Moore v. Mt. Saint Joseph High School et al
MEMORANDUM. Signed by Judge Catherine C. Blake on 9/29/14. (c/m 9/29/14 ca2s, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
MT. SAINT JOSEPH
HIGH SCHOOL, et al.
Civil No. CCB-14-1788
Thaddeus Moore, Sr., sues Mount Saint Joseph High School (the “School”) and the
Xaverian Brothers Generalate, alleging the School mistreated his son, Thaddeus Moore II, during
Thaddeus II’s time as a student there. The School now seeks dismissal of Moore’s complaint
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). The motion has been fully briefed and no
hearing is necessary to its resolution. See Local Rule 105.5 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons
explained below, it will be granted. Moore’s subsequent motion for summary judgment, the
School’s motion to strike, and Moore’s motion to bring an additional charge of obstruction of
justice will be denied as moot.
Moore’s son, Thaddeus Moore II, is a former student of the School. (Compl. 1). Moore
alleges that the School’s principal harassed his son by, among other things, ordering the School’s
athletic director to withhold playing time from Thaddeus II during school football games, “even
at the critical times when Division I schools . . . noticed Thaddeus and requested his football
highlights and further information about him.” (Id.). After Moore complained to school
authorities, he alleges, those authorities “did everything they could do to prevent Thaddeus
Moore II from obtaining a college scholarship.” (Id. at 2.) Moore “seeks damages for pain and
suffering, emotional distress, and loss of potential future earnings for Thaddeus Moore II in the
amount of $10 Million US Dollars.” (Id.).
A motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) “addresses whether
[the plaintiff] has a right to be in the district court at all and whether the court has the power to
hear and dispose of his claim.” Holloway v. Pagan River Dockside Seafood, Inc., 669 F.3d 448,
452 (4th Cir. 2012). “A defendant may contest subject matter jurisdiction in one of two ways: by
attacking the veracity of the allegations contained in the complaint or by contending that, even
assuming that the allegations are true, the complaint fails to set forth facts upon which
jurisdiction is proper.” Durden v. United States, 736 F.3d 296, 300 (4th Cir. 2013). Here, the
School asserts the second of these two objections, arguing that, on its face, Moore’s complaint
offers no grounds for federal jurisdiction. Accordingly, Moore must be “afforded the same
procedural protection as he would receive under a Rule 12(b)(6) consideration,” meaning that
“the facts in the complaint are taken as true, and the motion must be denied if the complaint
alleges sufficient facts to invoke subject matter jurisdiction.” Kerns v. United States, 585 F.3d
187, 192 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).
“Federal courts are courts of limited subject matter jurisdiction, and as such there is no
presumption that the court has jurisdiction.” Pinkley, Inc. v. City of Frederick, Md., 191 F.3d
394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999). “There are three possible bases for a federal district court’s exercise of
jurisdiction over a given case: (1) jurisdiction under a specific statutory grant; (2) federal
question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331; or (3) diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1332(a).” Choice Hotels Int’l, Inc. v. Felizardo, 278 F. Supp. 2d 590, 592 (D. Md.
2003). “[T]he facts providing the court jurisdiction must be affirmatively alleged in the
complaint,” as Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(1) requires. Pinkley, 191 F.3d at 399.
Specifically, that Rule commands plaintiffs to include in their complaints “a short and plain
statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction, unless the court already has jurisdiction and
the claim needs no new jurisdictional support.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(1). Although Moore’s
complaint lacks any such “short and plain statement of the grounds for the court’s jurisdiction,”
that omission alone is not fatal, for the court may still wield “jurisdiction if the facts supporting
jurisdiction have been clearly pleaded,” Pinkley, 191 F.3d at 399. Such leniency is especially
appropriate where, as here, a layperson files suit without the aid of counsel, because “a pro se
complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v.
Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)). Even under this lenient standard, Moore’s complaint fails to
assert any basis for the exercise of jurisdiction over his case.
