Bankston v. Hamilton

Decision Date27 January 2017
Docket NumberCASE NO. 3:16-CV-01368
PartiesMARY SELF BANKSTON, ET AL., Plaintiffs v. CLAY HAMILTON, ET AL., Defendants
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Louisiana




This is a pro se civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Mary Self Bankston, on behalf of a minor child, and Geneiva Self Bankston (collectively, "Plaintiffs"). Plaintiffs allege that Defendants conspired to deprive Plaintiffs of property following a succession proceeding in state court. Plaintiffs seek to have the two previous succession proceedings declared null and void, and to have attorney Defendants Clay Hamilton and Brian Thompson (collectively, "attorney Defendants") pay fees and interest for their roles in the succession proceedings, and to be given restitution for their financial loss. Plaintiffs state that the attorney Defendants and Judge Ann McIntyre1 are being sued in their capacity as judicial officers of the state court. Additional Defendants include Douglas Self, Geraldine Johnson, James M. Miller, the Fifth District State Court, the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal, and the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Plaintiffs allege that this Court has federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 14412, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1)3, 12(h)(3)4, 8(f)5, 28 U.S.C. § 1343, 15 U.S.C. § 11226, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 42 U.S.C. § 141417, 42 U.S.C. § 122028, and supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

I. Background

Defendant Clay Hamilton was employed to handle the successions of Plaintiffs' mother and father, who died in 2006 and 2010. Brian Thompson was hired to represent Mary and Geneiva Bankston's interests in the succession of the father. Plaintiffs' claims appear to center upon the signing of a judgment of possession on February 18, 2014, following their father's death. Plaintiffs appear to allege that the property in the father's succession did not actually belong to their father, but waspreviously inherited by Plaintiffs from their mother. Plaintiffs appealed to the Louisiana Second Circuit Court of Appeal and the Louisiana Supreme Court. Those Courts are listed as Defendants and are alleged to be part of the conspiracy to deprive Plaintiffs of their property, following a denial of their appeal and the writs filed in the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Plaintiffs first supplemental complaint did not include any new claims or events, and only added two additional Defendants, Geraldine Johnson and Douglas Self. (Doc. 11, p. 2). Plaintiffs cited Lugar v. Edmonson Oil Co., and stated that Defendants Johnson and Self had acted under color of state law by applying a state prejudgment statute. (Doc. 11, p. 1).

Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Leave to File Second Supplemental Complaint and submitted their proposed pleading. Plaintiffs claim that Defendant Douglas Self subjected Plaintiffs to mail fraud under 18 U.S.C. § 1341.

Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Leave to File Third Supplemental Complaint and submitted their proposed pleading. Plaintiffs reiterate their claims that Defendants collaborated to devise a scheme to defraud Plaintiffs out of their deceased parents' property. They appear to respond to the Second Circuit's Motion to Dismiss by stating that the Second Circuit's argument regarding Eleventh Amendment immunity was an "improper vehicle" and would deny Plaintiffs the due process of law. Plaintiffs additionally claim that the motion was filed for the "improper purpose to harass, cause unnecessary delay, and needlessly increase the cost of litigation [ . . . ]". (Doc. 23, pp. 3-5). Plaintiffs cite to 42 U.S.C. § 12202 and allege that the statute providesthat "State [sic] shall not be immune under the eleventh amendment [ . . . ] for a violation of this chapter."9 Plaintiffs further state that on November 28, 2016, Defendants "criminally executed" a judgment from February 18, 2014 against property belonging to Plaintiffs from both parents estates.

II. Standards of Review

A pro se complaint filed in forma pauperis is subject to screening under § 1915(e)(2)(b). That section provides for sua sponte dismissal of the complaint, or any portion thereof, if the Court finds it is frivolous or malicious, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or if it seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. A complaint is frivolous "if it lacks an arguable basis in law or fact." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). The law accords judges "the authority to dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory[.]" Id. at 327.

Additionally, the Court must initially examine the basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction. Federal district courts have limited jurisdiction and, unless provided by statute, only have jurisdiction over: (1) civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States; and (2) civil actions between citizens of different states or foreign nations where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332(a). Subject matter jurisdiction is nonwaivable. Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 583 (1999). Plaintiffs bear the burdenof showing the basis for subject matter jurisdiction. Boudreau v. United States, 53 F.3d 81, 82 (5th Cir. 1995).

Since Plaintiffs do not allege, nor does the Complaint support, diversity of citizenship jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), this Court may only exercise jurisdiction if it has federal question jurisdiction. Plaintiffs' have asserted a federal question claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of federal constitutional rights. Furthermore, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a), the Court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' state law claims only if it also has federal question jurisdiction over some claim. However, "[w]hen a plaintiff's complaint is facially frivolous and insubstantial, it is insufficient to invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court." Dilworth v. Dallas County Community College Dist., 81 F.3d 616, 617 (5th Cir. 1996). When a complaint lacks essential elements giving rise to federal jurisdiction, the action is subject to dismissal. See Olivares v. Martin, 555 F.2d 1192, 1195-96 (5th Cir. 1977).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows for dismissal if the plaintiff fails "to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." "[A] complaint will survive dismissal for failure to state a claim if it contains 'sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Legate v. Livingston, 822 F.3d 207, 210 (5th Cir. 2016) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)) (internal citation and quotation omitted). "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." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Thecourt must view all well-pleaded facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Yumilicious Franchise, L.L.C. v. Barrie, 819 F.3d 170, 174 (5th Cir. 2016). Although the court must accept all factual allegations as true, that same presumption does not extend to legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662. "A pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or 'a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid of "further factual enhancement.'" Id. at 678 (citations omitted).

III. Plaintiffs' action must be dismissed as Defendants are not state actors capable of being sued under Section 1983.

Plaintiffs allege criminal activity and misrepresentations by Defendants in the filing and administration of their parents' succession proceedings.

Plaintiffs have failed to allege a cognizable claim arising under federal law. "To state a claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must (1) allege a violation of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) demonstrate that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law." Leffall v. Dallas Independent School District, 28 F.3d 521, 525 (5th Cir. 1994).

A. Douglas Self and Geraldine Johnson.

"As a threshold matter, for a plaintiff to state a viable claim under Section 1983 against any private defendant [. . .] the conduct of the private defendant that forms the basis of the claimed constitutional deprivation must constitute state action under color of law." Morris v. Dillard Dep't Stores, Inc., 277 F.3d 743, 747 (5th Cir. 2001) (citing Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 924 (1982)). There must be "such a close nexus between the State and the challenged action [ ] that seemingly privatebehavior may be fairly treated as that of the State itself." Id. at 747-48. Thus, private citizens, like Defendants Self and Johnson, only become state actors when their actions are "fairly attributable to the State." Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., 457 U.S. at 937.

Plaintiffs state in their supplemental pleading that they are not adding any new claims or events, but only adding Defendants Self and Johnson, who Plaintiffs claim used a state prejudgment statute to act under the color of law. (See Doc. 11, p. 1). However, Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges issues with the judgement in the succession proceedings and appeals stemming from those judgments. There is no evidence of any sort of prejudgment statute; rather, Plaintiffs simply appear to be parroting the language in Lugar. Mere conclusory statements and recitals of the elements of a cause of action do not suffice. Furthermore, "[i]t is well -established that no 'state action' is involved when the state merely opens its tribunals to private litigants." Johnson ex rel. Wilson v. Dowd, 305 Fed. Appx. 221, 224 (5th Cir. 2008) (unpublished). Defendants Douglas and Self are not state...

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