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Weatherly v. Hilton

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Greeneville

February 27, 2019

WILLIE ROBERT WEATHERLY and CALVIN EDWARD WEATHERLY Plaintiffs,
v.
JANICE HILTON and WARREN M. HILTON Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          CLIFTON L. CORKER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiffs Willie Weatherly and Calvin Weatherly have filed Motions [Docs. 1 and 2] to proceed in forma pauperis. The Motions are before the United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636, and the standing orders of this Court. Defendants are representing themselves in this action. For the reasons stated herein, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the District Court DISMISS this complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         I. Plaintiffs in forma pauperis motions [Docs. 1 and 2].

         The purpose of 28 U.S.C. § 1915 is to ensure that indigent litigants have meaningful access to the courts. Adkins v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 342, 69 S.Ct. 85 (1948); Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324, 109 S.Ct. 1827 (1989). The statute therefore allows a litigant to commence a civil or criminal action in federal court without paying the administrative costs of the lawsuit. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 27, 112 S.Ct. 1728 (1992).

         The Court's review of an in forma pauperis application is normally based solely on the affidavit of indigence. See Gibson v. R.G. Smith Co., 915 F.2d 260, 262-63 (6th Cir. 1990). The threshold requirement which must be met in order to proceed in forma pauperis is that the petitioner show, by affidavit, the inability to pay court fees and costs. 28 U.S.C. §1915(a). However, one need not be absolutely destitute to enjoy the benefit of proceeding in forma pauperis. Adkins, 335 U.S. at 342, 69 S.Ct. at 90. An affidavit to proceed in forma pauperis is sufficient if its states that the petitioner cannot, because of poverty, afford to pay for the costs of litigation and still pay for the necessities of life. Id. at 339, 69 S.Ct. at 89. The decision to grant or deny such an application lies within the sound discretion of the Court. Phipps v. King, 866 F.2d 824, 825 (6th Cir. 1988).

         In the present case, the petitioners' Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees and petitioners' economic status have been considered in making the decision of whether to grant leave to proceed in forma pauperis. The application sets forth grounds for so proceeding. The Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees [Docs. 1 and 2], therefore, is GRANTED. The Clerk is DIRECTED to file the complaint without prepayment of costs or fees. Gibson, 915 F.2d at 262-63; see Harris v. Johnson, 784 F.2d 222 (6th Cir. 1986).

         II. Screening Standards

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii), the district court may dismiss a complaint as frivolous or if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See also Neitzke, 490 U.S. 319, 109 S.Ct. 1827.[1] District courts must screen complaints filed in forma pauperis and sua sponte must dismiss a complaint that is frivolous or malicious, that fails to state a claim for relief, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who enjoys immunity from such relief. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B); Begola v. Brown, No. 97-2194, 1998 WL 894722, at *1 (6th Cir. Dec. 14, 1998) (citing McGore v. Wrigglesworth, 114 F.3d 601, 604 (6th Cir. 1997), overruled on other grounds by Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199 (2007), and LaFountain v. Harry, 716 F.3d 944, 951 (6th Cir. 2013)). The dismissal standard articulated by the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) and in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554 (2007) “governs dismissals for failure state a claim under [28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)] because the relevant statutory language tracks the language in Rule 12(b)(6).” Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010). Thus, to survive an initial screening, a complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).

         Courts liberally construe pro se pleadings filed in civil rights cases and hold them to a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Allegations that give rise to a mere possibility that a plaintiff might later establish undisclosed facts supporting recovery, however, are not well-pled and do not state a plausible claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. Further, formulaic and conclusory recitations of the elements of a claim unsupported by facts are insufficient to state a plausible claim for relief. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681.

         III. Plaintiffs Allegations

         Plaintiffs filed this complaint on October 2, 2018, alleging that they rented a mobile home from Defendant Janice Hilton and the conditions of the home were inhabitable [Doc. 3, pg. 3-4]. As examples, Plaintiffs point to no heat or air [Id. at pg. 5], windows that will not close [Id.], a collapsing ceiling [Id. at pg. 6], raw sewage backing up into the home [Id.], an infestation of rats, cockroaches, and bed bugs [Id. at pg. 7-8], and a leaky roof [Id. at pg. 8]. Plaintiffs also allege that Defendants allowed and participated in illegal activity on the rental property [Id. at pg. 4].

         Further, Plaintiffs allege that they requested in writing Defendant Janice Hilton address the problems in the home and that certain repairs be made. After making that request, they received a notice of eviction from Defendant Warren Hilton, stating that he was now the owner of the property [Id. at pg. 9]. Plaintiffs aver that neither Defendant is the proper owner of the property, and that they had no right to collect rent all this time [Id. at pg. 9, 11]. Plaintiffs also claim that Defendant Warren Hilton threatened them [Id. at pg. 9-10]. Finally, Plaintiffs seek a health inspection of the property at issue, a jury trial and a total of $150, 000 in actual and punitive damages [Id. at pg. 13].

         IV. Law and Analysis

         Plaintiffs have not established a basis for federal court jurisdiction. This Court lacks jurisdiction to address Plaintiffs claims. 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). Instead, they have only the authority to decide cases that the Constitution and Congress have empowered them to resolve. Id. Generally, the Constitution and Congress have given federal courts authority to hear a case only when diversity of citizenship exists between the parties, or when the case raises a federal question. Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). The first type of federal jurisdiction, 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 Plaintiffs must establish that they are citizens of one state and all of the Defendants are citizens of other states. Von Dunser v. Aronoff, 915 F.2d 1071, 1072 (6th Cir.1990). The second type of federal jurisdiction relies on the presence of a federal question. This type of jurisdiction ...


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