United States District Court, D. New Jersey
September 9, 2005.
TONNESHA KIDD, etc., Plaintiff,
JAMES PETRELLA, etc., et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ANNE THOMPSON, Senior District Judge
Plaintiff Tonnesha Kidd seeks to bring this action individually
and as mother and administratrix of the estate of Akia Shakur.
Based on her affidavit of poverty, the Court grants the
application to proceed in forma pauperis. See
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Having thoroughly reviewed Plaintiff's pleading, the
Court will dismiss the action for lack of jurisdiction.
Plaintiff seeks an order setting aside a decision of the
Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. Plaintiff
asserts that Defendant she filed a notice of appeal in February
2002, in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division.
She asserts that on May 21, 2003, Superior Court Judge James
Petrella dismissed her appeal. Plaintiff alleges that on July 31,
2003, Judge Petrella denied her motion for reconsideration of the
order of dismissal. Plaintiff contends that the orders issued by the Judge Petrella are
unconstitutional, illegal and contrary to the New Jersey court
rules. She asks this Court to review the record of the
proceedings and to issue an order vacating the dismissal of her
appeal and reinstating the action.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), Pub.L. No. 104-134,
§§ 801-810, 110 Stat. 1321-66 to 1321-77 (April 26, 1996),
requires the Court, prior to docketing or as soon as practicable
after docketing, to review a complaint in a civil action brought
by a person who is proceeding in forma pauperis. See
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The PLRA requires the Court to sua
sponte dismiss any claim if the Court determines that it is
frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim on which relief may
be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is
immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and 1915A(b).
A pro se complaint is held to less stringent standards than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers. Haines v. Kerner,
404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972).
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Mansfield,
C. & L.M. Ry. Co. v. Swan, 111 U.S. 379, 383 (1884). As the
Supreme Court stated in Bender v. Williamsport Area School
Dist., 475 U.S. 534, 541 (1986),
it is appropriate to restate certain basic principles
that limit the power of every federal court. Federal
courts are not courts of general jurisdiction; they
have only the power that is authorized by Article III
of the Constitution and the statutes enacted by
Congress pursuant thereto.
Id. Article III of the Constitution provides:
The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law
and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws
of the United States, and Treaties made, or which
shall be made, under their Authority; to all Cases
affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and
Consuls; to all Cases of admiralty and maritime
Jurisdiction; to Controversies to which the
United States shall be a Party; to Controversies between
two or more States; between a State and Citizens of
another State; between Citizens of different
States; between Citizens of the same State claiming
Lands under Grants of different States, and between a
State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States,
Citizens or Subjects.
U.S. Const. art. III, § 2.
The essential facts establishing federal jurisdiction must
appear on the face of the complaint. McNutt v. General Motors
Acceptance Corp. of Indiana, 298 U.S. 178, 182, 189 (1936). The
plaintiff, "who claims that the power of the court should be
exerted in his behalf . . . must carry throughout the litigation
the burden of showing that he is properly in court." Id. at
189. Moreover, lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised
by the Court sua sponte at any time. Louisville & Nashville
Railroad Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908); Van Holt v.
Liberty Mutual Fire Ins. Co., 163 F.3d 161, 166 (3d Cir. 1998).
(1) Diversity Jurisdiction
The constitutional grant of diversity jurisdiction extends to
"Controversies . . . between Citizens of different States."
U.S. Const. art. III, § 2; see also 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Diversity
jurisdiction is determined by examining the citizenship of the
parties at the time the complaint is filed. Smith v. Sperling,
354 U.S. 91 (1957). As the face of the Complaint at bar indicates
that Plaintiff and at least one named Defendant are citizens of
New Jersey, the Court does not have diversity jurisdiction over
the action. (2) Federal Question Jurisdiction
A district court may also exercise jurisdiction over "Cases, in
Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the
United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under
their authority." U.S. Const. art. III., § 2; see also
28 U.S.C. § 1331. Specifically, 42 U.S.C. § 1983 authorizes a person
to seek redress for a violation of his or her federal rights by a
person who was acting under color of state law. Section 1983
provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State
or Territory . . . subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United States or other
person within the jurisdiction thereof to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable
to the party injured in an action at law, suit in
equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.
To recover under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show two
elements: (1) a person deprived him or caused him to be deprived
of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the
United States, and (2) the deprivation was done under color of state
law. See West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42
, 48 (1988); Adickes v.
S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144
, 152 (1970); Sample v. Diecks,
885 F.2d 1099, 1107 (3d Cir. 1989).
In the instant Complaint, Plaintiff contends that a judge of
New Jersey Appellate Division violated her constitutional rights
and New Jersey law by dismissing her appeal. This Court lacks
jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Complaint because federal courts
have no supervisory power over state court proceedings. See
County of Imperial, California v. Munoz, 449 U.S. 54 (1980);
Juidice v. Vail, 430 U.S. 327 (1977); Atlantic Coast Line
Railroad Co. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers,
398 U.S. 281 (1970); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923).
As the Supreme Court observed in Atlantic Coast Line Railroad
Co., 398 U.S. at 286: While the lower federal courts were given certain
powers in the 1789 Act, they were not given any power
to review directly cases from state courts, and they
have not been given such powers since that time. Only
the Supreme Court was authorized to review on direct
appeal the decisions of state courts. Thus from the
beginning we have had in this Country two essentially
separate legal systems. Each system proceeds
independently of the other with ultimate review in
this Court of the federal questions raised in either
system. . . . Proceedings in state courts should
normally be allowed to continue unimpaired by
intervention of the lower federal courts, with relief
from error, if any, through the state appellate
courts and ultimately this Court.
Based on the foregoing, this Court will dismiss Plaintiff's
Complaint for want of jurisdiction.
The Court grants Plaintiffs application to file the Complaint
in forma pauperis and dismisses the Complaint.
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