United States District Court, D. Maryland
STEVEN SMOTHERS, et al.
STATE OF MARYLAND
Deborah K. Chasanow United States District Judge.
State of Maryland (“Defendant”) filed a motion to
dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on December
31, 2018 (ECF No. 4) and Plaintiffs opposed the motion on
January 28, 2019 (ECF No. 8). The issues are fully briefed
and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary.
Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons that follow,
Defendant's motion will be granted.
Steven Smothers (“Plaintiff Smothers”) and the
Aboriginal Republic of North America (“ARNA”)
(collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint
against Defendant on November 8, 2018. (ECF No. 1). The
complaint is confusing and fails clearly to explain the
events precipitating Plaintiffs' claim, the laws they
believe Defendant violated, or the relief they seek.
Plaintiffs' claims appear to arise from a dispute
regarding Plaintiff Smothers' exemption from withholding
tax in the State of Maryland. (ECF No. 1-1). Plaintiff
Smothers states that he “turned over fiducial duties of
certain property to the Aboriginal Republic of North America
[(“ARNA”)] near the end of 2016[.]” (ECF
No. 1, at 2). Plaintiff Smothers executed a Maryland
Withholding Exemption Certificate on January 18, 2017,
claiming to be exempt from withholding tax. (ECF No. 1-1).
Belinda Clark, an employee in the Comptroller of
Maryland's Compliance Programs Section, sent Plaintiff
Smothers a letter on April 11, 2017, stating that Plaintiff
Smothers was not exempt and providing him ten days to
“provide documentation to support [his] request to be
exempt.” (Id.). The letter also indicated
that, if Plaintiff Smothers failed to respond, his employer
would receive a letter directing it “to begin
withholding tax[.]” (Id.). Plaintiffs do not
state whether Plaintiff Smothers responded to the letter, but
it appears that the State of Maryland directed his employer
to begin withholding tax. (ECF No. 8-4). Despite continued
protest, the Compliance Programs Section once again notified
Plaintiff Smothers on November 14, 2017 and November 9, 2018
that his Aboriginal Republic of North America citizenship
does not make him generally exempt from Maryland tax
withholding. (Id.; ECF No. 8-2).
complaint states that “Maryland [is] taking aboriginal
property at will without explicit authorization of the
tribe” and seeks “[e]conomic injury, pain and
suffering remed[ies], [and c]ivil remedies for 42
U[.]S[.]C[.] §[§] 1981, 1983, 1985[, ] and 28
U[.]S[.]C[.] § 1343[.]” (ECF No. 1, at 4).
Standard of Review
to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction are
governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Generally,
“questions of subject matter jurisdiction must be
decided first, because they concern the court's very
power to hear the case.” Owens-Illinois, Inc. v.
Meade, 186 F.3d 435, 442 n.4 (4th Cir. 1999).
The party bringing suit in federal court bears the burden of
proving that subject matter jurisdiction properly exists.
See Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 647
(4th Cir. 1999). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(1)
motion, the court “may consider evidence outside the
pleadings” to help determine whether it has
jurisdiction over the case before it. Richmond,
Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. U.S., 945 F.2d
765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991); see also Evans,
166 F.3d at 647. Such a motion should only be granted
“if the material jurisdictional facts are not in
dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a
matter of law.” Richmond, 945 F.2d at 768.
pro se pleadings are liberally construed and held to
a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by lawyers.
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting
Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976));
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). Liberal
construction means that the court will read the pleadings to
state a valid claim to the extent that it is possible to do
so from the facts available; it does not mean that the court
should rewrite the complaint to include claims never
presented. Barnett v. Hargett, 174 F.3d 1128, 1132
(10th Cir. 1999). That is, even when pro
se litigants are involved, the court cannot ignore a
clear failure to allege facts that support a viable claim.
Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387,
391 (4th Cir. 1990).
argues that Plaintiffs' claim should be dismissed
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) because
“[t]he Eleventh Amendment . . . bars this suit against
the state.” (ECF No. 4-1, at 3). Defendant asserts
that, because Plaintiff Smothers “appears to be a
citizen of Maryland and [ARNA] appears to be a citizen of the
District of Columbia[, ] . . . their suit against the State
of Maryland is barred[.]” (ECF No. 4-1, at 4).
Plaintiffs' opposition does not address Defendant's
subject matter jurisdiction argument.
Eleventh Amendment provides that “[t]he Judicial power
of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any
suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of
the United States by Citizens of another State, or by
Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.” As noted by
the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in
Lee-Thomas v. Prince George's County Public
Schools, 666 F.3d 244, 248-49 (4th Cir.
The Supreme Court “has drawn on principles of sovereign
immunity to construe the Amendment to establish that an
unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal
courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another
State.” Feeney, 495 U.S. at 304 (internal
quotation marks omitted). The States' immunity also
extends to “state agents and state
instrumentalities.” Regents of the Univ. of Cal. v.
Doe, 519 U.S. 425, 429 (1997). “The Eleventh
Amendment bar to suit is not absolute, ” however.
Feeney, 495 U.S. at 304. There are three exceptions
to that constitutional bar.
First, “Congress may abrogate the States' Eleventh
Amendment immunity when it both unequivocally intends to do
so and acts pursuant to a valid grant of constitutional
authority.” Bd. of Trs. of Univ. of Ala. v.
Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 363 (2001) (internal quotation
marks and alterations omitted). . . . Second, “the
Eleventh Amendment permits suits for prospective injunctive
relief against state officials acting in violation of federal
law.” Frew ex rel. Frew v. Hawkins, 540 U.S.
431, 437 (2004). . . . Third, “[a] State remains free
to waive its Eleventh Amendment immunity from suit in a
federal court.” Lapides v. Bd. of Regents of Univ.
Sys. of Ga., 535 U.S. 613, 618 (2002).
the three exceptions are applicable here. First, Congress did
not abrogate States' Eleventh Amendment immunity for
claims arising under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, or
1985.Middlebrooks v. Univ. of Md. at Coll.
Park, 980 F.Supp. 824, 828 (D.Md. 1997)
(“Plaintiff's [§ 1981 claims] against the
University, for both equitable and monetary relief, are
barred by the Eleventh Amendment.”); Will v. Mich.
Dep't of State Police,491 U.S. 58, 65-66 (1989)
(finding that a state is not a person within the meaning of
§ 1983 and that the Eleventh Amendment bars § 1983
suits unless the state has waived its immunity); Clark v.
Md. Dep't of Pub. Safety & Corr. Servs., 247
F.Supp.2d 773, 776 n.2 (D.Md. 2003) (“The Eleventh
Amendment bars plaintiff's claim under 42 U.S.C. §
1985 because Congress has not expressly abrogated state
immunity in § 1985 actions.”) (citing
Unemployment Fincherv. State of Fla. Dep't
of Labor & Employment Sec. UnemploymentAppeals
Comm'n, 798 F.2d 1371 (11th Cir. 1986)).
Second, Plaintiffs are not seeking any prospective injunctive
relief; instead, they appear to seek only monetary damages.
Third, the State of Maryland has not waived its Eleventh
Amendment immunity in this case. To the extent that ARNA
purports to be a ...