Harris v. United States et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION Signed by Judge William M Acker, Jr on 12/14/15. (SAC )
2015 Dec-14 PM 02:49
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
VERONICA EDWARDS HARRIS,
UNITED STATES and CLERK OF
COURT NORTHERN DISTRICT OF
CIVIL ACTION NO.
Before the court is the motion of plaintiff Veronica Edwards
Harris for leave to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. 2). The said
motion will by separate order be granted. The granting of the
motion, however, imposes a duty upon the court to review Harris’s
complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which requires the court to
dismiss the action if it “is frivolous,” “fails to state a claim on
which relief may be granted,” or “seeks monetary relief against a
Harris’s allegations stem from her previous lawsuit filed on
September 26, 2014, Harris v. United States, Civil Action No. 2:14cv-1830-LSC (N.D. Ala.), in which she paid the full filing fee.
Harris alleged in that case that she was sexually assaulted during
a 1999 visit to the VA Hospital in Birmingham and that the United
States failed to properly investigate her claims. (Doc. 1 at 9-13).
Her earlier complaint was filed on a pro se litigant form provided
to her by the clerk, which instructed her to state the facts of her
case “as briefly as possible.” (Doc. 1 at 10). The magistrate
judge, upon motion by the United States and after considering
Harris’s response, recommended dismissal of the action, primarily
upon a finding that the action was untimely under the Federal Tort
Claims Act. The district judge, over Harris’s objection, dismissed
the action. Harris appealed, again paying the full filing fee, and
the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal on October 1, 2015.
Harris initiated this action against the United States and the
Clerk of Court of the Northern District of Alabama on December 8,
2015, claiming that the clerk’s pro se litigant complaint form
deprived her of due process, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
because it instructed her to be brief and therefore prevented her
from presenting all of her relevant evidence. Harris contends that
defendants’ retention of her filing fees is fraudulent, and she
demands a refund of the fees plus $100,000 in damages. (Doc. 1 at
The court concludes, for several reasons, that the current
action is due to be dismissed. First, Harris purports to bring this
action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, but that statute is inapplicable to
defendants. Section 1983 only imposes liability for actions taken
under color of state law. Defendants are federal actors, not acting
under color of state law, so they “are at least facially exempt
from [the] proscriptions [of § 1983].” District of Columbia v.
Carter, 409 U.S. 418, 424-25 (1973). Therefore, because defendants
are not subject to suit under § 1983, the only basis for a cause of
action alluded to by Harris in her complaint, the action is due to
Second, defendants’ sovereign immunity forecloses this action.
States, as sovereign, is immune from suit, save as it consents to
be sued . . . and the terms of its consent to be sued in any court
define that court's jurisdiction to entertain the suit.’” United
States v. Dalm, 494 U.S. 596, 608 (1990) (quoting United States v.
Testan, 424 U.S. 392, 399 (1976)) (internal quotations omitted). “A
waiver of the Federal Government’s sovereign immunity must be
unequivocally expressed in statutory text . . . .” Lane v. Pena,
518 U.S. 187, 192 (1996) (emphasis added). The clerk, as a federal
officer, is entitled to the same grant of immunity “if ‘the
judgment sought would expend itself on the public treasury or
domain.’” Dugan v. Rank, 372 U.S. 609, 620 (1963) (quoting Land v.
Dollar, 330 U.S. 731, 738 (1947)). Harris has not demonstrated, and
the court cannot locate, an express waiver of sovereign immunity
for suits brought under § 1983, particularly because the United
States and federal officers are not subject to suit under that
statute in the first place. Harris seeks no remedy other than
monetary damages. Accordingly, both defendants are immune from
suit, requiting that the action be dismissed.
Finally, dismissal is called for because Harris has not
alleged any violation of her constitutional right to due process.
The “fundamental requirement of due process is ‘the opportunity to
be heard,’” Armstrong v. Manzo, 380 U.S. 545, 552 (1965) (quoting
Grannis v. Ordean, 234 U.S. 385, 394 (1914)), but she has in no way
been deprived of that opportunity by the clerk’s pro se litigant
complaint form. Harris was not required to use the form, as
evidenced by the fact that she used no such form to file this
action. And while the complaint form does instruct plaintiffs using
it to state the facts of their case “as briefly as possible,” this
is merely a non-binding admonition since the form also states that
additional pages may be attached if necessary. (Doc. 1 at 10). Most
fundamentally, Harris was given ample opportunity to set forth her
claims and demonstrate entitlement to relief. She was given an
opportunity to respond, and actually did respond, to both the
motion of the United States for dismissal and the magistrate
judge’s recommendation of dismissal. Dismissal was ordered, not
because she failed to submit sufficient evidence, but primarily
because her suit was time-barred under the Federal Tort Claims Act.
As shown by the Eleventh Circuit’s rejection of her equitable
tolling argument, no amount of unpresented evidence would have
prevented dismissal of her action.
Accordingly, Harris’s action will be dismissed under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915 by separate order.
DONE this 14th day of December, 2015.
WILLIAM M. ACKER, JR.
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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