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Quintana v. State, Department of Health

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 31, 2018

SHANNON QUINTANA, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF NEW MEXICO DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Jerry H. Ritter United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court sua sponte and on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 14), filed January 24, 2018. For the reasons stated below, the Court concludes that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this case and, therefore, will dismiss this case without prejudice and deny Defendant's Motion as moot.

         BACKGROUND

         As stated in the Complaint and supplements thereto, see Docs. 1, 3, 8, & 10, Plaintiff Shannon Quintana was the proprietor of Bad Ass Sandwich Company, located in Santa Fe, New Mexico, until his reputation was ruined after he agreed to cater a holiday luncheon for the Defendant, the Department of Health for the State of New Mexico, in December 2016. Doc. 10 at 1. Without delving into the minutia of the Complaint, the facts are as follows: Plaintiff was hired to cater the event in question in November, 2016. Id. at 1. Plaintiff was hired despite the fact that he does not have a catering license and did not regularly cater events, a fact that he made known to Defendant. Id. at 2. Additionally, none of the food items requested by Defendant were on Plaintiff's regular menu. Id. In order to keep certain hot items at the proper temperature, Plaintiff requested and was permitted access to the on-site kitchen in advance of the event. Id. On the day of the event, however, Plaintiff was denied access to the on-site kitchen. Id. at 3. Nonetheless, Plaintiff set up and served the food that he had prepared. Id. at 4.

         A few days later Plaintiff got “slapped” with a permit violation from the New Mexico Environmental Department for serving food without a catering license. Id. at 5. More importantly, he was called by a Department of Health staffer who reported that a few Department employees complained of stomach aches after the event. Id. at 5. Ultimately, the Department reported to the news media that seventy-one employees reported food poisoning and gastrointestinal issues linked to the food from Plaintiff's restaurant. Id. at 11. Plaintiff vehemently asserts that these claims are false.

         As such, Plaintiff claims that the Department knowingly and purposely destroyed his reputation and business by its negligence in preparing for the holiday event, and through misstatements to the media thereafter. Id. at 10. On November 15, 2017, he filed a “Civil Rights Complaint Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Doc. 1. In this Complaint, Plaintiff brought negligence and defamation claims against the Department and various employees. Id. at 7, 17, 19. As jurisdictional grounds, Plaintiff cited 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and 28 U.S.C. § 1346(b). As amended, Plaintiff's Complaint purports to bring a negligence claim related to the Department's handling of the event under the Federal Tort Claims Act and the New Mexico Tort Claims Act, slander/libel claims stemming from its statements to the media thereafter, and a claim for defamation of character.

         Defendant moved to dismiss the case on various grounds, including that none of its employees were acting under color of state law, that it is not a “person” subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that the Federal Tort Claims Act does not apply to state entities, and, in a footnote, that this Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims under the New Mexico Tort Claims Act. The Court ultimately agrees that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction over this case.

         ANALYSIS

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3), “[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). “Insofar as subject-matter jurisdiction is concerned, it has long been recognized that a federal court must, sua sponte, satisfy itself of its power to adjudicate in every case and at every stage of the proceedings and the court is not bound by the acts or pleadings or the parties.” Tafoya v. U.S. Dept. of Justice, 748 F.2d 1389, 1390 (10th Cir. 1984) (citation omitted). The existence of subject matter jurisdiction is a threshold inquiry which must precede any merits-based determination. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Environment, 523 U.S. 83, 94 (1998). Unlike the state district court in New Mexico, “[f]ederal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). As the party seeking to invoke the jurisdiction of this Court, Plaintiff bears the burden of alleging facts that support jurisdiction. See Dutcher v. Matheson, 733 F.3d 980, 985 (10th Cir. 2013) (“Since federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, we presume no jurisdiction exists absent an adequate showing by the party invoking federal jurisdiction.”) (quoted authority omitted). Federal subject-matter jurisdiction is generally premised upon diversity of the parties or the presence of a federal question. See 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332. However, neither appears to be present here.

         A) Diversity Jurisdiction

         Federal courts may have jurisdiction where parties are citizens of different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000.00. See generally 28 U.S.C. § 1332. Because Plaintiff's Complaint was filed on a court form, he did not assert diversity jurisdiction. However, diversity does not appear to exist, as Plaintiff is a citizen and resident of the State of New Mexico, and he is suing a state entity. See Depex Reina 9 P'ship v. Texas Intern. Petroleum Corp., 897 F.2d 461, 463 (10th Cir. 1990) (Under Section 1332, the plaintiff must be “of a different citizenship from all parties on the other side of the litigation[.]”). Thus, Section 1332 cannot be relied upon as a basis for jurisdiction.

         B) Federal Question Jurisdiction

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, “[t]he district courts . . . have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Under this statute, “federal question jurisdiction must appear on the face of a plaintiff's well-pleaded complaint.” Martinez v. United States Olympic Comm., 802 F.2d 1275, 1280 (10th Cir. 1986) (citations omitted). “The complaint must identify the statutory or constitutional provision under which the claim arises, and allege sufficient facts to show that the case is one arising under federal law.” Id. “Merely alleging that ‘federal questions are involved' is insufficient to convert what appears to be a common-law negligence claim into a federal question.” Id. “[T]he complaint must identify the statutory or constitutional provision under which the claim arises, and allege sufficient facts to show that the case is one arising under federal law.” Sac & Fox Nation v. Cuomo, 193 F.3d 1162, 1165-66 (10th Cir. 1999) (quoted authority omitted).

         Here, Plaintiff relied upon a form Section 1983 Complaint which states that “[j]urisdiction is invoked pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3), 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Doc. 1 at 2. The form further invites a plaintiff to write in “different or additional statutes” if he seeks to invoke them. Id. Plaintiff wrote in “28 U.S.C. § 1346(b) FTCA - ...


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