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Rahl v. New York Telephone Co.

August 23, 2010

JOHN E. RAHL, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS 95% STOCKHOLDER OF THE WALLKILL VALLEY RAILROAD COMPANY (1866) D/B/A WALLKILL VALLEY RAILROAD COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NEW YORK TELEPHONE COMPANY, D/B/A VERIZON, D/B/A BELL ATLANTIC TELEPHONE COMPANIES, D/B/A NYNEX, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

Plaintiff John Rahl brings this action against Verizon under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1337(a), and FED. R. CIV. P. 65, alleging breach of contract, trespass, and violations of property rights protected by various provisions of the United States Constitution, New York State Constitution, and New York Railroad Law. (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) Pending are Verizon's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and request for a permanent injunction restricting Rahl from making future filings. (Dkt. No. 25.) For the reasons that follow, the motion to dismiss is granted, the permanent injunction is denied, and Rahl is granted limited leave to amend his complaint.

II. Background

A. Factual History

In June 1986, Rahl acquired certain real property when he purchased the Wallkill Valley Railroad Company. (See Compl. ¶¶ 8-9, Dkt. No. 1.) On February 7, 1992, Rahl granted Verizon a deed of easement pursuant to which Verizon was permitted to run and maintain wire and cable across Rahl's property at specific locations. (See id. at ¶ 10; see also 1992 Agreement, Pl. Ex. 3 to Compl., Dkt. No. 1:4.) In 1998, the parties entered into a subsequent agreement allowing Verizon to install a fiber optic cable across Rahl's property at an additional location. (See Compl. ¶ 12, Dkt. No. 1; see also 1998 Agreement, Pl. Ex. 4 to Compl., Dkt. No. 1:5.) At some point thereafter, Verizon allegedly installed additional lines at one of the locations covered by the 1992 Agreement without Rahl's approval or the remuneration required. (See Compl. ¶¶ 14-15, 18-21, Dkt. No. 1.) Verizon, allegedly acting in concert with Ulster County, also installed a second fiber optic cable at a location covered by neither of the prior two agreements without permission or compensation. (See id. at ¶¶ 34-36.) In 2007, despite Rahl's insistence that any payments due to Verizon for telephone and internet service were offset by Verizon's failure to compensate Rahl for the additional lines, Verizon terminated Rahl's internet and telephone service for nonpayment. (See id. at ¶¶ 17-20.)

B. Procedural History

On May 18, 2009, Rahl brought this action against Verizon in the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, requesting injunctive relief and damages. (See Compl., Dkt. No. 1; Pet. for Prelim. Inj., Dkt. No. 2.) On June 18, 2009, Verizon moved to disqualify Rahl from appearing pro se, to dismiss the action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, or alternatively for a transfer to the Northern District of New York. (See Dkt. Nos. 5-7.) Senior District Court Judge Garvan Murtha granted Verizon's motion to transfer venue without reaching the remaining issues. (See Dkt. No. 15.)

On December 17, 2009, Magistrate Judge David R. Homer denied Verizon's motions to disqualify and dismiss. (See Dkt. No. 24.) On February 16, 2010, Verizon renewed its motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and additionally requested a permanent injunction restricting Rahl's future filings. (See Dkt. No. 25.)

III. Standard of Review

"A case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it." Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). "In resolving a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), a district court ... may refer to evidence outside the pleadings." Id. at 113. "When the question to be considered is one involving the jurisdiction of a federal court, jurisdiction must be shown affirmatively, and that showing is not made by drawing from the pleadings inferences favorable to the party asserting it." Shipping Fin. Servs. Corp. v. Drakos, 140 F.3d 129, 131 (2d Cir. 1998). Thus, "a plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists." Makarova, 201 F.3d at 113. As relevant to the current motion, "courts must construe pro se pleadings broadly, and interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest," especially where civil rights violations are alleged.See Cruz v. Gomez, 202 F.3d 593, 597 (2d Cir. 2000) (italics omitted). However, pro se status "does not exempt a party from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law" and courts cannot read into pro se submissions inconsistent claims or claims not suggested by those submissions. See Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 477 (2d Cir. 2006) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted).

IV. Discussion

A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires parties to plead "a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction." FED R. CIV. P. 8(a)(1). Despite the liberal reading the court must apply to the submissions of a pro se plaintiff, some set of facts must be included in the complaint that would support the court's exercise of subject matter jurisdiction and a complaint that falls too far short of this ...


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