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Stephens v. Stephens

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 24, 2019

Carol Vanerka Stephens, Plaintiff,
v.
Stephen Stephens, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Hon. Leo I. Brisbois United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter comes before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to a general assignment made in accordance with the provision of 28 U.S.C. § 636, and upon Plaintiff Carol Vanerka Stephens' Complaint, [Docket No. 1], as well as, her Application [UP] to Proceed in District Court Without Prepaying Fees or Costs. [Docket No. 2].

         For the reasons below, the Court recommends (1) dismissing this action without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, and (2) denying the IFP Application as moot.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case stems from a state court property dispute. In April 2016, Plaintiff filed a petition in Minnesota state court seeking to reform a deed for certain St. Paul-based real property. See, Register of Actions, In re Stephens, No. 62-CV-16-1995 (Minn. Dist. Ct), available at http://pa.courts.state.mn.us (last accessed Aug. 2, 2019); Stephens v. Stephens, No. A18-1208, 2019 WL 1007789, at *1 (Minn.Ct.App. Mar. 4, 2019). Under the terms of the deed, Plaintiff had an undivided one-half interest in the property; Defendant had an undivided quarter interest; and a third party (Plaintiff s daughter who is also Defendant's sister) had another undivided quarter interest. See, Stephens, 2019 WL 1007789, at * 1.[1]Through the April 2016, state court Petition, Plaintiff sought to make herself the property's sole owner. See, Id.

         In that state court action, Defendant moved for summary judgment in January 2018. See, Id. at *2. Plaintiff did not file a responsive memorandum, and at a motion hearing, she failed to dispute the authenticity of various exhibits that Defendant had submitted. See, Id. The state district court issued an Order stating (among other things) that the relevant deed language was "clear and unambiguous," and that the state court "ha[d] no basis for reforming or changing the deed to the St. Paul property." See, Id. Because Plaintiff "ha[d] not met her burden [of presenting specific facts that raise a genuine issue for trial]," the state district court granted the summary judgment motion and dismissed the state court case. See, Id.

         Plaintiff appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which in March 2019, affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment. See, Id. at *3-4. Plaintiff petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court for discretionary review, but that Court summarily denied that request on May 28, 2019. See, Id. at *1. Plaintiff then filed the present Complaint. (See, Compl., [Docket No. 1], at 1, 6).

         The Complaint's main thrust is that the state district court proceedings violated Minnesota statutes in various ways. (See, Id. at 3-5). Plaintiff also generically asserts that she "was denied due process." (See, e.g., Id. at 3).

         In a section of the Complaint titled "Evidence and Facts," Plaintiff refers this Court to an "addendum"; this addendum consists of 106 pages of material, including what appears to be Plaintiff s briefs to the Minnesota state courts, various exhibits, materials from the state district court proceedings, and several media articles. (See, Id. at 6; Addendum [Docket No. 1-2]). In its Request for Relief, the Complaint seeks reformation of the title for the St. Paul property, as well as, "justice in accountability, sanctions, fines and any other relief Plaintiff is entitled to from" Defendant and a variety of other people not named. (See, Compl., [Docket No. 1], at 6).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff did not pay the filing fee for this case, but instead, she applied for in forma pauperis (IFP) status. (See, IFP Application [Docket No. 2]). That application is now before the Court.

         Typically, such an application must be considered before taking any other action in a matter. Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12(h)(3), however, "[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action." After reviewing the Complaint, the Court concludes that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the claims presented here.

         Plaintiff asserts that federal question jurisdiction exists in this case. (Compl., [Docket No. 1], at 2). In the portion of her Complaint asserting the basis for such jurisdiction, Plaintiff cites 28 U.S.C. § 1331; Rule 1.3 of the Local Rules for the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota; and various Minnesota statutes. (See, Id.) None of these sources provide this Court federal question subject matter jurisdiction over this action.

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, district courts have subject-matter jurisdiction over "all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." An action "arise[s] under" federal law in two situations: (1) "federal law creates the cause of action asserted," or (2) the action presents a state-law claim that "necessarily raise[s] a stated federal issue, actually disputed and substantial, which a federal forum may entertain without disturbing any congressionally approved balance of federal and state power." Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith Inc. v. Manning, 136 S.Ct. 1562, 1570 (2016) (internal quotation marks omitted; alteration in Merrill Lynch) (quoting Grable & Sons Metal Prods., Inc. v. Darue Eng'g ...


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