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Brown v. Duffett

United States District Court, D. Maine

July 1, 2015

JESSICA M. BROWN, Plaintiff,


JOHN H. RICH III, Magistrate Judge.

The plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se, has filed a motion to overturn her state court conviction, to subpoena evidence from the Portland Police Department, and to obtain evidence in the custody of James Cloutier, Esq., counsel for the defendant. See Motion to Overturn Conviction (ECF No. 10). She has also filed a motion in limine to preclude three Portland police officers from testifying in this case, see Motion for In Limine (ECF No. 11), as well as a motion to amend her complaint, see Amendment of The Pleadings: as follows ("Motion To Amend") (ECF No. 15).

I determine that the court is without power to act on the motions, and that the case must dismissed, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

I. Applicable Legal Standard

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). "They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree." Id. (citation omitted). "It 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." Id. (citations omitted).

In his answer to the complaint, the defendant raised lack of subject matter jurisdiction as an affirmative defense. See Answer to Complaint (ECF No. 6), Defenses/Affirmative D[e]fenses, ¶¶ 1-2. However, even if he had not, the court has an independent duty to assure itself of the existence of subject matter jurisdiction. See, e.g., Spooner v. EEN, Inc., 644 F.3d 62, 67 (1st Cir. 2011) ("A court is duty-bound to notice, and act upon, defects in its subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte.").

II. Factual Background

The plaintiff complains that, following a bench trial in the Maine Superior Court, Cumberland County, on December 21, 2007, she was wrongly convicted of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon as a result of the defendant's malfeasance as her court-appointed attorney in that matter. See Pro Se Civil Rights Violation Complaint To Ask Federal Court To Review Possibility of Such Violation ("Complaint") (ECF No. 1) at Page ID ##9-10; see also Answer ¶ 1(b)-(c).

She alleges that she was not allowed to defend herself in the courtroom against the defendant's "repeated lies about me being a mentally defected human being[, ] which I am not and have never been" and that "in essence I was not allowed... a defense because Neale Duffett did everything in his power to smear my name with lies of mental retardation or other mental defect which was not true to ensure that Portland police would come out smelling like a rose." Complaint at Page ID #9. She asserts, "My not being able to fire my court appointed lawyer Neale Duffett[, ] who was acting as a prosecutor in my case and not defending[, ] is most disturbing if not outright illegal in itself and led me to waive my right to a jury trial because I knew Neale Duffet[t] was going to bold faced lie to the court with no medical proof that I was wacko.'" Id. at Page ID #10.

She alleges violation of unspecified constitutional rights because (i) she was not deposed prior to her bench trial, (ii) she was not allowed to fire the defendant as her attorney, (iii) a newspaper printed slander about her, (iv) she was not permitted to wear street clothes during the bench trial, (v) she was incarcerated for two-and-a-half years in the Cumberland County Jail and six months in prison because she refused counseling for an illness that she did not have, and (vi) her religious views were not respected when the bench trial was held on the Winter Solstice, a major Pagan holiday. See id. at Page ID #11.

She seeks relief in the form of the overturning of her conviction and "some type of settlement or compensation[.]" Id. at Page ID #13.

III. Discussion

"Generally, the courts recognize that a pro se plaintiff does not have the same education and training as an attorney, and therefore grant a pro se plaintiff some latitude in [her] complaint." Francois v. Parish, Civil Action No. 14-338, 2014 WL 7140206, at *2 (E.D. La. Dec. 12, 2014). "However, even after a liberal reading afforded for pro se plaintiffs, the complaint must allege sufficient facts from which the court can determine the existence of subject matter jurisdiction." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The plaintiff fails to do so here.

The plaintiff invokes federal-question subject matter jurisdiction, styling her complaint as one for redress of civil rights/constitutional violations. Although she "does not cite the federal civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, because [she] seeks a remedy for an alleged violation of [her] constitutional rights pursuant to state action, [her] claim is necessarily a section 1983 claim." Nielsen v. Maine Unemployment Ins. Comm'n, No. 1:14-cv-00300-JAW, 2014 WL 6632976, at *2 (D. Me. Nov. 21, 2014) (footnote omitted). Yet, for ...

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