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Shelton v. Crookshank

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

November 17, 2017

ANITA J. SHELTON, IMMOGENE WILLIAMS DANIELS, Plaintiffs,
v.
ROBERT BLANE CROOKSHANK, et al, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ROBERT W.TRUMBLE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court is Anita J. Shelton and Immogene Williams Daniels' (together “Plaintiffs”) pro se Motion [ECF No. 2] for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis.[1] Because Plaintiffs seek to proceed in forma pauperis, the undersigned must conduct a preliminary review to determine whether Plaintiffs' amended pro se Complaint[2] [ECF No. 10; ECF No. 10-1] sets forth any viable claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). Because the undersigned concludes that (1) this Court lacks subject-matter or personal jurisdiction, (2) various Defendants are improperly named, (3) various Defendants are entitled to judicial, prosecutorial, or qualified immunity, (4) Plaintiffs fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and (5) Plaintiffs' remaining claims are either time barred by the applicable statute of limitations or indisputably meritless, the undersigned recommends that Plaintiffs' Complaint be dismissed with and without prejudice and that Plaintiffs' motion to proceed in forma pauperis be denied as moot.

         II. FACTS & PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         A. The Underlying Dispute & Related Litigation

         Although Plaintiffs' Complaint is far from clear, Plaintiffs' Complaint seems to stem from an allegedly abusive relationship with and subsequent divorce from Defendant Robert Blane Crookshank. Because Plaintiffs do not set forth a statement of facts or procedural history, the undersigned incorporates the following statement of facts set forth by the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia in Shelton v.Crookshank, No. 14-1146, 2015 WL 7628839 ( W.Va. Nov. 23, 2015):

The parties were married in June of 1999, and there were no children born as a result of the marriage. In August of 2011, the parties separated. Thereafter, in 2014, [Shelton] initiated divorce proceedings, but refused to admit that irreconcilable differences existed and refused to agree to a divorce on the ground that the parties lived separate and apart for more than one year.
In June of 2014, the family court held a final hearing in the divorce proceedings. Ultimately, the family court found that the parties lived separate and apart without any cohabitation and without interruption for over one year and granted the divorce on this ground, while noting [Shelton]'s objection. The family court then heard testimony concerning equitable distribution of the marital assets and ruled on that matter. The family court's “Final Divorce Order” was then entered on July 22, 2014.

Shelton, 2015 WL 7628839, at *1. Plaintiff then appealed to the circuit court and, later, the Supreme Court of Appeals. Id.

         B. The Complaint

         Plaintiffs filed the instant pro se complaint asserting a plethora of claims against no less than forty plus defendants: Robert Blane Crookshank, Pamela Games Neely, Heather Deeds, various troopers of the West Virginia State Police, various members of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department, Kris Wiebold, Janie Wiebold, Robert C. Stone, the receptionist at the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, the receptionist at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, Joseph Brody Cordell, Rita Courman, Family Court Judge Sally G. Jackson, Circuit Judge Michael D. Lorensen, the nurses and director of the Hospice of the Panhandle, members of K-Mart security, members of Wal-Mart security, the United States Attorney General, the United States Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Department of Homeland Security, the 2015-2016 Term Justices of the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia, the West Virginia Circuit Courts, the West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Board, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, the West Virginia State Police Professional Standards Officer, the Office of the Governor (State of West Virginia), the Judicial Investigation Commission of West Virginia, the West Virginia RN Board, the Maryland Department of Human Resources, James Michael Rickard, Anthony Morgan, Brian Mulligan, Teresa Mulligan, and persons known only by one name or totally unknown to Plaintiffs.

         There, Plaintiffs assert nine ostensibly related claims: (1) conspiracy/corruption/fraud, (2) retaliation, (3) illegal profiting, (4) gang stalking/harassment/mental abuse/physical attacks/felony vandalism/internet-hacking, (5) felony vandalism/home invasion, (6) discrimination and HIPPA and privacy law violations, (7) mail fraud/threats by mail, (8) violation her Second Amendment rights, and (9) wrongful death/possible murder of Plaintiff Daniels.[3] Plaintiffs insist that Defendants have caused them seven distinct injuries: (1) Plaintiff Daniels (Plaintiff Shelton's mother) passed away on May 26, 2014; (2) Plaintiff Shelton lost her home and had to move six times; (3) Plaintiff Shelton lost personal relationships, with family and neighbors, that cannot be recovered; (4) Plaintiffs were slandered and libeled; (5) Plaintiff Shelton “suffered/suffers monetarily, spiritually, emotionally, mentally [sic] and physically, from intentional affliction”; (6) “[e]xtreme stress and damages have trickled down to [Plaintiff Shelton's] sister, Shirley[, ] and[ her] daughter, Rachel”; and (7) Plaintiff Shelton is wrongfully labeled mentally ill because of a falsified report from a police officer. ECF No. 10 at 9.

