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Austin v. Anderson

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Northeastern Division

June 28, 2017




         In this 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).

         The 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.


         Mr. 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).

         While 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).

         Mr. 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).


         When a 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).


         The 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).

         With 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).

         In his 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.[1]

         In 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.[2] 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.[3] 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. ...

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