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Davis v. City of Charlottesville Department of Social Services

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division

October 3, 2019

SHIKYELLA DAVIS, et al., Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHARLOTTESVILLE DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. GLEN E. CONRAD SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Shikyella Davis, proceeding pro se, commenced this action by filing a form complaint on behalf of herself and her minor children against the Charlottesville Department of Social Services and CASA.[1] Davis has not paid the filing fee but will be granted leave to proceed ]n forma pauperis for purposes of initial review of the complaint. For the following reasons, the complaint will be dismissed without prejudice, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(ii).

         Background

         According to the complaint, Davis' two minor children were temporarily removed from her custody on March 3, 2017, based on false allegations of heroin use. Davis alleges that the children were abused and brainwashed while in foster care, and that she "was forced to do a number of things in order to safely get [them back]," including drug screens and psychological tests. Compl. 4, ECF No. 2.

         Davis asserts that her and her children's "rights as humans were completely violated" as a result of the proceedings, and that "the only conclusion [she] can come to is [that] it was all for money for the gov[ernment]." Id. Davis indicates that she is filing suit under the False Claims Act. Civil Cover Sheet, ECF No. 2-1. She also seeks to recover for alleged violations of her family's "civil right[s]." Compl. 2.

         Standard of Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), which governs in forma pauperis proceedings, the court has a mandatory duty to screen initial filings. Eriline Co. S.A. v. Johnson, 440 F.3d 648, 656-57 (4th Cir. 2006). The court must dismiss a case "at any time" if the court determines that the complaint "fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

         The standards for reviewing a complaint for dismissal under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) are the same as those which apply when a defendant moves for dismissal under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003). Thus, in reviewing a complaint under this statute, the court must accept all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and view the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Philips v. Pitt Ctv. Mem. Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009). To survive dismissal for failure to state a claim, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal. 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twomblv. 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

         Discussion

         I. False Claims Act

         Davis asserts that she is bringing a civil action under the False Claims Act for being "'falsely accused." Civil Cover Sheet 1. In her request for relief, Davis asks that the court “integrate more federal officials within the local gov[ernments] because there is definitely fraud associated with the 'kidnapping' of children in this city and . . . others." Compl. 5.

         The False Claims Act "'prohibits any person from making false or fraudulent claims for payment to the United States." Graham Cty. Soil & Water Conservation Dist. v. United States ex rel. Wilson. 545 U.S. 409, 411 (2005) (citing 31 U.S.C. § 3729(a)). The Act permits either the Attorney General or a private party to initiate a civil action alleging fraud on the United States. 31 U.S.C. § 3730. A private enforcement action under the False Claims Act is called a gin tarn action. United States ex rel. Eisenstein v. City of New York, 556 U.S. 928. 932 (2009). To state a claim under the Act, the qui tarn plaintiff, or relator, must allege sufficient facts to establish: (1) "that the defendant made a false statement or engaged in a fraudulent course of conduct"; (2) that "'such statement or conduct was made or carried out with the requisite scienter"; (3) that "the statement or conduct was material"; and (4) that "the statement or conduct caused the government to pay out money or to forfeit money due." U.S. ex rel. Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co.. 352 F.3d 908, 913 (4th Cir. 2003).

         Upon review of the complaint, the court concludes that it fails to state a plausible claim for relief under the False Claims Act. Although Davis alleges that her children's placement in foster care was the product of fraud, she does not assert, much less plausibly demonstrate, that the defendants made a false claim for payment to the federal government. Moreover, while private enforcement actions are permitted under the False Claims Act, they may not be brought by pro se litigants like Davis. See United States ex rel. Brooks v. Lockheed Martin Corp., 237 Fed.Appx. 802, 803 (4th Cir. 2007) ("A lay person may not bring a gin tam action under the False Claims Act."). Accordingly, summary dismissal of this claim is appropriate.

         II. ...


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