Hoffmann et al v. Posadas et al
OPINION AND ORDER granting 7 Motion to Dismiss Case and denying 20 Motion for Sanctions. Signed by Honorable Timothy L. Brooks on December 16, 2015. (tg)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS
JO ANN HOFFMANN and
CASE NO. 5:15-CV-5145
CRYSTAL A. POSADAS ,
ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY,
TYLER OTT, and
OPINION AND ORDER
Currently before the Court are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint
(Doc. 7) and Brief in Support (Doc. 8), and Plaintiffs' Response (Doc. 13); and
Defendants' Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 20). For the reasons given below, Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED , and Defendants' Motion for Sanctions is DENIED .
I. MOTION TO DISMISS
On July 1, 2015 , Plaintiff Jo Ann Hoffmann 1 initiated this lawsuit by filing a 12-page
Complaint, accompanied by 93 pages of exhibits . Her grievance appears to concern an
insurance dispute arising from personal injuries Ms. Hoffmann allegedly suffered from an
automobile wreck with Defendant Crystal A. Posadas. Defendants moved to dismiss Ms.
Hoffmann's Complaint on the grounds, inter alia , that this Court lacks subject-matter
Although Ms. Hoffmann , who appears prose , lists Hanover Insurance as a co-Plaintiff
in the caption of her Complaint, the Court is not aware of anything in the record that would
indicate that Hanover Insurance is actually aware of or participating in these proceedings.
jurisdiction. This Court agrees that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction , and therefore Ms.
Hoffmann 's Complaint will be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE.
When , as here , a defendant challenges subject-matter jurisdiction through a Rule
12(b)(1) motion , "the question may be resolved either on the face of the pleadings or upon
factual determinations made in consideration of matters outside of the pleadings."
Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Div. of Intern. Broth. of Teamsters v.
Union Pacific R. Co. , 475 F. Supp . 2d 819 , 834-35 (N.D. Iowa 2007) (citing Titus v.
Sullivan , 4 F.3d 590 , 593 (8th Cir. 1993); Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 &
n.6 (8th Cir. 1990)).
The Court will resolve the instant question on the face of the
pleadings, and therefore for purposes of this Motion accepts all factual allegations in the
Complaint as true and draws all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. Id.
There are two types of subject-matter jurisdiction : "federal question" jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 , and "diversity" jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Neither
exists here. Ms. Hoffmann argues that federal question jurisdiction exists pursuant to the
First Amendment to the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2). However,
an essential element of a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(2)-or, for that matter, under
§ 1985(3)-is that "there must be some racial , or perhaps otherwise class-based ,
invidiously discriminatory animus behind the conspirators' action. " Coleman v. Garber,
800 F.2d 188, 190 (8th Cir. 1986) (quoting Kush v. Rutledge , 460 U.S. 719 , 724-26
(1983)). Ms. Hoffmann has not alleged in her Complaint that she was the victim of any
sort of class-based discrimination. And even if the Complaint were generously construed
to be seeking vindication of Ms. Hoffmann 's First Amendment rights through some other
avenue , such as 42 U.S.C. § 1985(1) or§ 1983, the Complaint would nevertheless fail to
plead sufficient facts to support subject-matter jurisdiction , as none of the defendants in
this case are alleged to have been "acting under color of state law. " Roe v. Humke , 128
F.3d 1213, 1215 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42 , 48 (1988)). 2
As for diversity jurisdiction , it cannot exist unless there is complete diversity among
the parties and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000 .00 . OnePoint Solutions, LLC
v. Borchert, 486 F.3d 342 , 346 (8th Cir. 2007). "Complete diversity of citizenship exists
where no defendant holds citizenship in the same state where any plaintiff holds
citizenship ." Id. (citing Owen Equip . & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365 , 373 (1978)).
Here, Ms. Hoffmann has not alleged that either of these prerequisites for diversity
jurisdiction are satisfied. The Complaint contains no allegations whatsoever regarding
citizenship of the parties, and the only discernible allegation of damages is in the amount
of $2,430 .00 . As the Complaint has failed to allege facts that would support subjectmatter jurisdiction , dismissal of the Complaint without prejudice is appropriate under Fed .
R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1).
II. MOTION FOR SANCTIONS
In Plaintiffs' Response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss , Ms. Hoffmann made
various statements to which counsel for Defendants, Justin Bennett, took exception .
Generally speaking, these statements explicitly or implicitly accused Mr. Bennett of
violating the Model Rules of Professional Conduct and assisting his clients in the
commission of unspecified crimes. These allegations do not appear to be founded on
anything other than the fact that Mr. Bennett was one of the attorneys who signed , and
Ms. Hoffmann also contends that subject-matter jurisdiction exists under 18 U.S.C.
§ 1001. This is a criminal statute that does not contain any language providing a private
right of action to civil litigants.
presumably drafted , Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. On November 19, 2015 , Mr. Bennett
sent Ms. Hoffmann a letter informing her that he believed her statements were
"unacceptable and unfounded comments and aspersions" against his character in
violation of Fed . R. Civ. P. 11 (b ), and that if she did not withdraw her Response and file
a new one removing the inappropriate comments within 21 days , that he would file a
motion for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11 (c)(2).
Ms. Hoffmann did not withdraw her
Response ; accordingly, Defendants filed their Motion for Sanctions on December 11 ,
One day prior to the filing of the Motion for Sanctions, Ms. Hoffmann argued in a
filing with this Court that the threat of sanctions was improper, stating:
On 11 /19/15 , defense counsel mailed a letter to me , with a note penned at
the top of his motion for sanctions, which indicates he has not filed the
motion . As of 11 /19/15 . . .. His letter of 11 /19/15 , however is received . . .
as a threat to fair counsel interaction. . . . For this reason , I was not
comfortable responding jointly [in the Rule 26(f) report] , and have attempted
to comply in spite of this warning that if I don't change my words, I will be
moved for sanctions. It appears one more cause for impropriety. . . . I
apologize , but I am unskilled , and it seems to this "ordinary folk" that lawyers
can not blame me for failure of their clients, without crossing the thin line of
(Doc. 19, p. 3) . It appears to the Court that while some of the remarks in Ms. Hoffman n's
Response were in vio lation of Rule 11 (b ), this violation was a result at least in part, of Ms.
Hoffmann's misunderstanding of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and of the role that
attorneys play in representing their clients before the Court.
The Court is therefore
unwilling at this time to impose sanctions on Ms. Hoffmann , and will instead simply
admonish her that she must not make accusations of wrongdoing in court filings unless
those accusations "have evidentiary support or, if specifically so identified , will likely have
evidentiary support after a reasonable opportunity for further investigation or discovery. "
Rule 11(b)(3). The Court would furthermore instruct Ms. Hoffmann that there is nothing
inherently inappropriate or unlawful about an attorney making good-faith legal arguments
on behalf of his client in court filings . Finally, the Court observes that it will likely be much
less inclined to show leniency if Ms. Hoffmann commits any further violations of Rule
11 (b) in this case or in any other cases. Although Defendants' Motion for Sanctions is
DENIED, the Court will strike the offending passages from Plaintiffs' Response that were
identified in paragraph 3 of Defendants' Motion for Sanctions.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs'
Complaint (Doc. 7) is GRANTED, and Plaintiffs' Complaint (Doc. 1) is DISMISSED
WITHOUT PREJUDICE pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendants' Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 20)
IT IS SO ORDERED on
this ~ day of Decem
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