United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division
Elizabeth K. Dillon Elizabeth K. Dillon United States
Rodney Soulsby, II, proceeding pro se, seeks leave
to proceed in forma pauperis (Dkt. No.
1). The court concludes that Soulsby is
financially eligible to proceed in forma pauperis,
but will nonetheless dismiss his complaint in its entirety
for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
courts are not courts of general jurisdiction; they have only
the power that is authorized by Article III of the
Constitution and the statutes enacted by Congress pursuant
thereto.” Brickwood Contractors., Inc. v. Datanet
Eng'g, Inc., 369 F.3d 385, 390 (4th Cir. 2004)
(quoting Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475
U.S. 534, 541 (1986)). Hence, “questions of
subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any point during
the proceedings and may (or, more precisely, must) be raised
sua sponte by the court.” Id.
speaking, a federal court has subject-matter jurisdiction
over a civil action only if it raises a question of federal
law, 28 U.S.C. § 1331, or it is between citizens of
different states and the amount in controversy exceeds $75,
000, id. § 1332. The plaintiff bears the burden
of proving that subject-matter jurisdiction exists. Evans
v. B.F. Perkins Co., 166 F.3d 642, 646 (4th Cir. 1999).
If he cannot do so, then the court must dismiss his
complaint. Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500,
complaint invokes this court's diversity jurisdiction and
states that he is a citizen of Florida and the defendant is a
citizen of Virginia. (Compl. 1-3, Dkt. No. 2.) This
court's diversity jurisdiction generally allows the
exercise of jurisdiction if the parties are citizens of
different states and the amount in controversy is more than
$75, 000. Cent. W.Va. Energy Co. v. Mt. State Carbon,
LLC, 636 F.3d 101, 103 (4th Cir. 2011). Typically,
“the ‘sum claimed by the plaintiff controls'
the amount in controversy determination.” JTH Tax,
Inc. v. Frashier, 624 F.3d 635, 638 (4th Cir. 2010)
(quoting St. Paul Mercury Indem. Co. v. Red Cab Co.,
303 U.S. 283, 288 (1938)). Based on the amounts sought in the
complaint, it does not appear that the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000.
only evidence as to an amount in controversy is that Soulsby
is currently court-ordered to pay approximately $1800 per
month in child support and has been required to do so since
January 2016, or a period of approximately 18 months. Even if
he is claiming all of those funds are not owed by him, the
total amount at issue as of the filing of his complaint is
$32, 400. So, jurisdiction appears to be lacking.
the required ongoing monthly payments could somehow satisfy
the amount-in-controversy requirement, though, Soulsby's
complaint asks this court to modify his child support
obligation and a child custody arrangement set forth in a
state court decree. (Compl. 4 (requesting, in his prayer for
relief, that the court “modify child support based on
the current income of both parties” and modification of
“child visitation”). It is well established that
a federal court's “diversity jurisdiction does not
include the power to grant divorces, determine alimony or
support obligations, or determine child custody
rights.” Wasserman v. Wasserman, 671 F.2d 832
(4th Cir. 1982). This is what is known as “the domestic
relations exception.” Id. The relief sought by
Soulsby falls squarely within this prohibition on federal
court jurisdiction; therefore, the court does not have
jurisdiction to consider his claims.
and other cases have recognized that the mere fact that a
cause of action is asserted against an ex-spouse or involves
familial disputes does not cause a case to fall within the
domestic relations exception. 671 F.2d at 834-35; Raftery
v. Scott, 756 F.2d 335, 338 (4th Cir. 1985) (holding
that district court properly exercised diversity jurisdiction
of ex-husband's claim of intentional infliction of
emotional distress against former wife, who he alleges sought
to destroy his relationship with his son). But where, as
here, a party is “seek[ing] a declaration of present or
future rights as to custody or visitation, ” a federal
court should decline to exercise jurisdiction.
Wasserman, 671 F.2d at 835. Accordingly, the court
concludes that, even if Soulsby's ongoing payments could
satisfy the amount-in-controversy requirement for diversity
jurisdiction, the court must nonetheless decline jurisdiction
over Soulsby's complaint.
foregoing reasons, the court will dismiss Soulsby's
complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. An
appropriate order will follow.
 Plaintiff Soulsby filed another
lawsuit in this court approximately one day before this one,
in which he asserts claims against this same defendant
(Ashlyn D. Soulsby) and a state court judge. Soulsby v.
Ludwig, No. 5:17-cv-00054 (W.D. Va.). There, he alleges
that the judge improperly granted him adoption of his (now
ex-wife's) son, in a proceeding in which Soulsby did not
participate and in which he claims his signature seeking
adoption was forged. Soulsby's motion to proceed in
forma pauperis was granted in that case and summonses
have been issued for the two defendants.
 The Supreme Court of Virginia later
noted that it disagreed with the analysis and result on the
substantive claim in Raftery, and it held that
Virginia does not allow a claim of alienation of affection in
the guise of a claim of intentional infliction of emotional
distress. McDermott v. Reynolds, 530 S.E.2d 902, 904
(Va. 2000). The McDermott court would have had ...