United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division
MADELINE HUGHES HAIKALA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
action, plaintiff Courtnee Demond Austin seeks damages from
Dorothy Anderson, a former employee of the State of Alabama.
Mr. Austin alleges that Ms. Anderson stole his identity while
he was in the custody of the Alabama Department of
Corrections. (Doc. 1, pp. 3, 6; Doc. 4, p. 1). Mr. Austin
requests compensatory damages to cover the cost of restoring
his identity, damages for mental anguish, and punitive
damages. (Doc. 1, p. 7).
magistrate judge to whom this case is assigned recommended
that the case be dismissed without prejudice for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 11). Mr. Austin has filed
an objection to the report and recommendation. Mr. Austin
contends that federal jurisdiction does exist. (Doc. 14). The
Court sustains the objection.
Austin was incarcerated from 2003 until 2007. (Doc. 4, p. 1).
While on probation in 2008, Mr. Austin worked at Birmingham
Roofing and Sheetmetal before returning to the custody of the
Alabama Department of Corrections for a probation violation.
(Doc. 4, p. 1). When Mr. Austin tried to file a tax return
for 2008, the IRS informed him that he was a victim of
identity theft. (Doc. 4, p. 1). The IRS gave Mr. Austin a
copy of a fraudulent tax return which had been filed under
his name and bore a return address in Wetumpka, Alabama.
(Doc. 4, p. 1). Mr. Austin has never lived in Wetumpka, but a
residence in that city was registered in his name and had
become subject to a tax lien. The tax lien appeared on his
credit report. (Doc. 4, pp. 1-2).
incarcerated in 2011, Mr. Austin was transported from Alabama
to South Carolina to testify against Dorothy Anderson, who
was charged with stealing the identity of Mr. Austin and a
number of other prison inmates. (Doc. 1, pp. 5-6). In
addition to filing a fraudulent tax return, Ms. Anderson, a
former tax preparer, opened several bank accounts in Mr.
Austin's name. (Doc. 1, pp. 3, 6). Ms. Anderson also
implicated Mr. Austin in her crimes, stating she had paid him
$26, 000 for his identity. (Doc. 1, p. 6).
Austin has not received his tax refund for 2013. He
attributes the delay to Ms. Anderson's actions and an
ongoing IRS investigation. (Doc. 4, p. 2). In his complaint,
Mr. Austin seeks to recover $1, 000, 000 from Ms. Anderson.
(Doc. 1, p. 7).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
party objects to a magistrate judge's report and
recommendation, the Court must “make a de novo
determination of those portions of the report or specified
proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is
made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). This means the Court
must “give fresh consideration to those issues to which
specific objection has been made.” Jeffrey S. by
Ernest S. v. State Bd. of Educ. of State of Ga., 896
F.2d 507, 512 (11th Cir. 1990). The Court must review de novo
questions of law in the report and recommendation, and the
Court reviews for plain error factual findings to which the
plaintiff has not objected. Macort v. Prem, Inc.,
208 Fed.Appx. 781, 784 (11th Cir. 2006). The Court “may
accept, reject, or modify, in whole or part, the findings or
recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
magistrate judge found that the Court may not exercise
jurisdiction over Mr. Austin's claims under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331 because Mr. Austin has not presented a federal
question in his complaint. The magistrate judge also
concluded that the Court lacks jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332 because Mr. Austin cannot recover $75, 000, much
less $1, 000, 000. (Doc. 11, pp. 5, 8, 9).
respect to federal question jurisdiction, on its face, Mr.
Austin purports to bring a federal law claim under §
1983. (Doc. 11, p. 5; Doc. 1). “To state a claim under
§ 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right
secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States,
and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a
person acting under color of state law.” West v.
Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). The magistrate judge
found that both the “color of state law” and
“right secured by the Constitution and laws of the
United States” elements of a § 1983 claim are
missing from the complaint. (Doc. 11, pp. 5-6).
complaint, Mr. Austin has not described a violation of either
the Constitution or federal law. This deficiency is fatal to
a claim under § 1983. Therefore, the Court will dismiss
Mr. Austin's § 1983 claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
addition to his § 1983 claim, Mr. Austin's complaint
(Doc. 1) and response to the Court's show cause order
(Doc. 4) contain allegations which the Court construes as
stating claims under Alabama law for identity theft,
defamation, and conversion. The Court may exercise
jurisdiction over the state law claims under 28 U.S.C. §
1332 if the parties to the dispute are citizens of different
states, and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000. 28
U.S.C. § 1332. The magistrate judge found that Mr. Austin
and Ms. Anderson are citizens of different states and
acknowledged that Mr. Austin requests relief of $1, 000, 000
from Ms. Anderson. (Doc. 11, p. 7). When a plaintiff pleads
damages in excess of the jurisdictional floor, “[i]t
must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for
less than the jurisdictional amount to justify
dismissal.” St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. ...