Allen v. Wash, et al
Memorandum of Opinion and Order For the reasons set forth herein, this action is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court certifies, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that an appeal from this decision could not be taken in good faith. Judge Benita Y. Pearson on 9/8/2021. (JLG)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
BRANDON M. ALLEN,
JANET WASH, et al.,
CASE NO. 4:21CV845
JUDGE BENITA Y. PEARSON
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND
Pro se Plaintiff Brandon M. Allen filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Janet
Wash, Danyel Turner, and Staffmark Investments, LLC. In the Complaint (ECF No. 1), Plaintiff
alleges that Janet Wash and Danyel Turner have accused him of fathering their children and have
attempted to collect child support from him. Plaintiff also claims that Staffmark Investments,
LLC has attempted to garnish his wages. He appears to seek declaratory, injunctive, and
monetary relief. Plaintiff also filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2), that
the Court has granted by separate order.
Plaintiff’s Complaint is brief. Plaintiff states that he is an inmate presently incarcerated
at the Ohio State Penitentiary in Youngstown, Ohio. He alleges that two women who live in
Cincinnati, Ohio have “repeatedly” accused him of “impregnating” them and they attempted to
obtain child support from him. ECF No. 1 at PageID # 2. He also alleges that Staffmark
Investments, LLC has attempted to garnish his wages for this child support, despite Plaintiff
never having worked for the company. Id. Plaintiff points out that the Social Security Number
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of the Brandon Allen who appears on the wage garnishment notice is not his Social Security
Number, and that he has a different middle initial. Id. As a practical matter, it appears that
Plaintiff may have been sent documents intended for a different, but similarly-named, person.
II. Standard of Review
Pro se pleadings are liberally construed. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365, 102
S. Ct. 700, 70 L. Ed. 2d 551 (1982) (per curiam); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S. Ct.
594, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652 (1972). The district court, however, is required to dismiss an in forma
pauperis action under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) if it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted or if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 109 S.
Ct. 1827, 104 L. Ed. 2d 338 (1989); Lawler v. Marshall, 898 F.2d 1196 (6th Cir. 1990); Sistrunk
v. City of Strongsville, 99 F.3d 194, 197 (6th Cir. 1996). An action has no arguable basis in law
when a defendant is immune from suit or when a plaintiff claims a violation of a legal interest
“which clearly does not exist”. Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 327. An action has no arguable factual
basis when the allegations are delusional or rise to the level of the irrational or “wholly
incredible.” Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 33, 112 S. Ct. 1728, 118 L. Ed. 2d 340 (1992).
See also Lawler, 898 F.2d at 1199.
When determining whether a plaintiff has stated a claim upon which relief can be
granted, the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept
all factual allegations as true, and determine whether the complaint contains “enough facts to
state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544,
570, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007). The plaintiff’s obligation to provide the
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grounds for relief “requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do.” Id. at 555. Although a complaint need not contain
detailed factual allegations, its “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief
above the speculative level . . . on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are
true.” Id. (citation omitted). The court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion
couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S. Ct. 2932, 92 L.
Ed. 2d 209 (1986) .
The Supreme Court explained the “plausibility” requirement, stating that “[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, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (2009). Furthermore, “[t]he plausibility
standard is not akin to a ‘probability requirement,’ but it asks for more than a sheer possibility
that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). This
determination is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial
experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.
III. Law and Analysis
Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts to demonstrate the Court’s subject matter
jurisdiction over this case. Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and, unlike state trial
courts, they do not have general jurisdiction to review all questions of law. See Ohio ex rel.
Skaggs v. Brunner, 549 F.3d 468, 474 (6th Cir. 2008). Rather, they have only the authority to
decide cases that the Constitution and Congress have empowered them to resolve. Id.
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Consequently, “[i]t is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the
burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v.
Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377(1994) (internal citation omitted).
