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Lawrence v. U.S. Department of Education

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 30, 2019

FRANKLIN H. LAWRENCE, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTION TO DISMISS (ECF NO. 16)

          James R. Sweeney, II United States District Judge.

         Defendant U.S. Department of Education (the “DOE”) moves to dismiss pro se Plaintiff Franklin H. Lawrence Jr.’s complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. (ECF No. 16.) The motion, now fully briefed and ripe for decision, is granted for the following reasons.

         I. Background [1]

         As best as can be discerned from the nearly incomprehensible and frivolous Complaint and associated pleadings, which are peppered with a cacophony of free citizen mantras and claims, Plaintiff incurred a valid debt, attempted to satisfy that debt with non-legal tender, and now complains that his purported payment was not accepted in satisfaction of his debt resulting in the allegedly “fraudulent” garnishment of his wages, all amounting to a deprivation of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. More specifically, Plaintiff Franklin H. Lawrence Jr. has student loan debt with Defendant DOE, which debt the DOE is collecting via wage garnishment. (Compl. ¶ B, ECF No. 1 at 2.) On March 3, 2018, Plaintiff unsuccessfully attempted to satisfy this debt by issuing to the DOE a $15, 000 “security bond promissory note.” (Pl.’s Br. 1, ECF No. 28.) Plaintiff alleges the note is valid tender pursuant to House Joint Resolution 192. (Id.)

         The DOE notified Plaintiff on April 3, 2018 that the “[b]ond for discharge [was] not accepted.” (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff then demanded that the DOE “receive the benefits” and that “if any attempt to collect after account 1002064340 is already agreed to be closed, is fraud and shall incur a penalty of $100, 000 United States Dollars or 52 Troy Ounces of Gold equivalent.” (Id.) (Id. at 2-3.) Plaintiff’s wages continue to be garnished to satisfy his debt. (Id. at 3.)

         II. Subject-Matter Jurisdiction Rule 12(b)(1)

         Plaintiff attempts to invoke this Court’s federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Compl. ¶ C, ECF No. 1 at 3.) He cites 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as the basis for his claim that the DOE deprived him of his rights. (Id. at 1; Pl.’s Br. 5, ECF No. 28.) However, § 1983 actions can only be brought against those acting under the color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see London v. RBS Citizens, N.A., 600 F.3d 742, 745– 46 (7th Cir. 2010) (citing Buchanan–Moore v. Cty of Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009)) (“In order to state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must sufficiently allege that (1) a person acting under color of state law (2) deprived him of a right, privilege, or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.”)

         As Defendant points out, Plaintiff alleges his § 1983 claim against the DOE, a federal agency that operates solely under the authority of federal law. (Def.’s Br. 6, ECF No. 17.) Even Plaintiff, undermining his own claim, cites to H.R.J. Res. 192 (1933), a federal resolution, which he claims authorizes the DOE to accept his security bond as payment for his debt. (Compl. ¶ B, ECF No. 1.) Because Plaintiff has not named a person acting under the color of state law in his Complaint, he cannot maintain a § 1983 claim and this Court cannot exercise jurisdiction over the matter.

         Further, there is no basis for the Court to exercise diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, nor any readily apparent basis for federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 513 (2006). While federal-question jurisdiction may be found under such provisions as the Higher Education Act (“HEA”), the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”), or even the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), the Complaint is infirm in invoking these provisions and the Court has no duty to come up with an independent jurisdiction basis for even a pro se Plaintiff. Accordingly, the Complaint should be dismissed. Id. at 514, see Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env’t, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998) (wholly insubstantial complaints do not invoke federal subject matter jurisdiction).

         III. Failure to State a Claim Rule 12(b)(6)

         Even if this Court had jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s action, Plaintiff’s Complaint (ECF No. 1) still must be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. While the Complaint (ECF No. 1) and Brief in Support of Complaint (ECF No. 28) are nearly inscrutable, it appears that Plaintiff asserts claims of fraud and “deprivation of rights” under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff’s § 1983 claim is deficient for failure to identify a state actor. After carefully reviewing Plaintiff’s fraud allegations, the Court determines that the pleadings, even construed liberally. are inadequate to state a claim for fraud.

         A. Legal Standard

         To survive a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court takes the complaint’s factual allegations as true and draws all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff’s favor. Orgone Capital III, LLC v. Daubenspeck, 912 F.3d 1039, 1044 (7th Cir. 2019). The court need not “accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). “[I]f a plaintiff pleads facts that show its suit [is] barred . . ., it may plead itself out of court under a Rule 12(b)(6) analysis.” Orgone Capital, 912 F.3d at 1044 (quoting Whirlpool Fin. Corp. v. GN Holdings, Inc., 67 F.3d 605, 608 (7th Cir. 1995)); Bogie v. Rosenberg, 705 F.3d 603, 609 (7th Cir. 2013) (on a motion to dismiss “district courts are free to consider ‘any facts set forth in the complaint that undermine the plaintiff’s claim’”) (quoting Hamilton v. O’Leary, 976 F.2d 341, 343 (7th Cir. 1992)).

         The defense of sovereign immunity is properly brought under a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Meyers v. Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin, 836 F.3d 818, 822 (7th Cir. 2016) ...


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