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Cueto v. United States

January 18, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, District Judge



Before this Court is defendant the United States of America's (the "Government") Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction. (Doc. 19.) Plaintiff Amiel Cueto filed suit seeking, among other things, to essentially dissolve the Government's judgment lien upon his real property. (Doc. 1.) The Government brings its Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure12(b)(1). Generally, the Government's motion and supporting memorandum contend that Plaintiff's cause must be dismissed as the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over his claims. (Docs. 19 & 20.)

Among other things, the Government argues that Plaintiff's request for declaratory judgment is not a sufficient basis for federal jurisdiction. (Doc. 20, pp. 1-2.) Further, the Government asserts that the doctrine of sovereign immunity bars Plaintiff from bringing his suit. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff has filed a memorandum objecting to the Government's motion, stating that 18 U.S.C. § 3613 confers subject matter jurisdiction upon his claim. (Doc. 24, p. 4.) Moreover, Plaintiff claims that this Court's prior statements, in an order previously issued in Plaintiff's criminal case,*fn1 bolster a finding of proper federal subject matter jurisdiction in the instant case. (Id.)

In order to proceed on the Motion to Dismiss, the Court must first examine the standard of review applicable to a Rule 12(b)(1) motion. Next, the Court considers whether Plaintiff's claims can be construed to invoke federal subject matter jurisdiction. Also crucial to this analysis is whether the doctrine of sovereign immunity applies to bar Plaintiff's claims. Because the Court finds that Plaintiff's core claims can properly be construed as giving rise to federal subject matter jurisdiction, the Government's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction is hereby DENIED, as is more fully explained below.


On September 19, 1997, after a criminal jury trial, this Court entered judgment against Plaintiff on one count of conspiracy to defraud the United States, and three counts of obstruction of justice. (Doc. 1, ¶ 1.) Plaintiff's sentence included the following: concurrent sentences of 60 months imprisonment on the conspiracy count and 87 months imprisonment on each of the obstruction counts; concurrent sentences of two years of supervised release on each count; a fine of $20,000 on each count; and costs of incarceration ($500/month payable every ten months). (Id. at ¶ 2.) At the time judgment was entered, the Government also filed a lien to secure the costs of incarceration pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3613, which thereby encumbered Plaintiff's real property at issue in the instant case. (Id. at ¶ 7.)

Plaintiff was incarcerated from October 1, 1997 through August 4, 2003. (Id. at ¶ 3.) He was subsequently released to the Dismas House of Saint Louis (a halfway house) where he lived for approximately ten weeks. (Id.) Plaintiff then returned to "home confinement" until January 29, 2004. (Id.) Assistant United States Attorney Gerald M. Burke wrote Plaintiff a letter, dated June 29, 2004. (Doc. 1, Ex. E.) Burke enclosed a copy of a letter sent to Plaintiff's former attorney, explaining that Plaintiff was delinquent in his payments for costs of incarceration. (Id.) Burke's June 29 letter stated that Plaintiff owed a remaining balance of $3,000 in incarceration costs. (Id.)

In his Complaint in the instant case, Plaintiff claims he has satisfied the judgment by paying all his incarceration expenses. (Doc. 1, ¶ 9.) The dispute apparently arises over whether Plaintiff was required to pay costs of incarceration during the time he spent at the halfway house and in home confinement (and not actually in prison). Plaintiff claims this time should not be considered part of his "incarceration" for purposes of incurring incarceration expenses. (Id. at ¶ 3 and Ex. F.) Plaintiff further alleges that he paid the Dismas House over $600.00 per month from August 4, 2003, to January 29, 2004 (most likely for the expense of his room and board). (Id., Ex. F.)

On December 27, 2004, Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint with this Court under his criminal case number. (Case no. 96-cr-30070-DRH, Doc. 681.) Plaintiff asked this Court to dissolve the liens on his real property (the "Property") so that he could complete its sale. (Id. at 1-2.) He additionally asked that this Court issue a declaratory judgment that his debts had been satisfied and to order that all encumbrances on his real estate be removed. (Id. at 2.) Plaintiff further requested restitution of the entire sale price if the Government's lien prevented closing on the sale of the Property, along with any other costs associated with the "unlawful lien," including the cost of a new title report, and interest on the sale price if the sale were merely delayed (and not cancelled). (Id.) Finally, Plaintiff contended that the monetary penalties which comprise the Government's lien amount are in violation of the "excessive fines" clause of the Eighth Amendment and/or the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. (Id.)

Previously, the Court found that it did not have jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's Complaint filed under the criminal case number. (Id. at 4.) Therefore, Plaintiff's pro se Complaint was dismissed without prejudice, allowing Plaintiff the opportunity to re-file his complaint as a civil matter under a civil case number. (Id.) Plaintiff thereafter filed his pro se Complaint in the instant case on February 2, 2005. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff's Complaint contains the same allegations and requests for relief as his previous complaint, which he had previously filed improperly under his criminal case number. (See id.)



The Government's Motion to Dismiss is made pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), which allows a party to raise as a defense, by motion, a federal court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims. FED.R. CIV.P.12(b)(1). The Seventh Circuit has stated that although a plaintiff may easily defeat a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the same is not true for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss ...

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