United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
ORDER GRANTING THE PLAINTIFF’S REQUEST FOR
WAIVER OF THE FILING FEE (DKT. NO. 2), SCREENING COMPLAINT,
AND DISMISSING THE PLAINTIFF’S COMPLAINT FOR FAILURE TO
STATE A CLAIM UPON WHICH RELIEF CAN BE GRANTED
PAMELA PEPPER, United States District Judge.
3, 2016, plaintiff Michael Sommerfield-representing himself-
filed a complaint against Associated Trust Company, NA. Dkt.
No. 1. He also filed a motion asking the court to allow him
to proceed in forma pauperis-that is, without paying
the filing fee. Dkt. No. 2. The court denies the
plaintiff’s motion to proceed in forma
pauperis, screens his complaint, and dismisses the
complaint for failure to state a claim for which a federal
court can grant relief.
Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (Dkt. No.
district court may authorize a plaintiff to proceed in
forma pauperis- meaning that he does not have to pre-pay
the $400 filing fee to start a civil lawsuit-if the plaintiff
submits an affidavit listing his assets, indicating that he
is unable to pay the fees, and stating his belief that he is
entitled to the relief he seeks. 28 U.S.C. §1915(a).
3, 2016, the plaintiff filed an application listing his
assets and liabilities. Dkt. No. 2. The application indicates
that the plaintiff has no monthly wages or salary. In the
last twelve months, he’s received $4, 000 from Trans
Systems, and $330.00 from Wellaches Farm. Id. at 2.
He has a rental expense of $100 per month, and other
household expenses of $200 per month. Id. He also
has to pay $100 a month for gas for his 2003 Toyota Tundra
(which he values at $1, 000) and $80 per month for insurance.
Id. at 3. Despite the fact that he has a rent
expense of $100 a month, he also states that he owns his home
(which he values at $78, 000) free and clear of any liens.
Id. He has a negative balance in his checking
account. Id. He also owns a “house in Lake
Alfred, FL.” He does not give a value for this house.
Id. at 4. He says that he is “looking for a
place to live in Green Bay.” Id.
is confusing information in the plaintiff’s affidavit,
but it appears to the court that he does not have enough
steady income to be able to afford to pay the filing fee.
Screening of the Plaintiff’s Complaint
1915(e)(2)(B) of Title 28 requires a court to dismiss a case
filed by an unrepresented plaintiff at any time if the court
determines that it “(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii)
fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or
(iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune
from such relief.” For this reason, district courts
“screen” complaints filed by self-represented
plaintiffs, to determine whether the complaint must be
dismissed under these standards.
is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either
in law or in fact. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25,
31, 112 S.Ct. 1728 (1992); Neitzke v. Williams, 490
U.S. 319, 325, 109 S.Ct. 1827 (1989). At the screening stage,
the court must accept the complaint’s factual
allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in
favor of the plaintiff, but the court can “pierce the
veil of the complaint’s factual allegations, ”
and need not “accept without question the truth of the
plaintiff’s allegations.” Denton, 504
U.S. at 32. For example, the Supreme Court has explained that
a court may dismiss a claim as frivolous if it is
“clearly baseless, ” “fanciful, ”
“fantastic, ” “delusional, ”
“irrational, ” “wholly incredible, ”
or “based on an indisputably meritless legal
theory.” Id. at 32-33. By contrast, the court
may not dismiss a claim as frivolous simply because
“the plaintiff's allegations are unlikely.”
state a claim under the federal notice pleading system, the
plaintiff must provide a “short and plain statement of
the claim showing that [he] is entitled to relief[.]”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). A plaintiff does not need plead
specific facts, and his statement need only “give the
defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the
grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). However, a complaint
that offers “labels and conclusions” or
“formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action will not do.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555). To state a claim, a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, “that is plausible on
its face.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550
U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The complaint allegations
“must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555
considering whether a complaint states a claim, courts follow
the principles set forth in Twombly. First, the
court must “identify[ ] pleadings that, because they
are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the
assumption of truth.” Id., 556 U.S. at 679. A
plaintiff must support legal conclusions with factual
allegations. Id. Second, if there are well-pleaded
factual allegations, courts must “assume their veracity
and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an
entitlement to relief.” Id.
case, the plaintiff states that defendant Associated Trust
Co. is “withholding” “Trust No. 1
Agreement.” Dkt. No. 1 at 2. He alleges that this trust
agreement describes an inheritance that he is supposed to
receive under a trust entitled 1965 Thelma Albert’s
Irrevocable Trust. He argues that the defendant violated that
agreement (or perhaps a different agreement-he refers to both
a 1965 trust and a 1968 trust). He also argues that the
defendant withheld from him “the Trust Agreement”
and “the Trust No. 1 agreement from the 1979 CFA
Trust.” Id. The plaintiff claims that the
defendant “did this” to conceal fraud and theft.
Id. As relief, he says he “want[s] a copy of
Trust No. 1.” Id. at 4.
plaintiff does not tell the court under what state’s
law the trusts he talks about were created, but the court
will assume they were created under Wisconsin law. He also
does not tell the court what role the defendant plays with
regard to the trusts, but the court assumes that perhaps
Associated Trust Co. is the trustee. (Associated Trust Co.,
NA is a privately-owned investment management company with
its headquarters in Wisconsin.) It appears, as best the court
can tell, that the plaintiff wishes to challenge the
administration of these trusts, and he wants a copy of one of
the trust documents so that he can figure out what Associated
Trust Co. is required to do as trustee.
is what the plaintiff is trying to do, a federal district
court cannot help him. Federal courts can preside over cases
only if they involve a violation of federal law or the
federal Constitution, or if they are suits between citizens
of different states involving more than $75, 000. Trusts such
as the ones the plaintiff appears to be talking about are
created under state law. If someone wants to challenge a
trust created under Wisconsin law, or to challenge its
administration, that person must file his lawsuit in
state court-most likely, in the state probate court.
There is no federal law governing trusts like the ones the
plaintiff describes. And while, ...