         Accordingly, Plaintiffs request seven forms of relief: (1) a federal investigation into their claims; (2) a program where domestic violence cases that involve local law enforcement officers are handled by disinterested parties in neighboring jurisdictions; (3) training on how to legally and ethically handle cases that involve work associates; (4) “[m]ake it a [f]elony for filing [m]alicious [m]ental [applications]”; (5) a “[w]ritten apology from all defendants”; (6) “[s]ecurity for Plaintiff [Shelton] and family for [l]ife”; and (7) a “[m]onetary award at the highest allowed by law from each defendant for compensatory and punitive damages, I [sic] loss of life, pain, mental and physical suffering to include an [sic] the highest amount allowed by law, from each defendant or 100 million [c]ollectively.” Id.

         The undersigned addresses these arguments below.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         When filing a lawsuit in federal court, the plaintiff is required to pay certain filing fees. The court has the authority to allow a case to proceed without the prepayment of fees “by a person who affirms by affidavit that he or she is unable to pay costs.” L.R. Gen. P. 3.01. The plaintiff files this affidavit along with her request or Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 24. The Supreme Court of the United States has explained that the purpose of the “federal in forma pauperis statute . . . is designed to ensure that indigent litigants have meaningful access to the federal courts.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989).

         When a plaintiff seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, the court conducts a preliminary review of the lawsuit before allowing the case to proceed. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). This includes cases filed by non-prisoners. See Michau v. Charleston Cty., S.C., 434 F.3d 725, 727 (4th Cir. 2006) (holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it dismissed the non-prisoner complaints under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)). The court must dismiss a case at any time if the court determines that the complaint is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A case is often dismissed sua sponte (i.e., on the court's own decision) before the defendant is notified of the case “so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such complaints.” Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 324. When reviewing pro se complaints, the Court must construe them liberally. See Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         As stated above, under the federal in forma pauperis statute, the court may dismiss a case if the complaint is frivolous. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). A complaint is frivolous if it is without “an arguable basis either in law or fact.” Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 325. A complaint filed in forma pauperis which fails to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) is not automatically frivolous. See id. at 328. Cases should only be dismissed as frivolous when the legal theories are “indisputably meritless, ” or where the claims rely on factual allegations which are “clearly baseless.” Id. at 327; see also Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32 (1992). This includes claims where the plaintiff has little or no chance of success. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976).

         The federal in forma pauperis statute allows a court to sua sponte dismiss a complaint that “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “require[ ] only ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to ‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Although a complaint need not assert “detailed factual allegations, ” it must contain “more than labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citations omitted). To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, the complaint must raise a right to relief that is more than speculative. Id. In other words, the complaint must contain allegations that are “plausible” on their face, rather than merely “conceivable.” Id. at 555, 570. Therefore, in order for a complaint to survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, the plaintiff must “allege facts sufficient to state all the elements of [his or] her claim.” Bass v. E.I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 324 F.3d 761, 765 (4th Cir. 2003) (citing Dickson v. Microsoft Corp., 309 F.3d 193, 213 (4th Cir.2002); Iodice v. United States, 289 F.3d 279, 281 (4th Cir. 2002). 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Thus, a well-pleaded complaint must offer more than “a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully” in order to meet the plausibility standard and survive dismissal for failure to state a claim. Id.; see also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009).

         B. Plaintiff Immogene Williams Daniels

         As a threshold matter, Plaintiff Immogene Williams Daniels-who passed away on May 26, 2014-cannot bring the instant cause of action.

         Significantly, “a party must have a legal existence as a prerequisite to having the capacity to sue or be sued.” Adelsberger v. United States, 58 Fed.Cl. 616, 618 (2003) (citations omitted); Roby v. Corp. of Loayd's, 796 F.Supp. 103, 110 (S.D.N.Y. June 12, 1992) (“Both capacity to be sued and legal existence are prerequisites to the suability of an entity . . . .”). Although “capacity to sue” refers to a “party's right to litigate, ” our concern is, rather, the “distinct but closely related concept: legal existence.” Garlock Sealing Tech., LLC v. Pittman, No. 2008-IA-01572-SCT, 2010 WL 4009151, at *5 (Miss. Oct. 14, 2010) (citations omitted). “Legal existence means, at a minimum, that the individual suing is alive.” Id.

