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Clarkes v. Hughes

United States District Court, E.D. New York

May 5, 2017

MICHAEL G. HUGHES, d/b/a attorney, Defendant.



         On February 21, 2017, pro se plaintiffs Alicia Clarkes, Samantha Clarkes, Holly Young, Paula Ross, Cassondra Church, Jamal Smart, Susan Murphy, Juanita Clarkes, Joyce Holley, and Claudia McDonald (collectively, “plaintiffs”) filed a complaint in this Court against Michael G. Hughes, d/b/a attorney (“Hughes” or “defendant”). Plaintiffs paid the Court's filing fee. Because the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate plaintiffs' claims for the reasons that follow, the complaint is sua sponte dismissed without prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3).

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiffs have checked both boxes on the form complaint to allege that the basis for this Court's subject matter jurisdiction is federal question and diversity. (See Compl. ¶ II. A.) In the space on the form complaint that calls for the federal Constitutional, statutory or treaty right is at issue, plaintiffs allege “Amendments I, IV, V, VI, VIII, IX, XIII, XIV United States Constitution - see annexed for other applicable laws.” (Id. ¶ II. B.) Annexed to the form complaint is an additional one hundred and eighteen (118) pages of exhibits. Therein, plaintiffs claim violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1691 et seq., (“ECOA”), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692 et seq. (“FDCPA”), and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681 et seq. (“FCRA”), in addition to various state statutes. (Id. at 6, 8-9.) In the space on the form complaint that calls for the state of citizenship of each party, plaintiffs allege that they are citizens of the United States and that the defendant is “American.” (Id. ¶ II. C.) However, plaintiffs have each indicated that they reside in Suffolk County, New York and that the defendant is an attorney licensed to practice law in the State of New York with offices located in Greenlawn, New York. (See Exhibit A annexed to the Complaint at page 10.)[2]

         Plaintiffs' submission is a rambling, disjointed mix of conclusory allegations and is difficult to comprehend. At best, it appears that plaintiffs seek to challenge the legal representation provided by defendant to a family member, Kingsly O. McDonald (“K. McDonald”). (Id.) Plaintiffs allege that they are the “significant others” of K. McDonald who allegedly paid defendant $3, 500.00 to represent him in an underlying immigration case. (Id.) Plaintiffs' claim that defendant did not renew his bar registration and was therefore ineligible to represent K. McDonald. Accordingly, plaintiffs seek an order declaring that defendant “violated the Petition for Pre Trial Motions and failed to notify plaintiffs that he had not renewed his registration at the United States Bar Association” as well as compensatory damages in a sum no less than $1, 800, 000.00 ($1.8 million) and an unspecified sum of punitive damages. (Id. at 15.)


         A. Standard of Review

         Pro se submissions are afforded wide interpretational latitude and should be held “to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam); see also Boddie v. Schnieder, 105 F.3d 857, 860 (2d Cir. 1997). In addition, the court is required to read the plaintiff's pro se complaint liberally and interpret it as raising the strongest arguments it suggests. United States v. Akinrosotu, 637 F.3d 165, 167 (2d Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (citation omitted); Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009).

         The Supreme Court has held that pro se complaints need not even plead specific facts; rather, the complainant “need only give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); cf.Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e) (“Pleadings must be construed so as to do justice.”). However, a pro se plaintiff must still plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “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, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citations omitted). The plausibility standard requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. at 678. While “detailed factual allegations” are not required, “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

         Further, a district court has the inherent power to dismiss a case, sua sponte, if it determines that the action is frivolous or the court lacks jurisdiction over the matter regardless of whether a plaintiff has paid the filing fee. Fitzgerald v. First E. Seventh St. Tenants Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 363-364 (2d Cir. 2000) (per curiam); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Notwithstanding the liberal pleading standard afforded pro se litigants, federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and may not preside over cases if subject matter jurisdiction is lacking. Lyndonville Sav. Bank & Trust Co. v. Lussier, 211 F.3d 697, 700-01 (2d Cir. 2000). Unlike lack of personal jurisdiction, lack of subject matter jurisdiction cannot be waived and may be raised at any time by a party or by the Court sua sponte. Id. “If subject matter jurisdiction is lacking, the action must be dismissed.” Id. at 700-01; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). The party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of proof. DiTolla v. Doral Dental IPA of N.Y., 469 F.3d 271, 275 (2d Cir. 2006).

         Here, plaintiffs seek to invoke this Court's subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1332. Section 1331 provides that “district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws or treaties of the United States.” Section 1332 provides that federal court subject matter jurisdiction may be established where ...

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