As to diversity jurisdiction, 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1) conditions jurisdiction on the
complete diversity of the parties; “the presence in the action of a single plaintiff from the same
State as a single defendant deprives the district court of original diversity jurisdiction over the
entire action.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 553 (2005). Moore’s
complaint indicates that all the parties are Maryland citizens. (Compl. 1; Civil Cover Sheet 1,
ECF No. 1-20.) That circumstance precludes the exercise of diversity jurisdiction.
Instead, Moore stakes his claim on this court’s federal question jurisdiction. In his
response to the School’s motion to dismiss, Moore asserts, for the first time, that his claims
sound in 42 U.S.C. § 1983, triggering jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(3). Perhaps
the omission of any express reference to Section 1983 in Moore’s complaint could be excused,
on the ground that the facts of his complaint clearly expressed such a claim, see, e.g., Pinkley,
191 F.3d at 399, or that “this Court has ‘not been put to great effort to ascertain the matters upon
which the jurisdiction depends and see[s] no point in requiring the [plaintiff] to further amend,’”
Ulman v. Boulevard Enters., Inc., 638 F. Supp. 813, 815–16 (D. Md. 1986) (alterations in
original) (quoting Arndt v. Bank of Am., 48 F. Supp. 961, 964 (N.D. Cal. 1943)), especially given
his pro se status. Even assuming, however, that Moore had expressly invoked Section 1983 in
his complaint, that claim is so insubstantial that it cannot support the exercise of this court’s
“Federal jurisdiction requires that a party assert a substantial federal claim.” Lovern v.
Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Davis v Pak, 856 F.2d 648, 650 (4th Cir.
1988)). “A claim is insubstantial only if ‘its unsoundness so clearly results from the previous
decisions of this court as to foreclose the subject and leave no room for the inference that the
questions sought to be raised can be the subject of controversy.’” Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S.
528, 538 (1974) (quoting Ex parte Poresky, 290 U.S. 30, 32 (1933)). This prohibition against
insubstantial federal questions guards against opportunistic invocation of federal law “as a
pretext to allow a state-law issue, the real focus of the claim, to be litigated in the federal
system.” Lovern, 190 F.3d at 655.
The trouble with Moore’s belated invocation of Section 1983 lies in the absence of
anything in his complaint resembling the misuse of state authority, which the statute requires.
“A federal civil rights claim based upon § 1983 has two essential elements: ‘[A] plaintiff must
allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must
show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.’”
Crosby v. City of Gastonia, 635 F.3d 634, 639 (4th Cir. 2011) (alteration in original) (quoting
West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)). Nothing in Moore’s complaint so much as hints at this
second element, which courts sometimes refer to as the “color of law” requirement.
Section 1983 remedies only conduct under color of state law, a legal term of art
synonymous with “state action. “[M]erely private conduct, no matter how discriminatory or
wrongful[,] fails to qualify as state action . . . . [P]rivate activity will generally not be deemed
‘state action’ unless the state has so dominated such activity as to convert it to state action.”
Philips v. Pitt Cnty. Mem’l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 181 (4th Cir. 2009) (first alteration in original)
(internal citations and quotation marks omitted). This limitation on Section 1983 “maintain[s]
the Bill of Rights as a shield that protects private citizens from the excesses of government,
rather than a sword that they may use to impose liability upon one another.” Id. (quoting Holly
v. Scott, 434 F.3d 287, 292 (4th Cir. 2006)).
Here, Moore sues a private parochial school and the private religious order that sponsors
it.1 The private character of these defendants is not, in itself, conclusive. This is so because
private conduct sometimes satisfies the color of law requirement where, for example, “there is a
sufficiently close nexus” between the allegedly wrongful private conduct and the state; where a
state agency relies “symbiotic[ly]” on a private entity for funding; or where the private entity
Although Moore’s complaint does not expressly indicate whether the School and the Xaverian Brothers
Generalate are private or public entities, a court considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) may consider facts of
which it “may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007).
