enforcement (CSE) that meets the requirements of Title IV-D of the Social Security Act. The state was not in compliance with the Federal Statu[t]e mandates. The nature of my case is for breach of contract . . . . My claim is for entitlement to money under a Federal Program (Title IV-D of the Social Security Act) which is implemented through grants to the State.” Id. ¶ 3; see also id. ¶ 12. She asserts state law claims for fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, conversion, unjust enrichment, and accounting. See generally FAC.

         Plaintiff alleges federal subject matter jurisdiction exists pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 “to determine whether a state administrative agency correctly interprets State and Federal law and the interpretation of the Title IV-D [of] the Social Security Act presents a federal question.” Id. ¶ 2.

         C. Analysis and Screening

         Having carefully reviewed Plaintiff’s Complaint, the undersigned finds the FAC must be dismissed for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction:

         1. No Federal ...


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