         Here, it is clear from the Complaint that Ms. Daniels died before the Complaint was filed. Indeed, the very first page of the Complaint acknowledges that Ms. Daniels is “deceased.” ECF No. 10 at 1. “A person who dies prior to filing suit is not a legal entity.” Adelsberger, 58 Fed.Cl. at 618 (citing Mizukami v. Buras, 419 F.2d 1319 (5th Cir. 1969) (defendant's death extinguishes claim); Banakus v. United Aircraft Corp., 290 F.Supp. 259 (S.D.N.Y. 1968) (suit is a nullity where plaintiff, unbeknownst to counsel, died prior to filing of suit); Moul v. Pace, 261 F.Supp. 616 (D. Md. 1966) (wrongful death suit brought after defendant died dismissed); Chorney v. Callahan, 135 F.Supp. 35 (D. Mass.1955) (purported action a nullity because a dead man cannot be named defendant in an action); Pasos v. Eastern S.S. Co., 9 F.R.D. 279 (D. Del. 1949) (person who dies prior to filing suit is not a legal entity)). Because Ms. Daniels died before the Complaint was filed, she did not (and does not) have legal existence, let alone the capacity to sue or be sued. See Adelsberger, 58 Fed.Cl. at 618. So it logically follows, then, that the instant cause of action, at least as it relates to Ms. Daniels, is a nullity ab initio. In re Asbestos Products Liability Litigation (No. VI), 2016 A.M.C. 219, 224 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 9, 2015). Because Ms. Daniel's case has no legal affect, the undersigned need not address the validity of her claims below.[4]

         C. Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

         If a “court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); see also Brickwood Contractors, Inc. v. Datanet Eng'g, Inc., 369 F.3d 385, 390 (4th Cir. 2004) (stating that “questions of subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any point during the proceedings and may (or, more precisely, must) be raised sua sponte by the court”). Subject-matter jurisdiction in federal courts must be based on diversity jurisdiction or federal-question jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332. Diversity jurisdiction has two requirements: First, there must be complete diversity of citizenship, meaning that each plaintiff is a citizen of a different state than each defendant. 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Second, the amount in controversy must exceed $75, 000.00. Id. By contrast, federal-question jurisdiction only requires that the action “aris[e] under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Pursuant to the well-pleaded complaint rule, “a federal question must appear on the face of [the] plaintiff's . . . complaint.” Sharp v. AT & T Commc'ns, 660 F.Supp. 650, 650 (N.D. W.Va. 1987).

         Here, Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that Kris and Janie Wiebold made false statements to the West Virginia State Police regarding Plaintiff's mental health and slandered her. ECF No. 10 at 2; ECF No. 10-1 at 6. Although Plaintiff is not sure whether Kris and Janie Wiebold live in West Virginia, a cursory review of www.whitepages.com reveals that the Wiebolds live at the West Virginia address listed in Plaintiff's Complaint. Id. Because Plaintiff and the Wiebolds both live in West Virginia, there is no complete diversity among the parties as required by § 1332. ECF No. 10 at 1, 2. Accordingly, the Court does not have diversity jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims against the Wiebolds. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332. In addition, a federal question does not appear from the face of the complaint. See Sharp, 660 F.Supp. at 650. Accordingly, Plaintiff's allegations against the Wiebolds must be dismissed, without prejudice, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.[5] See S. Walk at Broadlands Homeowner's Ass'n, Inc. v. OpenBand at Broadlands, LLC, 713 F.3d 175, 185 (4th Cir. 2013) (holding that a dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction “must be one without prejudice, because a court that lacks jurisdiction has no power to adjudicate and dispose of a claim on the merits”).