Insofar as parallel procedural protections apply to motions under 12(b)(6) and those under 12(b)(1) premised on the
facial insufficiency of a complaint , see Kerns, 585 F.3d at 192, judicial notice of the private character of the
institutions Moore sues here—which is generally known in this jurisdiction, Fed. R. Evid. 201(b)(1)—is proper.
exercises “powers traditionally exclusively reserved to the state.” Philips, 572 F.3d at 181–82
(internal citations and quotation marks omitted) (collecting cases). Moore’s complaint, however,
is devoid of anything indicating that the conduct of which he complains is attributable to the
state. The private character of the entities Moore sues, combined with the absence of anything so
much as suggesting state action in his complaint, makes Moore’s Section 1983 claim too
insubstantial to support jurisdiction.
Moore’s belated invocation of Section 1983 confirms the propriety of applying the
insubstantiality doctrine to his case. True, that doctrine is disfavored and thus applied sparingly.
See, e.g., Rosado v. Wyman, 397 U.S. 397, 404 (1970); Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682–83
(1946); In re Larch, 872 F.2d 66, 68 (4th Cir. 1989); cf. Yazoo Cnty. Indus. Dev. Corp. v.
Suthoff, 454 U.S. 1157, 1160–61 (1982) (Rehnquist, J., dissenting from denial of certiorari).
“But it remains the federal rule,” Hagans, 415 U.S. at 538, and its significance lies largely in
preventing the pretextual invocation of federal jurisdiction, see, e.g., Lovern, 180 F.3d at 654.
Where, as here, a plaintiff cites for the first time a federal statute, with little application to the
facts alleged in his complaint, in response to a motion to dismiss for want of subject matter
jurisdiction, it gives rise to an inference of pretext.2
In its opposition to Moore’s motion to bring an additional charge, the School requests attorney’s fees
under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) on the basis of the frivolous character of Moore’s claims. (ECF No. 12.) That request
does not arise in a separate motion and accompanying memorandum, as Local Rule 109.2 requires. “Accordingly,
the matter is not yet ripe for decision.” TFWS, Inc. v. Schaefer, 315 F. Supp. 2d 775, 782 n.10 (D. Md. 2004), rev’d
on other grounds, 147 F. App’x 330 (4th Cir. 2005); accord Am. Med. Sec., Inc. v. Barlett, 915 F. Supp. 740, 747
(D. Md. 1996).
Compliance with these procedural safeguards, which afford the opposing party an adequate opportunity to
respond to a demand for fees, is especially important here, insofar as dismissal for want of subject matter
jurisdiction may not merit attorney’s fees. Section 1988(b) authorizes a court to award “a reasonable attorney’s fee”
to “the prevailing party.” 42 U.S.C. § 1983(b). A “prevailing party” is one whose lawsuit has generated a “material
alteration of the legal relationship of the parties.” Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Va. Dept’ of Health &
Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 604 (2001) (quoting Tex. State Teachers Ass’n v. Garland Indep. Sch. Dist., 489 U.S.
782, 692–93 (1989)). Such an alteration arises where a party wins an “enforceable judgment on the merits [or a]
court-ordered consent decree.” Id. at 605. Noting a circuit split on the issue, the Fourth Circuit has twice reserved
For the reasons stated above, the School’s motion will be granted and Moore’s complaint
will be dismissed without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.3
A separate order follows.
September 29, 2014
Catherine C. Blake
United States District Judge
determining whether, under Section 1988(b), “a defendant that successfully moves for dismissal for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction can ever be a prevailing party under this definition.” S. Walk at Broadlands Homeowner’s Ass’n
Inc. v. OpenBand at Broadlands, LLC, 713 F.3d 175, 186 n.5 (4th Cir. 2013); see also Wendt v. Leonard, 431 F.3d
410, 414 (4th Cir. 2005). Notwithstanding its express reservation of that question, Southern Walk all but answered
it. That case held that a litigant did not qualify as a “prevailing party,” under a fee-shifting provision in a private
contract, when it obtained a dismissal for want of standing, reasoning that such a dismissal “does not constitute a
determination on the merits.” Southern Walk, 713 F.3d at 186.
It appears Moore has not served the Xaverian Brothers Generalate with process. The analysis applicable
to Moore’s claims against the School applies equally to his claims against the Xaverian Brothers Generalate. His
claims against the Xaverian Brothers Generalate are thus also dismissed without prejudice.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?