901 F.2d 387 (4th Cir. 1990), 89-3253, Weller v. Department of Social Services for City of Baltimore
|Citation:||901 F.2d 387|
|Party Name:||Clifton William WELLER, III, Individually and as father and next friend of Clifton William Weller, IV, minor and Matthew Charles Weller, minor, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES FOR the CITY OF BALTIMORE; Juvenile Services Administration, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene for the State of Maryland; James S. Becker, Individ|
|Case Date:||April 19, 1990|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit|
Argued Nov. 2, 1989.
As Amended April 24, 1990.
[Copyrighted Material Omitted]
Mercedes Casado Samborsky (argued), Joppatowne, Md., for plaintiff-appellant.
Mark Davis (argued), Asst. Atty. Gen., Baltimore, Md. (J. Joseph Curran, Jr., Atty. Gen., Neal M. Janey, City Sol., William R.
Phelan, Jr., Sp. Sol., Baltimore, Md., on brief), for defendants-appellees.
Before CHAPMAN and WILKINS, Circuit Judges.
CHAPMAN, Circuit Judge:
The plaintiff/appellant, Clifton William Weller, appeals the dismissal of his suit for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The district court dismissed the action sua sponte prior to service of process pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3), for lack of federal jurisdiction. We affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Weller filed his pro se complaint 1 in federal district court against twenty-five defendants, including agencies of Maryland, employees of the State of Maryland and the City of Baltimore, and his ex-wife and mother-in-law. The complaint predicated jurisdiction on 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1331 and 1343. It alleged a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 and attempted to raise federal questions under the Social Security Act's provisions pertaining to child welfare, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 601 et seq., as well as under the due process and equal protection clauses of the federal constitution.
The allegations arise out of the defendants' apparent transfer of custody of Weller's son, Matthew, from Weller's custody in Baltimore to Matthew's grandmother near Baltimore, and ultimately to Matthew's mother in Louisiana. 2 Defendants are alleged to have interfered with Weller's custody of Matthew on two occasions: first, in March 1986, and again in July 1986. Weller alleges that the transfer of custody was wrongful because it was done without the hearing required by state law, and without other procedural safeguards. He is suing for monetary damages 3 to compensate both Matthew and himself for harm allegedly caused by the transfer in custody. 4
Weller's complaint, aptly termed "prolix" by the district court, was dismissed before any of the defendants were served. 5 On appeal, Weller contends that the district court erroneously relied on DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dep't of Social Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 109 S.Ct. 998, 103 L.Ed.2d 249 (1989), and that the complaint raises federal questions, particularly under Sec. 1983, because it alleges a violation of due process.
We agree with the district court that it lacked jurisdiction over the vast majority of the claims; however, we find that the complaint does allege a violation of procedural due process, which may not be dismissed at this preliminary stage of the proceedings.
Although the legal theories within Weller's pro se complaint are difficult to discern, courts traditionally view civil rights complaints, particularly those brought pro se, with "special judicial solicitude." See e.g., Harrison v. U.S. Postal Service, 840 F.2d 1149, 1152 (4th Cir.1988); Gordon v.
Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir.), cert. denied, 439 U.S. 970, 99 S.Ct. 464, 58 L.Ed.2d 431 (1978). In truth, even a solicitous examination of the allegations reveals little on which federal subject matter jurisdiction may be based.
For example, although Weller cites the provisions of the Social Security Act dealing with Aid to Families With Dependent Children, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 601 et seq., there are no express allegations within the complaint to suggest any violation of those statutes. In fact, it is plain from the complaint that Weller's children were not at any time in foster care, contradicting even implied allegations of violations of the statutes. Federal jurisdiction may not be premised on the mere citation of federal statutes.
Weller's claim of sex-based discrimination fails for identical reasons; his complaint fails to allege anything that even remotely suggests a factual basis for the claim. While pro se complaints may "represent the work of an untutored hand requiring special judicial solicitude," a district court is not required to recognize "obscure or extravagant claims defying the most concerted efforts to unravel them." Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1277 (4th Cir.1985), cert. denied, 475 U.S. 1088, 106 S.Ct. 1475, 89 L.Ed.2d 729 (1986). The "special judicial solicitude" with which a district court should view such pro se complaints does not transform the court into an advocate. Only those questions which are squarely presented to a court may properly be addressed.
DUE PROCESS CLAIMS
Plaintiff attempts to characterize the majority of his claims as alleging violations of both substantive and procedural due process. The Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that "[n]o State shall ... deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV. In order to rely on the due process clause, Weller must have a protectible interest. In this case, Weller clearly does have a protectible liberty interest in the care and custody of his children. However, other asserted liberty interests are not among those protected by the due process clause. As discussed below, with one exception, Weller's claims lack substance and legal support.
Substantive Due Process
The substantive component of the Due Process Clause "bar[s] certain government actions regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to implement them." Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 331, 106 S.Ct. 662, 665, 88 L.Ed.2d 662 (1986). Although Weller relies on this component of due process, we believe this reliance to be misplaced. 6 "Because '[d]ue process of law, as a historic and generative principle, precludes defining,' there are no precise standards for determining what governmental actions are proscribed by substantive due process." Fitzgerald v. Williamson, 787 F.2d 403, 408 (8th Cir.1986) (quoting Rochin v. California, 342 U.S. 165, 173, 72 S.Ct. 205, 210, 96...
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