SYMONETTE v. USA
UNPUBLISHED OPINION DISMISSING CASE. The Court DISMISSES Plaintiff's complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to RCFC 12(h)(3). The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter JUDGMENT for the government, dismissing the case. Signed by Judge Matthew H. Solomson. (ab) Service on parties made.
In the United States Court of Federal Claims
(Filed: November 13, 2023)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
VEDRICK L. SYMONETTE,
THE UNITED STATES,
Vedrick L. Symonette, Bristol, FL, pro se.
Laura O. Aradi, Civil Division, United States Department of Justice, Washington, D.C., for
OPINION AND ORDER
On October 30, 2023, Plaintiff, Vedrick Symonette, proceeding pro se, filed a
complaint against Defendant, the United States, in this Court. ECF No. 1 (“Compl.”). Mr.
Symonette contends that he is the copyright owner of his name, “Vedrick Lamont
Symonette” and alleges that the Federal Government has infringed upon his intellectual
property rights by retaining materials that possess Plaintiff’s name, such as Plaintiff’s
driver’s license and birth certificate. Id. at 2-3. Plaintiff seeks five million dollars in
damages. Id. at 4.
Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, and this Court generally holds a pro se plaintiff’s
pleadings to “less stringent standards.” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per
curiam). The Court, however, “may not . . . take a liberal view of [a] jurisdictional
requirement and set a different rule for pro se litigants only.” Kelley v. Sec’y of Dep’t of
Labor, 812 F.2d 1378, 1380 (Fed. Cir. 1987). In other words, even a pro se plaintiff “bears
the burden of proving that the Court of Federal Claims possesse[s] jurisdiction over his
complaint.” Sanders v. United States, 252 F.3d 1329, 1333 (Fed. Cir. 2001); see also Colbert v.
United States, 617 F. App’x 981, 983 (Fed. Cir. 2015) (“No plaintiff, pro se or otherwise,
may be excused from the burden of meeting the court’s jurisdictional requirements.”). In
the absence of subject-matter jurisdiction, the Court “must dismiss the action.” Rule
12(h)(3) of the Rules of the United States Court of Federal Claims (“RCFC”); see also Kissi
v. United States, 493 F. App’x 57, 58 (Fed. Cir. 2012) (“If the Court of Federal Claims
determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, it must dismiss the claim.” (citing
Generally, “[t]he jurisdiction of the Court of Federal Claims is defined by the
Tucker Act, which gives the court authority to render judgment on certain monetary
claims against the United States.” RadioShack Corp. v. United States, 566 F.3d 1358, 1360
(Fed. Cir. 2009) (citing 28 U.S.C. § 1491(a)(1)). The Tucker Act provides this Court with
jurisdiction to decide “actions pursuant to contracts with the United States, actions to
recover illegal exactions of money by the United States, and actions brought pursuant to
money-mandating statutes, regulations, executive orders, or constitutional provisions.”
Roth v. United States, 378 F.3d 1371, 1384 (Fed. Cir. 2004). The Tucker Act, however, “does
not create a substantive cause of action.” Fisher v. United States, 402 F.3d 1167, 1172 (Fed.
Cir. 2005) (en banc). Rather, “a plaintiff must [also] identify a separate source of
substantive law that creates the right to money damages.” Id. (citing United States v.
Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 216 (1983); United States v. Testan, 424 U.S. 392, 398 (1976)).
Moreover, “[n]ot every claim invoking the Constitution, a federal statute, or a regulation
is cognizable under the Tucker Act.” Mitchell, 463 U.S. at 216. With respect to “moneymandating” claims, the plaintiff must identify a law that “can fairly be interpreted as
mandating compensation by the Federal Government for the damage
sustained.” Eastport S.S. Corp. v. United States, 372 F.2d 1002, 1009 (Ct. Cl. 1967).
For the reason explained below, the Court dismisses Plaintiff’s complaint, sua
sponte, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to RCFC 12(h)(3). See Folden v.
United States, 379 F.3d 1344, 1354 (Fed. Cir. 2004) (“Subject-matter jurisdiction may be
challenged at any time by the parties or by the court sua sponte.” (citing Fanning, Phillips
& Molnar v. West, 160 F.3d 717, 720 (Fed. Cir. 1998))).
Mr. Symonette asserts copyright ownership of his own name and contends that
the Federal Government’s retention of government documents bearing his name
constitutes a violation of copyright law. For this alleged violation, Mr. Symonette claims
to be entitled to five million dollars in damages. Although Plaintiff alleged a copyright
claim, and government copyright claims generally fall within this Court’s jurisdiction, “a
plaintiff must show ownership of a valid copyright and copying of the protected work.”
See 28 U.S.C. § 1498(b); see Blueport Co., LLP v. United States, 76 Fed. Cl. 702, 709 (2007)
(citing Feist Publ’ns, Inc. v. Rural Tel. Serv. Co., 499 U.S. 340, 361 (1991)), aff’d, 533 F.3d 1374
(Fed. Cir. 2008).
Plaintiff’s claim is patently frivolous as it is not possible, as a matter of law, to
possess copyright ownership over one’s name. Miles v. United States, 2014 WL 5020574,
at *3 (Fed. Cl. Oct. 6, 2014) (“This court has considered similar claims alleging a copyright
of a plaintiff’s name and has rejected them for lack of jurisdiction.”). In fact, the Code of
Federal Regulations appears to preclude copyrighting a name. See 37 C.F.R. § 202.1
(“Material not subject to copyright”). Moreover, this Court has consistently rejected
similar frivolous claims filed by other pro se litigants. See, e.g., Rivera v. United States, 105
Fed. Cl. 644, 649–50 (2012) (dismissing for lack of jurisdiction a contract claim founded
on the prisoner’s birth certificate, social security number, and his name which was
asserted to be a “common-law-copyrighted trade-name/trademark”); cf. Gravatt v. United
States, 100 Fed. Cl. 279, 288 (2011) (dismissing a prisoner claim for lack of jurisdiction
because it was founded on a “patently frivolous” allegation that his birth certificate and
other documents entitled him to the proceeds of an unsubstantiated trust account at the
United States Treasury). Accordingly, this Court lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claim
in this case.
For the reasons explained above, this Court hereby DISMISSES Plaintiff’s
complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to RCFC 12(h)(3). The Clerk of
the Court is directed to enter JUDGMENT for the government.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/Matthew H. Solomson
Matthew H. Solomson
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