         D. Lack of Personal Jurisdiction

         “[F]or a district court to assert personal jurisdiction over a nonresident defendant, two conditions must be satisfied.” Bryan v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, No. 1:07CV101, 2007 WL 2892967, at *2 (N.D. W.Va. Sept. 28, 2007). “First, the exercise of jurisdiction must be authorized by the long-arm statute of the forum state, and second, the exercise of personal jurisdiction must also comport with Fourteenth Amendment due process requirements.” Christian Sci. Bd. of Dirs. of the First Church of Christ v. Nolan, 259 F.3d 209, 215 (4th Cir. 2001). The West Virginia long-arm statute is contained in W.Va. Code § 56-3-33(a). “[B]ecause the West Virginia long-arm statute is coextensive with the full reach of due process, it is unnecessary . . . to go through the normal two-step formula for determining the existence of personal jurisdiction. Rather, the statutory inquiry necessarily merges with the Constitutional inquiry.” In re Celotex Corp., 124 F.3d 619, 627-28 (4th Cir. 1997). “Therefore, to satisfy constitutional due process, the defendant must have ‘sufficient minimum contacts' with West Virginia so that requiring it to defend its interest here would not ‘offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice.'” Bryan, 2007 WL 2892967, at *2 (quoting Int'l Shoe Co. v. Washington, 326 U.S. 310, 316 (1945)).

         i. Maryland Defendants

         Here, Plaintiff names as defendants the receptionist at the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, the receptionist at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, [6] the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, the Maryland Department of Human Resources, and Brian and Teresa Mulligan. But Plaintiff “fail[] to assert any contact by them with the State of West Virginia, much less the minimum contacts necessary to satisfy the Due Process Clause.” Bryan, 2007 WL 2892967, at *2. Thus, based on the information contained in the Complaint, this Court cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over these individuals because there is no evidence that these defendants have had contact with the State of West Virginia. See generally ECF Nos. 10, 10-1.

         Indeed, Plaintiff's only factual allegation against the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, the receptionist at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, and the Maryland Department of Human Resources is that Plaintiff filed a complaint by telephone. In response, both the Maryland Office of the Attorney General and the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services informed her that her claims were not within the State of Maryland's jurisdiction. Instead, they recommended that she contact the West Virginia State Police or the Attorney General of West Virginia. ECF No. 10-1 at 1.

         Likewise, Plaintiff fails to assert how Brian and Teresa Mulligan have had any contact with the State of West Virginia. Plaintiff's only allegation against the Mulligans is that they were listed as witnesses on an involuntary mental commitment application and ostensibly gave false statements in support of said application. Id. at 7. Without more, this is not enough to satisfy due process and, therefore, the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over the Mulligans.

         “Under the circumstances, the court is confident that service of process is not only unwarranted, but would waste the increasingly scarce judicial resources that § 1915 is designed to preserve.” Smith v. U.S. Attorney Gen., No. 3:CV-15-1672, 2015 WL 6773854, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 5, 2015) (citing Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 195 n.3 (3d Cir. 1990)). Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims against the receptionist at the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, the receptionist at the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, the Attorney Grievance Commission of Maryland, the Maryland Department of Human Resources, and Brian and Teresa Mulligan are dismissed, without prejudice, for lack of personal jurisdiction. See ITL Intern., Inc. v. Café Soluble, S.A., 464 Fed. App'x 241, 244 (5th Cir. 2012) (noting that a dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction “does not ‘operate[] as an adjudication on the merits' and thus should have been without prejudice” (footnotes omitted)); Arocho v. Lappin, 461 Fed. App'x 714, 719 (10th Cir. 2012) (acknowledging the well-established rule “that dismissals for lack of personal jurisdiction are without prejudice”).

         ii. United States Attorney General

         Next, Plaintiff asserts a Bivens claim[7] against the United States Attorney General[8] and effectively argues that the Attorney General failed to investigate or prosecute Plaintiff's numerous reports of physical attacks, kidnapping, corruption, internet crimes, gang stalking, mail issues, and harassment. ECF No. 10-1 at 5.

         But Plaintiff fails to assert that the Attorney General had any contact with the State of West Virginia, “much less the minimum contacts necessary to satisfy the Due Process Clause.” Bryan, 2007 WL 2892967, at *2. Thus, based on the information contained in the Complaint, this Court cannot-and will not-“exercise personal jurisdiction over the United States Attorney General merely because he is the head of the Department of Justice.” Flores v. U.S. Attorney Gen., No. 15-1899 (JNE/JSM), 2015 WL 4208703, at *5 (D. Minn. July 10, 2015) (citing McCabe v. Basham, 450 F.Supp.2d 916, 925 (N.D. Iowa 2006)); see also Brooks v. McCord, No. 4:13CV00352 JLH, 2013 WL 3967206, at *2 (E.D. Ark. Apr. 1, 2013) (refusing to find personal jurisdiction over United States Attorney General where complaint failed to provide “coherent factual allegations”); Gonzalez v. Sanders, ...


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