Generally, the Constitution and Congress have given federal courts authority to hear a
case only when diversity of citizenship exists between the parties or the case raises a federal
question. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392, 107 S. Ct. 2425, 96 L. Ed. 2d 318
(1987). Diversity of citizenship is applicable to cases of sufficient value between “citizens of
different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). To establish diversity of citizenship, the plaintiff must
establish that he is a citizen of one state and all of the defendants are citizens of other states. The
citizenship of a natural person equates to his domicile. Von Dunser v. Aronoff, 915 F.2d 1071,
1072 (6th Cir. 1990). Federal question jurisdiction arises when “a well-pleaded complaint
establishes either that federal law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff’s right to relief
necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.” Franchise Tax Bd.
v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 27-28, 103 S. Ct. 2841, 77 L. Ed. 2d 420
Diversity of citizenship does not appear to exist in this case. Plaintiff is incarcerated in
the Ohio State Penitentiary, and Defendants are “of Ohio.” See ECF No. 1 at PageID #:2. A
plaintiff in federal court has the burden of pleading sufficient facts to support the existence of
the court’s jurisdiction. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(1). In a diversity action, the plaintiff must state the
citizenship of all parties so that the existence of complete diversity can be confirmed.
Washington v. Sulzer Orthopedics, Inc., 76 Fed. Appx. 644, 2003 WL 22146143, at *1 (6th Cir.
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Sept. 16, 2003). The Complaint (ECF No. 1), as written, suggests that Plaintiff and Defendants
are all citizens of Ohio. Therefore, federal subject matter jurisdiction cannot be based on
diversity of citizenship.
If federal jurisdiction exists in this case, it must be based on a claimed violation of
federal law. In determining whether a claim arises under federal law, the Court looks only to the
“well-pleaded allegations of the Complaint and ignores potential defenses” a defendant may
raise. Mikulski v. Centerior Energy Corp., 501 F.3d 555, 560 (6th Cir. 2007). Although the
well-pleaded-complaint rule focuses on what Plaintiff alleges, it allows the Court to look past
the words of the complaint to determine whether the allegations ultimately involve a federal
question. Ohio ex rel. Skaggs v. Brunner, 549 F.3d 468, 475 (6th Cir.2008). In addition to
causes of action expressly created by federal law, federal-question jurisdiction also reaches
ostensible state-law claims that: (1) necessarily depend on a substantial and disputed federal
issue, (2) are completely preempted by federal law or (3) are truly federal-law claims in
disguise. See Mikulski, 501 F.3d at 560; City of Warren v. City of Detroit, 495 F.3d 282, 286
(6th Cir. 2007).
Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and therefore enjoys the benefit of a liberal construction of
his pleadings. Boswell v. Mayer, 169 F.3d 384, 387 (6th Cir. 1999). Indeed, this standard of
liberal construction “requires active interpretation ... to construe a pro se petition ‘to encompass
any allegation stating federal relief.’” Haines, 404 U.S. at 520 . Even with that liberal
construction, however, Plaintiff failed to properly identify a federal question in this case.
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Plaintiff claims that Defendants Wash and Turner attempted to obtain child support from
Plaintiff and Defendant Staffmark Investments, LLC attempted to garnish Plaintiff’s wages.
Plaintiff bases his claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To state a claim under § 1983, Plaintiff must
allege that a person acting under color of state law deprived him of his rights, privileges, or
immunities secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States. West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42, 48, 108 S. Ct. 2250, 101 L. Ed. 2d 40 (1988). Defendants are private parties, not
government officials or agencies. And Plaintiff has not alleged facts plausibly suggesting that
the defendants were acting under color of state law or exercised a power that is reserved
exclusively for the State of Ohio. See Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937, 102 S.
Ct. 2744, 73 L. Ed. 2d 482 (1982) and Jackson v. Metropolitan Edison Co., 419 U.S. 345, 352,
95 S. Ct. 449, 42 L. Ed. 2d 477 (1974). Plaintiff, therefore, cannot assert a § 1983 claim.
Accordingly, federal subject matter jurisdiction cannot be based on a federal question.
Accordingly, this action is dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e) for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction. The Court certifies, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that an appeal from
this decision could not be taken in good faith.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
September 8, 2021
/s/ Benita Y. Pearson
Benita Y. Pearson
United States District Judge
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