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McBride v. Mnuchin

United States District Court, District of Columbia

July 24, 2019

JAMES THOMAS McBRIDE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
STEVEN TERNER MNUCHIN, Secretary of the Treasury, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION, GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff James McBride filed a Complaint pro se seeking damages for breach of fiduciary duty by Defendant Steven Mnuchin, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury (“Secretary”), in his official capacity.[1] Plaintiff avers that he transferred a title of property to the Secretary and is now entitled to payments on the indenture. Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss for, respectively, lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim on which relief can be based. Having considered the parties' filings, this Court concludes that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim and that Plaintiff has failed to state a viable claim for relief.[2] Accordingly, this Court will grant Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff identifies himself as the agent for “ONE GLOBAL ESTATE private business trust” and holder of the Holy Alliance 1213 title to the “divine estate.” Compl. at 2, ECF No. 1. In his Complaint filed on January 11, 2019, Mr. McBride avers that he began a fiduciary relationship with Defendant by conveying legal title to “the land known as America, and all territories thereof” to the Alien Property Custodian.[3] Id. He further asserts that proof of the conveyance can be found in his Certificate of Birth and Certificate of Live Birth. Id. at 4. Because of the alleged property conveyance, Mr. McBride claims that Defendant had “a fiduciary duty to hold all [conveyed] property in an interest bearing account, to pay the net earnings to the [b]eneficiaries and to provide a full acquittal and discharge of all charges[.]” Id. at 1. Now, Plaintiff asserts that Defendant is in breach of his fiduciary duties, id., and must both pay Plaintiff the “net income . . . [accrued] and collected in respect of any . . . property held” and “return the property[, ]” id. at 5. Mr. McBride argues that this Court has jurisdiction over the case under the Trading with the Enemy Act (“TWEA”), 50 U.S.C. §§ 4301 et seq. Id. at 2 (citing 50 U.S.C. § 4309(a)). As a remedy, Plaintiff seeks an order directing Defendant to pay him the net earnings of the United States, to return the property that Plaintiff claims to have conveyed, and to discharge all of Plaintiff's debts. See Id. at 12.

         On March 18, 2019, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss for, respectively, lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and failure to state a claim on which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Def.'s Mot. Dismiss at 1, ECF No. 6. This Court issued a Fox/Neal Order the next day, advising Plaintiff to respond to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss on or before April 18, 2019, and warning that a failure to respond or to move for an extension of time by that date might lead the Court to treat the motion as conceded. See Fox/Neal Order at 1, ECF No. 7.

         Although Plaintiff never formally responded to the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff submitted multiple filings in the weeks after this Court issued its Fox/Neal Order. Pl.'s Mot. for Order (Mar. 19, 2019), ECF No. 8; Pl.'s Mot. for Order (Mar. 25, 2019), ECF No. 9 (“March 25 Motion”); Pl.'s Mem. (Mar. 29, 2019), ECF No. 10; Pl.'s Mot. for an Interim Trustee, ECF No. 11; Pl.'s Mot. for Default, ECF No. 12; Pl.'s Aff., ECF No. 13; Pl.'s Mem. (May 15, 2019), ECF No. 14. The Court considers Plaintiff's filings after the Fox/Neal Order in toto and refers to them as Plaintiff's opposition. See Elghannam v. Nat'l Ass'n of Bds of Pharmacy, 151 F.Supp.3d 57, 59 (D.D.C. 2015) (“A pro se plaintiff's pleadings must be ‘considered in toto' to determine whether they ‘set out allegations sufficient to survive dismissal'”) (quoting Brown v. Whole Foods Mkt. Grp., Inc., 789 F.3d 146, 151 (D.C. Cir. 2015)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(e) (“Pleadings must be construed so as to do justice.”). Mr. McBride's opposition contests Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. See March 25 Motion at 1 (“The March 18th filing by . . . [counsel for Defendant Fred E. Haynes] is a fraud on the [C]ourt.”). Plaintiff also calls for a default judgment against Defendant. See Pl.'s Mot. for Default; see also March 25 Motion at 1- 2 (noting Defendant's failure to enter an appearance and urging this Court to “seize control of the property” and “terminate the trust”). Accordingly, this Court will treat Plaintiff's opposition as a response in function if not in form and will consider, respectively, whether this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Complaint and whether Plaintiff has stated a viable claim for relief.

         III. LEGAL STANDARD

         Before addressing the merits of a case, a court must confirm that it has subject matter jurisdiction. See James Madison Ltd. by Hecht v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1092 (D.C. Cir. 1996). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and the law presumes that a complaint lies outside their jurisdiction. Bailey v. Wash. Metro. Area Transit Auth., 696 F.Supp.2d 68, 70-71 (D.D.C. 2010). If a district court determines at any time that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, then it must dismiss the complaint. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 506 (2006). A party may also move to dismiss a claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). See, e.g., Schmidt v. United States Capitol Police Bd., 826 F.Supp.2d 59, 64 (D.D.C. 2011). When considering a motion challenging the sufficiency of the pleadings to establish subject matter jurisdiction, a court assumes the truth of allegations in the complaint and construes them in the plaintiff's favor. See Artis v. Greenspan, 158 F.3d 1301, 1305 (D.C. Cir. 1998); Gallucci v. Chao, 374 F.Supp.2d 121, 123 (D.D.C. 2005). The non-moving party then has the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction. See Harris v. Sebelius, 932 F.Supp.2d 150, 151 (D.D.C. 2013), aff'd, No. 13-5133, 2013 WL 6222952 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 14, 2013).

         Additionally, to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim that is plausible on its face.[4] Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). A complaint has facial plausibility when it allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). This pleading standard does not demand detailed factual allegations, but it does require more than bald assertions and legal conclusions. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Courts must construe a complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, but “need not accept inferences . . . if such inferences are unsupported by the facts set out in the complaint.” Kowal v. MCI Commc'ns Corp., 16 F.3d 1271, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1994).

         IV. ANALYSIS

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         This Court will first address subject matter jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3). Because it concludes, for the following reasons, that Plaintiff's claims are attenuated and insubstantial, the Court finds there is no federal question jurisdiction over Mr. McBride's claims.

         A district court may dismiss a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction if a complaint is “patently insubstantial, [and presents] 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)). This analysis differs from a court's resolution of other Rule 12 motions: declining to hear a claim because it is patently insubstantial is “reserved for complaints resting on truly fanciful factual allegations, ” whereas “legally deficient complaints” are reserved for 12(b)(6) dismissals. Vasaturo v. Peterka, 203 F.Supp.3d 42, 44 (D.D.C. 2016) (quoting Best, 39 F.3d at 331 n.5). Dismissal of a claim on grounds of patent insubstantiality is appropriate for claims that are “flimsier than ‘doubtful or questionable'” and instead are “essentially fictitious.” Best, 39 F.3d at 330 (quoting Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 536-37 (1973)); see also Curran v. Holder, 626 F.Supp.2d 30, 33 (D.D.C. 2009) (“When a plaintiff's allegations are so attenuated and insubstantial as to be absolutely devoid of merit[, ] [the claims] should be dismissed ...


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