United States District Court, District of Columbia
BERMAN JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Delores Ford filed this pro se action against
defendants Amos Jones, De Wanna Sang, Laverne G. Atkinson,
Jonnita Johnson, Saundra Durant, Carolyn Lyles, and Linda
Teabout. Compl. [Dkt. # 1]. The action arises out of another
lawsuit before this Court, Ford v. Maryland Attorney
General, Civ. A. No. 17-2525 (the “related
case”). Plaintiff asserts that in the related case,
defendants made a series of misrepresentations about her to
the Court, causing “harm to Plaintiff's good
standing” with the Court. Id. at 3.
related case, Ms. Ford, along with thirty-seven other
plaintiffs, filed an action against the State of Maryland
Attorney General, the Maryland Department of the Environment,
and Chevron U.S.A., Inc. See Compl. [Dkt. # 1],
Ford v. Md. Att'y Gen., Civ. A. No. 17-2525
(D.D.C. Nov. 22, 2017). The action arose out of a gas leak
that occurred almost thirty years ago at a Chevron gas
station in Chillum, Maryland. Id. Plaintiffs alleged
that toxic chemicals migrated through the soil to their
properties, and the complaint included multiple state and
federal claims, including nuisance, trespass, fraudulent
concealment, and conspiracy, among others. Id.
March of 2018, defendants moved to dismiss the complaint.
See Chevron's Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 7],
Ford v. Md. Att'y Gen., Civ. A. No. 17-2525
(D.D.C. Mar. 1, 2018); Md. Att'y Gen.'s Mot. to
Dismiss [Dkt. # 14], Ford v. Md. Att'y Gen.,
Civ. A. No. 17-2525 (D.D.C. Mar. 29, 2018); Md. Dep't of
the Environment's Mot. to Dismiss [Dkt. # 15], Ford
v. Md. Att'y Gen., Civ. A. No. 17-2525 (D.D.C. Mar.
29, 2018). On October 22, 2018, the Court granted
defendants' motions to dismiss because it found that the
claims were barred by the doctrine of res judicata
and precluded by the applicable statute of limitations.
Ford v. Md. Att'y Gen., No. 17-cv-2525, 2018 WL
5251742 (D.D.C. Oct. 22, 2018).
November 30, 2018, plaintiffs filed a Rule 60 motion for
relief from judgment. Pls.' Rule 60 Mot. for Amendment of
Order, Relief from Judgment, and Reinstatement of Case [Dkt.
# 32], Ford v. Md. Att'y Gen., Civ. A. No.
17-2525 (D.D.C. Nov. 30, 2018). On April 12, 2019, before the
Court had ruled on this motion, plaintiff Ford filed a
supplemental memorandum informing the Court that plaintiffs
would like to pursue mediation and had hired counsel, Amos
Jones, to represent them. See Suppl. Mem. to Mot.
for Reconsideration [Dkt. # 36], Ford v. Md. Att'y
Gen., Civ. A. No. 17-2525 (D.D.C. Apr. 12, 2019).
Because the Court had already dismissed the case, and the
motion for reconsideration was still pending, the Court did
not take any action.
April 29, 2019, the Court denied leave to file a letter
submitted by Ms. Ford, pursuant to Local Rule of Civil
Procedure 5.1(a), which prohibits correspondence between a
party and a judge. On May 2, plaintiffs Gretchen Atkinson,
Saundra Durant, Jonnita Johnson, Carolyn Lyles, De Wanna
Sang, and Linda Teabout filed a notice, alleging that Ms.
Ford's April 12 supplemental memorandum and April 29
letter were fraudulent and intended to mislead the Court
because someone else had signed their names to the pleadings.
Notice [Dkt. # 40], Ford v. Md. Att'y Gen., Civ.
A. No. 17-2525 (D.D.C. May 2, 2019). On May 7, the Court
again denied leave to Ms. Ford to submit a filing to the
Court, because the documents for which leave to file was
already denied were identified in the filing. Finally, on
June 26, the Court denied plaintiffs' motion for
reconsideration because plaintiffs had not raised any new
evidence or extraordinary circumstances that would justify
reopening the case. See Mem. Op. & Order [Dkt. #
42], Ford v. Md. Att'y Gen., No. 17-cv-2525
(D.D.C. June 26, 2019).
Ford filed this action on May 21, 2019, against defendants
Atkinson, Durant, Johnson, Lyles, Sang, Teabout, and Jones.
She alleged that she was the victim of the “unclean
hands doctrine”; the defendants conspired to silence
her; defendant Jones violated American Bar Association
(“ABA”) rules; and defendants committed
“fraud on the court” and defamed her.
the apparent lack of a federal question to resolve and the
absence of complete diversity, on June 13, 2019, the Court
ordered plaintiff to show cause why it has subject matter
jurisdiction over the action. Order to Show Cause [Dkt. # 5].
On June 27, 2019, plaintiff responded but did not address
subject matter jurisdiction. Pl.'s Resp. to Order to Show
Cause [Dkt. # 7] (“Pl.'s Resp.”). Instead,
she explained that she initiated this lawsuit because
defendants “caused Plaintiff to be seen by the Court as
having unclean hands by telling this Honorable Court that
[she] committed fraud” in the related case.
