COZATT v. KASSIS
ORDER - Ms. Cozatt's request to proceed in forma pauperis, dkt. 2 , is GRANTED. However, after screening the complaint, the Court determines that it must DISMISS the complaint for failure to state a claim. Ms. Cozatt has until October 17, 2022, to show cause why judgment consistent with this order should not issue. Copy to plaintiff via US Mail. Signed by Judge James Patrick Hanlon on 9/16/2022. (KAA)
Case 1:22-cv-01809-JPH-MPB Document 4 Filed 09/16/22 Page 1 of 4 PageID #: 13
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
TRACY JEANETTE COZATT,
JOHN A. KASSIS,
Tracy Cozatt filed a pro se complaint against John Kassis, asserting that
her constitutional rights were violated in a divorce and custody dispute. Dkt.
1. Ms. Cozatt has also filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, dkt. ,
which is granted. However, Ms. Cozatt's complaint fails to state a claim upon
which relief may be granted and must be dismissed. See dkt. 1.
Ms. Cozatt's motion to proceed in forma pauperis is GRANTED. Dkt. .
See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). While in forma pauperis status allows Ms. Cozatt to
proceed without prepaying the filing fee, she remains liable for the full fees.
Ross v. Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, 748 F. App'x 64, 65 (7th Cir.
Jan. 15, 2019) ("Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a), a district court may allow a litigant
to proceed 'without prepayment of fees,' . . . but not without ever paying fees.").
No payment is due at this time.
Case 1:22-cv-01809-JPH-MPB Document 4 Filed 09/16/22 Page 2 of 4 PageID #: 14
A. Screening standard
The Court has the inherent authority to screen Ms. Cozatt's complaint.
Rowe v. Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 783 (7th Cir. 1999) ("[D]istrict courts have the
power to screen complaints filed by all litigants, prisoners and non-prisoners
alike, regardless of fee status."). The Court may dismiss claims within a
complaint that fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. See id.
In determining whether the complaint states a claim, the Court applies the
same standard as when addressing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Cesal v. Moats, 851 F.3d 714, 720 (7th Cir. 2017).
To survive dismissal,
[the] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is
plausible on its face. A claim has facial plausibility
when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the
court to draw the reasonable inference that the
defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Pro se complaints are
construed liberally and held to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings
drafted by lawyers. Perez v. Fenoglio, 792 F.3d 768, 776 (7th Cir. 2015).
B. The complaint
Ms. Cozatt brings this claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Mr.
Kassis violated the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S.
Constitution. Dkt. 1 at 2. She also appears to allege state-law malpractice and
defamation claims. Id. Ms. Cozatt states that Mr. Kassis, her spouse's divorce
Case 1:22-cv-01809-JPH-MPB Document 4 Filed 09/16/22 Page 3 of 4 PageID #: 15
lawyer, led vexatious litigation, caused a false arrest, and failed to adequately
protect her child. Id. Mr. Kassis allegedly colluded with Ms. Cozatt's attorney,
leading to her loss of custody of her son. Id. at 5. For these claims, Ms. Cozatt
seeks $80,000 in damages, a published retraction of defamation, and the
return of her son. Id. at 3–4.
To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a
right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and must show
that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of
state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Generally, "a private
attorney, while participating in the trial of private state court action, is not
acting under color of state law." Hansen v. Ahlgrimm, 520 F.2d 768, 770 (7th
Cir. 1975) (holding that a private divorce attorney was not acting under color of
state law). The only exception is if a private attorney was "engaged in a
conspiracy with state officials to deprive another of federal rights." Campos v.
Cook Cnty., 932 F.3d 972, 978 (7th Cir. 2019) (quoting Tower v. Glover, 467
U.S. 914, 920 (1984)).
Here, Ms. Cozatt brings a claim under § 1983 against a private attorney,
but does not allege that he was acting under color of state law, see Hansen,
520 F.2d at 770, or that he was "engaged in a conspiracy with state officials" to
deprive her of federal rights, see Campos, 932 F.2d at 978. Therefore, the
Case 1:22-cv-01809-JPH-MPB Document 4 Filed 09/16/22 Page 4 of 4 PageID #: 16
complaint fails to state a claim for relief, and this action against Mr. Kassis
must be dismissed. 1
For the reasons stated above, Ms. Cozatt's request to proceed in forma
pauperis, dkt. , is GRANTED. However, after screening the complaint, the
Court determines that it must DISMISS the complaint for failure to state a
claim. Ms. Cozatt has until October 17, 2022, to show cause why judgment
consistent with this order should not issue.
TRACY JEANETTE COZATT
6770 E. Pleasant Run Pkwy N. Dr.
Indianapolis, IN 46219
Since Ms. Cozatt's § 1983 claim is being dismissed, her state-law claims of malpractice and
defamation must be dismissed as well. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) (only providing supplemental
jurisdiction when courts have original jurisdiction over the action). Those state-law claims will
be dismissed without prejudice, so they may be raised in state court.
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