Jennings v. Stokes
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER re: 2 Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis filed by Donald Jennings ; Dismissing without prejudice 1 Complaint. Signed by Judge Richard D. Bennett on 11/21/2022. (c/m 11/21/2022 bas, Deputy Clerk)
Case 1:22-cv-02860-RDB Document 5 Filed 11/21/22 Page 1 of 4
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
Civil Action No.: RDB-22-2860
ERIN STOKES/BUNGARRA LLC,
Self-represented Plaintiff Donald Jennings filed the above-captioned Complaint along with
a Motion for Leave to Proceed in Forma Pauperis on November 3, 2022. ECF Nos. 1, 2. For the
reasons that follow, the Complaint must be dismissed.
Jennings alleges that his property was illegally foreclosed upon after a tax delinquency sale
and he was subsequently evicted by Defendant Stokes. ECF No. 1 at 6. He claims that Mr. Stokes
threatened him, disposed of Jennings’ personal property, and interrupted his mail. Id. He seeks
to have his property and equity in that property returned. Id. at 7.
This Court is mindful of its obligation to liberally construe the pleadings of self-represented
litigants, such as the instant Complaint. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In
evaluating such a complaint, the factual allegations are assumed to be true. Id. at 93 (citing Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555–56 (2007)). Nonetheless, liberal construction does not
mean that this Court can ignore a clear failure in the pleadings to allege facts which set forth a
cognizable claim. See Weller v. Dep’t of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990).
Under the “well-pleaded complaint” rule, the facts showing the existence of subject matter
jurisdiction “must be affirmatively alleged in the complaint.” Pinkley, Inc. v. City of Frederick,
191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing McNutt v. Gen’l Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178
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(1936)). “A court is to presume, therefore, that a case lies outside its limited jurisdiction unless
and until jurisdiction has been shown to be proper.” United States v. Poole, 531 F.3d 263, 274
(4th Cir. 2008) (citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). Moreover,
the “burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction is on . . . the party asserting jurisdiction.”
Robb Evans & Assocs., LLC v. Holibaugh, 609 F.3d 359, 362 (4th Cir. 2010); accord Hertz v.
Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 96 (2010); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010).
Jennings states that the Court has both federal question and diversity jurisdiction over this
claim. ECF No. 1 at 4. To provide a federal forum for plaintiffs who seek to vindicate federal
rights, Congress has conferred on the district courts original jurisdiction over civil actions that
arise under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States. 28 U.S.C. § 1331; Exxon Mobil
Corp. v. Allapattah Services, Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005). Further, under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a),
district courts are granted “supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to
claims in the action within [the courts’] original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case
or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.” Section 1367 does not create
an independent cause of action. Rather, § 1367 allows a court to exercise supplemental jurisdiction
over state law claims, but only where the Complaint also pleads related federal claims.
Here, Jennings asserts that the federal question at issue is whether Defendant has the proper
citizenship to legally foreclose upon his property. See ECF No. 1 at 4. However, this does not
state a claim under a federal statute or the Constitution. Even liberally construing the Complaint
as a challenge to the foreclosure of his property more generally and his subsequent eviction,
foreclosure and eviction actions brought under state law do not raise a federal cause of action. As
such, the Complaint does not establish federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
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There is also no basis for diversity jurisdiction in this case. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332,
diversity jurisdiction exists when the parties are of diverse citizenship and the amount in
controversy exceeds $75,000. See Stouffer Corp. v. Breckenridge, 859 F.2d 75, 76 (8th Cir. 1988);
McDonald v. Patton, 240 F.2d 424, 425-26 (4th Cir. 1957). As both parties reside in Maryland,
there is no diversity between the parties to confer jurisdiction upon the Court.
Without a jurisdictional basis for suit in federal court, Jennings’ claim is factually and
legally without merit. Such lawsuits are subject to dismissal pursuant to the Court’s inherent
authority. The federal rules require dismissal anytime there is a determination that there is no
jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) (“If the court determines at any time that it lacks subjectmatter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.”). Dismissal is appropriate here, given the
lack of federal jurisdiction.
Additionally, pursuant to local rules, all parties have an affirmative duty to inform this
Court of any change of address during the pendency of their actions. See Local Rule 102.1.b.iii.
(D. Md. 2021). On November 3, 2022, a copy of the New Case Notification Letter was mailed to
Jennings at the address he provided in his Complaint. ECF No. 3. On November 10, 2022, the
mail was returned and marked “vacant unable to forward.” ECF No. 4. Jennings has changed his
address and no notice has been received from him indicating where he may now be reached.
Consequently, dismissal is also appropriate on this ground.
Accordingly, it is this 21st day of November, 2022, by the United States District Court for
the District of Maryland, hereby ORDERED that:
1. Jennings’ Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (ECF No. 2) IS GRANTED;
2. The Complaint IS DISMISSED without prejudice for lack of subject matter
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3. The Clerk SHALL MAIL a copy of this Order to Jennings at his last known address
and CLOSE this case.
RICHARD D. BENNETT
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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