Id. at 1-2. She asserted that defendants'
allegedly false misrepresentations caused the Court to deny
her leave to submit filings. Finally, she requested that: (1)
“the Court [ ] direct attorney Jones, should the
[related case] go to mediation, [ ] to use his mediation
skills to settle [the related case] at no charge to the
Plaintiffs”; (2) “six (6) [d]efendants pay all
[p]laintiff's legal fees and expenses;” (3)
“each [d]efendant be ordered to give [p]laintiff a
written apology;” and (4) “the Court restore
[p]laintiff to her previous clean hands position with the
Honorable Court as to allow her positive reputation within
the community to be restored.” Pl.'s Resp. at 3.
Because the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction
over the case to support such relief, it will dismiss it
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law
presumes that “a cause lies outside this limited
jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co.
of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); see also Gen.
Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004)
(“As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and
end, with an examination of our jurisdiction.”).
Subject matter jurisdiction may not be waived, and
“courts may raise the issue sua sponte.”
NetworkIP, LLC v. FCC, 548 F.3d 116, 120 (D.C. Cir.
2008), quoting Athens Cmty. Hosp., Inc. v.
Schweiker, 686 F.2d 989, 992 (D.C. Cir. 1982). Indeed, a
federal court must raise the issue because it is
“forbidden . . . from acting beyond [its] authority,
and ‘no action of the parties can confer subject-matter
jurisdiction upon a federal court.'” Id.,
quoting Akinseye v. District of Columbia, 339 F.3d
970, 971 (D.C. Cir. 2003). Therefore, a district court may
dismiss a complaint sua sponte when it is evident
that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); see Arbaugh v. Y & H
Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006) (“[W]hen a federal
court concludes that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction,
the court must dismiss the complaint in its
Court generally derives its subject matter jurisdiction from
two federal laws, 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and § 1332.
“Section 1331 provides for
‘[f]ederal-question' jurisdiction, § 1332 for
‘[d]iversity of citizenship' jurisdiction.”
Arbaugh, 546 U.S. at 513. “A plaintiff
properly invokes § 1331 jurisdiction when she pleads a
colorable claim ‘arising under' the Constitution or
laws of the United States. She invokes § 1332
jurisdiction when she presents a claim between parties of
diverse citizenship that exceeds the required jurisdictional
amount, currently $75, 000.” Id. (internal
matter jurisdiction is lacking where a complaint “is
patently insubstantial presenting no federal question
suitable for decision.” Tooley v. Napolitano,
586 F.3d 1006, 1009 (D.C. Cir. 2009), quoting Best v.
Kelly, 39 F.3d 328, 330 (D.C. Cir. 1994). A claim is
“patently insubstantial” when it is
“flimsier than doubtful or questionable . . .
essentially fictitious.” Best, 39 F.3d at 330
(internal quotations omitted); see Hagans v. Lavine,
415 U.S. 528, 536-37 (1974) (“[F]ederal courts are
without power to entertain claims otherwise within their
jurisdiction if they are so attenuated and unsubstantial as
to be absolutely devoid of merit, wholly insubstantial, [or]
obviously frivolous.”) (internal citations and
quotation marks omitted).
the Court is mindful that complaints filed by pro se
litigants must be held to less stringent standards than those
applied to formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, see
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Brown v.
District of Columbia, 514 F.3d 1279, 1283 (D.C. Cir.
2008), plaintiff's complaint does not present complete
diversity. Plaintiff has not alleged any claims against a
diverse defendant exceeding $75, 000 - the caption of the
complaint indicates that all the parties reside in the
District of Columbia.
addition, the allegations in the complaint do not present a
“federal question suitable for decision.”
Best, 39 F.3d at 330. The “unclean hands
doctrine” is a defense, not a claim. See Precision
Instrument Mfg. Co. v. Automotive Maintenance Machinery
Co., 324 U.S. 806, 815 (1945). A violation of ABA rules
does “not itself give rise to a cause of action against
a lawyer.” Model Rules of Prof'l Conduct, Preamble
 (Am. Bar Ass'n 1983). Defamation and attorney
malpractice are state law claims. Finally, any “fraud
on the court” is alleged to have taken place after the
judgment was issued, and she asks only to be restored to her
“rightful clean hands position.” Thus, plaintiff
does not assert any claims arising under the laws of the
United States or the Constitution.
Ford is under the impression that the Court denied her leave
to submit filings in the related case because of the
allegations of fraud. But that is not the reason leave to
file was denied; the Court did not allow Ms. Ford's
filings because she failed to comply with Local Rule of Civil
Procedure 5.1(a). Furthermore, the motion for reconsideration
was denied on the merits, and the Court can assure plaintiff
that it was not based upon any determination concerning the
allegations about fraudulent filings. Ms. Ford, in this case
and the related case, has repeatedly asked that the related
case go to mediation, but the Court has already dismissed the
claims, see Ford, 2018 WL 5251742, and it has denied
the plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration. ...