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Stewart v. Blackmore

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

April 17, 2015



CAROLYN S. OSTBY, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Walter Stewart's Amended Complaint filed against two private individuals who allegedly stole his property. Although not listed in the caption, Stewart also includes attorney Harold G. Stanton in the list of defendants. Amended Complaint, ECF 14 at 3. Stewart alleges Defendants entered a settlement agreement with him but failed to comply with the terms of that agreement.


Because Stewart is a prisoner proceeding in forma pauperis, the Court conducted an initial screening of the Complaint as required under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. This statute requires the Court to review complaints filed in forma pauperis to determine if the allegations are frivolous, fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2); See also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3) ("If the court determines at any time that is lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.").

In its prior Order, the Court found that Stewart had failed to sufficiently allege subject matter jurisdiction but allowed Stewart an opportunity to amend his Complaint. See February 17, 2015 Order (ECF 6). Stewart filed an Amended Complaint on April 15, 2015 but still failed to sufficiently allege subject matter jurisdiction. See Amended Complaint (ECF 14). As such, this matter should be dismissed.


A party seeking to invoke federal subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of establishing that jurisdiction exists. Data Disc, Inc. v. Systems Technology Associates, Inc., 557 F.2d 1280 (9th Cir. 1977). Congress has authorized federal jurisdiction in cases which present a federal question as set forth by 28 U.S.C. § 1331, or where there is complete diversity of citizenship and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000 as set forth by 28 U.S.C. § 1332.

A. Diversity Jurisdiction

Stewart represented in his original Complaint that there was diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 because he and Defendants lived in different states. In his Amended Complaint, however, Stewart admits that both he and Defendants are citizens of Montana. See Amended Complaint (ECF 14) at 3. As such, there is no diversity jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a); Caterpillar, Inc. v. Lewis, 519 U.S. 61, 68 (1996) (holding that 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) applies only when the state citizenship of each plaintiff is diverse from the citizenship of each defendant).

B. Federal Question Jurisdiction

Stewart also fails to allege federal question jurisdiction. Federal courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions "arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. For a case to "arise under" federal law, a plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint must establish either that federal law creates the cause of action or the plaintiff's asserted right to relief depends on the resolution of a substantial question of federal law. Peabody Coal Co. v. Navajo Nation, 373 F.3d 945, 949 (9th Cir. 2004) ( citing Franchise Tax Bd. of Cal. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Trust for S. Cal., 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983)).

According to the Amended Complaint and documents attached thereto, Stewart sued Anthony Blackmore in the Crow Tribal Court in 2011. See Order to Dismiss (ECF 14-3) at 1. By Order dated April 30, 2012, the tribal court dismissed the case pursuant to Stewart's motion because the parties had come to an agreement. Id.

In the case at bar, Stewart is not challenging the tribal court judgment or jurisdiction; rather, he is bringing a breach of contract claim against the Blackmores for not abiding by the settlement agreement that resulted in the dismissal of the tribal court case. These are breach of contract allegations which are state law claims that do not arise under the United States Constitution or federal statutes. Opera Plaza Residential Parcel Homeowners Ass'n v. Hoang, 376 F.3d 831, 840 (9th Cir. 2004) (a claim "for damages stemming from alleged breach of contract, is clearly a creature of state law."). A breach of contract claim does ...

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