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Coeur v. Buck

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

June 4, 2018

FRED BUCK, Defendant.

          Robert J. Shelby Chief District Judge



         District Judge Robert J. Shelby referred this case to Chief Magistrate Judge Paul M. Warner pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).[1] On December 1, 2017, the court granted Francois Coeur's (“Plaintiff”) application for leave to proceed in forma pauperis and waived the prepayment of filing fees pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (“IFP Statute”).[2] Accordingly, the court will screen Plaintiff's action as required under the IFP Statute. See, e.g., Lister v. Dep't of the Treasury, 408 F.3d 1309, 1312 (10th Cir. 2005). In addition, because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se in this case, the court will construe his pleadings liberally. See, e.g., Ledbetter v. City of Topeka, 318 F.3d 1183, 1187 (10th Cir. 2003).


         While Plaintiff's complaint is very difficult to decipher, the court has deduced the following allegations against Fred Buck (“Defendant”), a Justice of the Peace in Tom Green County, Texas. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant assessed $3150.00 against Plaintiff in an action related to his commercial driver's license. Plaintiff contends that Defendant called Plaintiff from San Angelo, Texas, in order to obtain Plaintiff's plea over the phone and that Defendant would not allow him to file an answer in writing. Plaintiff asserts state law claims for negligence and harassment against Defendant and asks this court “that the amount of 3150 be dropped and counterclaim [sic] including attorney fees and court costs in the amount of 500, 000 dollars and weekly payments of 2, 000 dollars.”[3] Elsewhere in the complaint, Plaintiff seeks “fees and court costs in the amount of 1, 000, 000, 000 dollars . . . and weekly payments of 10, 000 dollars.”[4]


         As noted above, Plaintiff is proceeding pro se under the IFP Statute, which requires sua sponte dismissal of the case if the court determines that the action (1) is frivolous or malicious, (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or (3) seeks relief from a defendant who is immune from suit. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A district court may also dismiss a case sua sponte under the IFP Statute for lack of personal jurisdiction or venue “when the defense is obvious from the face of the complaint and no further factual record is required to be developed.” Trujillo v. Williams, 465 F.3d 1210, 1217 (10th Cir. 2006) (quotations and citation omitted).

         It is also well settled that the lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised sua sponte by the court at any point in the proceedings. McAlester v. United Air Lines, 851 F.2d 1249, 1252 (l0th Cir. 1988). “A court lacking jurisdiction cannot render judgment but must dismiss the cause at any stage of the proceedings in which it becomes apparent that jurisdiction is lacking.” Basso v. Utah Power & Light Co., 495 F.2d 906, 909 (10th Cir. 1974). Because federal district courts have limited jurisdiction, a presumption against federal jurisdiction exists, “and the party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of proof.” Penteco Corp. Ltd. P'ship-1985A v. Union Gas Sys., Inc., 929 F.2d 1519, 1521 (10th Cir. 1991) (citation omitted).

         Subject matter jurisdiction may be demonstrated in one of two ways. First, in cases arising under federal question jurisdiction, federal district courts have authority over “civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. “The presence or absence of federal question jurisdiction is governed by the ‘well-pleaded complaint rule,' which provides that federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of the plaintiff's properly pleaded complaint.” Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987). Thus, a case meets the “arising under” standard of § 1331 if it is apparent from the face of the complaint that federal law creates the plaintiff's cause of action. See Franchise Tax Bd. of State of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr. for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983). Second, federal district courts may exercise diversity jurisdiction over “all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000 . . . and is between . . . citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332. “A case falls within the federal district court's original diversity jurisdiction only if diversity of citizenship among the parties is complete, i.e., only if there is no plaintiff and no defendant who are citizens of the same State.” Wis. Dep't of Corr. v. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 388 (1998) (quotations and citations omitted).

         With these standards in mind, the court will now address the sufficiency of Plaintiff's complaint as required under the IFP Statute.


         In his complaint, Plaintiff is essentially asking this court to overturn a state-court judgment rendered in Texas. However, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine “prevents the lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over cases brought by state-court losers challenging state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.” Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 460 (2006) (per curiam) (quotations and citations omitted). “[T]he Rooker-Feldman doctrine divests federal district courts of subject matter jurisdiction over claims that seek, in substance, appellate review of final state-court judgments.” Bear v. Patton, 451 F.3d 639, 641 n.2 (10th Cir. 2006). Because the substance of Plaintiff's complaint is a request that this court overturn a state court judgment, i.e., the assessment of $3150 related to Plaintiff's commercial driver's license, this court is without subject matter jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman.

         Moreover, even assuming that Rooker-Feldman did not divest this court of subject matter jurisdiction, it is apparent on the face of Plaintiff's complaint that the District of Utah is not the proper venue for this case. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), a complaint may only be brought in

(1) a judicial district in which any defendant resides, if all defendants are residents of the State in which ...

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