United States District Court, D. Maryland
K. Bredar Chief Judge
DeWarren Richardson, Sr., who is incarcerated at the Maryland
Correctional Training Center in Hagerstown
("MCTC"), filed this lawsuit, together with a
Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. The complaint was signed
on August 19, 2019 and received for filing on September 4,
2019. While the Motion shall be granted, the complaint must
be dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
lawsuit is filed against the Baltimore County Department of
Social Services ("BCDSS") and two individuals who,
while not specifically identified, appear to be BCDSS
employees. ECF 1. Richardson claims that his son's
biological mother abandoned the child in August 2016. This
led to an August 22, 2016 determination that the child would
be committed to the State and placed in a foster home, with
visitation rights granted to Richardson's parents (the
child's paternal grandparents).
complains that BCDSS did not allow his family to initially
intervene prior to awarding custody to the State. He claims
that although BCDSS employees later asked his parents to
apply to gain custody and undergo classes and inspections,
the determination was made that the child should remain with
his foster family, with whom he had bonded. ECF 1, pp.
5:7. Richardson asks for custody of his child and
$1.5 million in damages.
filed this complaint in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(a)(1), which permits an indigent litigant to
commence an action in this court without prepaying the filing
fee. To guard against possible abuses of this privilege, the
statute requires dismissal of any claim that is frivolous or
malicious or fails to state a claim on which relief may be
granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii). This
court is mindful of its obligation to liberally construe
self-represented pleadings, see Erickson v. Pardus,
551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), and in evaluating the complaint
assumes the factual allegations to be true. Id. at
93 (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555-56 (2007)). Nonetheless, liberal construction does
not mean that this court can ignore a clear failure in the
pleading to allege facts which set forth a cognizable claim.
See Wetter v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387
(4th Cir. 1990). In making this determination, "[t]he
district court need not look beyond the complaint's
allegations" and "must hold the pro se complaint to
less stringent standards than pleadings drafted by attorneys
and must read the complaint liberally." White v.
White, 886 F.2d 721, 722-723 (4th Cir. 1989).
liberally construing a complaint, a federal district court
"may not exercise jurisdiction absent a statutory
basis." Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs.,
Inc., 545 U.S. 546, 552 (2005). Further, the court has
"an independent obligation to determine whether
subject-matter jurisdiction exists, even when no party
challenges it." Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S.
77, 94 (2010). To the extent that Richardson is challenging
the validity of a state court order regarding paternity and
child support, he may not bring such a challenge here,
because there is an exception to federal court jurisdiction
that excludes matters regarding child custody, paternity, or
divorce. See Cantor v. Cohen, 442 F.3d 196, 202 (4th
Cir. 2006) (citing Cole v. Cole, 633 F.2d 1083, 1087
(4th Cir. 1980) (noting federal courts "generally
abstain from child custody matters"); Raftery v.
Scott, 756 F.2d 335, 343 (4th Cir. 1985) (Michael, J.
concurring) (domestic relations exception to federal
courts' jurisdiction based on idea that state has a
stronger more direct interest).
does Richardson's claim invoke this Court's oversight
under diversity jurisdiction, which applies "where the
matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000,
exclusive of interest and costs, and is between .. . citizens
of different States." 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). Here,
the parties all appear to be in Maryland. Even if the parties
were diverse, pursuant to Wasserman v. Wasserman,671 F.2d 832, 834 (4th Cir. 1982), diversity jurisdiction