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Tracy v. Swanson

United States District Court, District of Columbia

June 20, 2019

CHERYL TRACY, et al. Plaintiff,
v.
LEILA C. SWANSON, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Beryl A. Howell, Chief Judge.

         The plaintiffs, Cheryl Tracy (“Tracy”) and LCS Outreach Ministries, Inc. (“LCS Ministries”), initiated this lawsuit raising breach of contract and negligence claims against four individuals who allegedly effected the fraudulent transfer of real property in Martinsburg, West Virginia. See Compl. ¶¶ I.A., II.B., III, ECF No. 1. Two of those four defendants, Kimberly C. McGarrah (“McGarrah”) and David D. Pill, Esq. (“Pill”), have filed motions to dismiss the complaint. See Def. McGarrah's Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 9; Def. Pill's Mot. to Dismiss (“Pill MTD”), ECF No. 10. Shortly thereafter, the Court issued an order advising Tracy of her obligations under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the local civil rules of this Court. Order (April 19, 2019), ECF No. 14. Specifically, the Court notified Tracy that, if she failed to file an opposition or other response to the defendants' dismissal motions by May 10, 2019, the pending motions would be resolved without the benefit of her position. To date, Tracy has not filed an opposition to the motions, requested more time to file her oppositions, or advised the Court of any change of address.

         Although defendants' motions are unopposed, the Court declines to grant the motions as conceded. See Cohen v. Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of the District of Columbia, 819 F.3d 476, 482 (D.C. Cir. 2016). At the same time, however, review of the complaint and defendants' motions demonstrates that Tracy cannot represent the interests of LCS Ministries and has failed to allege sufficient facts to show her standing to sue. Accordingly, the complaint and this civil action are dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         According to Pill, in his sworn declaration, defendant Lelia C. Swanson (“Swanson”) retained him in February 2018 “to deed a parcel of real property located at 623 West King Street, Martinsburg, West Virginia (the ‘Property') to a man she identified as her son, Michael Richard Bien-Aime.” Pill MTD, Ex. 1, Pill Decl. ¶ 2, ECF No. 10-1. Pill prepared a deed, which he recorded on March 2, 2018. Id. ¶ 5; see id., Ex. B. In June 2018, Swanson notified Pill “that she forgot that she had previously deeded the Property from herself individually to her charity, LCS Outreach Ministries, Inc., a West Virginia corporation.” Id. ¶ 6; see id., Ex. C. Upon Swanson's instructions and representation “that she was the President of LCS Outreach ministries, Inc. [with] the authority to transfer the Property, ” id. ¶ 8, Pill prepared a deed for the transfer of the property from LCS Ministries to Bien-Aime, id. ¶ 9; see id., Ex. D. Pill recorded the deed on June 15, 2018. Id. ¶ 9. At no time did Swanson instruct Pill to conduct a title search or lien search regarding the Property. Id. ¶¶ 3, 7.

         Tracy sets forth the basis of her claims in a single paragraph, alleging in full that:

Each defendant took part in the fraudulent sale of a property not owned by the Swansons and/or were negligent in their [sic] duties to investigate and take reasonable actions required when notified of the unlawful deed recording. Defendant Swansons hired defendant Pill to sell property knowing that they had no rights. And Defendant Pill was negligent in his duties by preparing and recording a fraudulent Deed on March 2, 2018 without lien holder research. The lien holder of said property is BB&T Bank and defendant McGarrah took no action to rectify this unlawful act. When plaintiff informed defendant McGarrah that the property located at 623 West King Street was sold, she was negligent in her duties to take action on behalf of the mortgage payer.

Compl. ¶ III. As a result of defendants' actions, Tracy claims to have sustained “[d]amages . . . includ[ing] loss of management and access of property, loss of revenue for rental property and ability to provide housing for the homeless.” Id. ¶ IV. She purports to bring this action on behalf of herself and LCS Ministries, see id. ¶ II.B., and demands compensation of $100, 000 from each defendant plus punitive damages of $400, 000, id. ¶ II.B.3.

         II. DISCUSSION

         For the reasons summarized below, this lawsuit may not go forward on the present record.

         A. THE COURT DISMISSES LCS MINISTRIES AS A PARTY PLAINTIFF

         Two plaintiffs are named in this case: Tracy, an individual, and LCS Ministries, a corporation. Tracy does not hold herself out as an attorney licensed to practice law in this Court. She may represent her own interests, see Georgiades v. Martin-Trigona, 729 F.2d 831, 834 (D.C. Cir. 1984), but not those of LCS Ministries, see Rowland v. California Men's Colony, Unit II Men's Advisory Council, 506 U.S. 194, 201-02 (1993) (noting that “[i]t has been the law for the better part of two centuries . . . that a corporation may appear in the federal courts only through licensed counsel”). Tracy is well aware of this, as the absence of counsel to represent LCS Ministries in a prior civil action was the basis for dismissing the organization as a party plaintiff. See Tracy v. Kratovil, No. 18-CV-2688, 2019 WL 1901295, at *2 (D.D.C. Apr. 29, 2019), appeal docketed, No. 19-7046 (D.C. Cir. May 23, 2019). The Court therefore dismisses LCS Ministries as a party plaintiff.

         B. TRACY FAILS TO ESTABLISH THE COURT'S JURISDICTION

         A federal district court has “original jurisdiction of all civil actions 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). Tracy asserts diversity of citizenship as the basis for this Court's jurisdiction. See Compl. ¶ II.B. She represents that she is a citizen of the District of Columbia, that Pill, McGarrah and Larry C. Swanson are citizens of West Virginia, and that Lelia C. Swanson is a citizen of Maryland. See id. ΒΆΒΆ I.B., II.B.2. With a $400, 000 demand for damages, ...


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