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Horst v. Burgum

United States District Court, D. North Dakota

June 3, 2019

Charlotte Horst, et. al., Plaintiffs,
Governor Doug Burgum, et. al., Defendants.



         The plaintiff, Charlotte Horst, initiated the above-entitled action pro se with the submission of a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis, a thirty-nine page Complaint, three-hundred sixty pages of attachments/supplemental materials, and a motion for a preliminary injunction. Chief Judge Hovland has referred this matter to the Magistrate Judge for preliminary consideration. For the reason set forth below, I shall grant Horst's motion to proceed in forma pauperis but recommend that the Court dismiss this action without prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Horst names the following individuals and entities as defendants in her Complaint: State Child Support Enforcement Attorney Sheila K. Keller, North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum; North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem; North Dakota Secretary of State Alvin Jaeger; the Bismarck Police Department and approximately fifty of its officers; the Mandan Police Department and approximately six of its officers; the Burleigh County State's Attorney's office and approximately ten of its personnel; the Morton County State's Attorney's office and approximately five of its personnel; the Morton County Sheriffs Department and its sheriff; the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation (ABCI") and approximately three of its officers; the City of Bismarck and its commissioner; the City of Mandan and its commissioner; Morton County and its commissioner; Burleigh County Social Services; Bismarck and Mandan Public Schools; Pioneer Elementary School; Mandan Middle School; North Dakota Supreme Court Justices Gerald Vande Wall, Daniel Crothers, Lisa McEvers, Jerod Tufte, and Jon Jenson; State District Court Judges Cynthia Feland, Gail Hagerty, Bruce Romanick, and Sonna Anderson (deceased); President Donald Trump, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; Attorney General William Barr; and the United States Department of Justice. Although not entirely clear, she appears to take issue with state district court restraining orders, a divorce decree and amendments to it, a custody decrees and amendments to them, the North Dakota Supreme Court's affirmance of these decrees, her conviction in state court of the offense of removal of a child from the state in violation of a custody decree, the state court's revocation of her probation, the suspension of her driver's license by the North Dakota Department of Transportation, what she perceives as local law enforcement's failure to investigate her reports of criminal activities by others, and what she asserts is the fabrication of certain evidence and the destruction of other evidence by local law enforcement and/or prosecutors. In so doing, she asserts, amongst other things, that her rights under the First through Eleventh, Tenth, Eleventh, Thirteenth through Fifteenth, Nineteenth, and Twenty-First Amendments to the United States Constitution have been violated, that local schools and/or the state kidnaped her children, that the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act is unconstitutional, and that she has been assaulted and battered, maliciously prosecuted, falsely imprisoned, enslaved, trafficked, defamed, subjected to emotional distress, denied her right to privacy, denied equal access to justice, and otherwise denied her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Violence Against Women Act, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, the Geneva Convention, the ''Palermo Protocols," and various state statutes.


         A. Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis

         Proceedings in forma pauperis are governed by 28 U.S.C. § 1915, which provides that the court may authorize the commencement of a suit without prepayment of fees by a person submitting a financial affidavit evincing an inability to pay. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1).

         I find that Horst has met the burden of showing that she is financially unable to pay the filing fee. Consequently, I shall waive the civil filing.

         B. 1915(e)(2) screening

         Notwithstanding any paid filing fee, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) provides “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that . . . the action (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” This' 1915(e)(2) screening, and the authority to dismiss claims arising thereunder, includes non-prisoner pro se complaints. Key v. Does, 217 F.Supp.3d 1006, 1007 (W.D. Ark. 2016). With regard to frivolousness under' 1915(e)(2)(i), “the Supreme Court explained that an action is frivolous if 'it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact.'” Aziz v. Burrows, 976 F.2d 1158, 1159 (8th Cir. 1992) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989)). “An action is malicious if it is undertaken for the purpose of harassing the named defendants and not for the purpose of vindicating a cognizable right.” Williamson v. Corizon, Inc., No. 1:15CV220, 2016 WL 5933982 at *1 (E.D. Mo. October 12, 2016). A complaint fails to state a claim if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-84 (2009) (“Iqbal”).

         In applying' 1915(e)(2), the court must give the pro se complaint the benefit of a liberal construction. See, e.g., Federal Express Corp. v. Holowecki, 552 U.S. 389, 402 (2008); Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015) (“When we say that a pro se complaint should be given liberal construction, we mean that if the essence of an allegation is discernible . . . then the district court should construe the complaint in a way that permits the layperson's claim to be considered within the proper legal framework.”) (internal quotation marks omitted). This does not mean, however, that the pro se litigant is excused from satisfying the plausibility standard established in Twombly and further amplified by the Supreme Court in Iqbal. See Story v. Foote, 782 F.3d 968, 969 (8th Cir. 2015).

         1. Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

         As an initial matter, Horst's Complaint does not comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a), which requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1) (emphasis added). The purpose of this short and plain statement is to provide defendants with “fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545.

         Horst's Complaint contains maze of constitutional, statutory, and common law claims against approximately one-hundred thirteen named and unnamed defendants. The shotgun style of her Complaint does not provide all of the defendants with fair notice of the nature of all of the claims against them as it is virtually impossible to discern which allegations are intended to support which claims, let alone how these allegations relate to each defendant. Many of the allegations, the vast majority of which are nothing more than unsubstantiated legal conclusions, have little to do with the specifics of a given claim, leaving the court and the litigants to ferret through the thirty- nine pages of pleadings ...

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