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Suppes v. Katti

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

October 18, 2016

GALEN J. SUPPES, Plaintiff,
v.
KATTEH V. KATTI and CHRISTOPHER M. FENDER, in their individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          ORDER

          DOUGLAS HARPOOL DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are Defendants' Motions to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (Doc. 12, 21), Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 16), Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction (Doc. 18), and Plaintiff's Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Doc. 19). The motions are ripe for this Court's review following the filing of suggestions and oral argument before this Court on October 3, 2016 (Doc. 32). For the reasons set forth in this Order, the Court grants Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, and denies Plaintiff's motions for leave, for preliminary injunction, and for partial summary judgment.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Galen Suppes is a Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Missouri. He filed this case against Kattesh Katti and Christopher Fender, both of whom are employees of the University. Plaintiff filed his original Complaint on August 18, 2016 (Doc. 1), and filed a First Amended Complaint on August 23, 2016 (Doc. 3).

         The issues here are borne of an employment dispute. Plaintiff claims that Defendants, acting on behalf of the University and its Curators, have wrongfully demanded that Plaintiff assign to the University his inventions - Plaintiff coins the term “Inventive Thought” because the inventions giving rise to the dispute have not yet entered the patent application process. Although they are not attached to either Complaint, it is clear from the face of the Complaints that the dispute relates to an assignment agreement and forms that require the disclosure of inventions.

         Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint contains within it five counts. Count I seeks declaratory judgment under the Tenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, claiming that Defendants have violated the Tenth Amendment by seeking assignment of Plaintiff's “Inventive Thought.” Count II seeks declaratory judgment under the Fourteenth Amendment, claiming that Defendants violated Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, in that “Defendants Fender and Katti violated Congress-specified quid pro quo requirements of Patent Law.” Count III seeks declaratory judgment under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, claiming that Defendants demanded assignment of Plaintiff's “Inventive Thought” without providing just compensation and that Defendants punished Plaintiff when he refused to provide the assignment. Count IV seeks declaratory judgment and requests that the Court take control of two pending state court cases. Count V seeks declaratory judgment and requests that the Court determine Plaintiff is entitled to $7.5 million in damages.

         ANALYSIS

         “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Federal courts retain the power to hear cases only if authorized to do so by both the Constitution and by statute. Id. When a party seeks federal court jurisdiction over a matter, the party asserting jurisdiction has the burden of proving that the federal court has the power to hear the case. Id. If a federal court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of the case, “it must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).

         Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint alleges, “This federal court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action under and by virtue of the Court's jurisdiction of an individual's constitutional rights, ” and cites 28 U.S.C. § 1331. (Doc. 3, paragraph 5). It further alleges, “This federal court has supplemental jurisdiction over counts pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 to the extent that a cause of action arises out of the same case or controversy.” (Doc. 3, paragraph 7). The Complaint asserts that “Plaintiff has rights to cause of action from Section 1983 of the 1871 Civil Rights Act, against Defendants for violation of constitutional rights.” (Doc. 3, paragraph 15).

         It is clear that Plaintiff seeks to invoke this Court's federal question jurisdiction to hear the case. He cites 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction), 28 U.S.C. § 1367 (supplemental jurisdiction), 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and a number of constitutional provisions and Amendments. Plaintiff also cites 28 U.S.C. § 2201 for this Court's power to issue declaratory judgments regarding the rights of the parties to the case.

         Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). (Doc. 12, 21). The Defendants' primary argument reflects a facial challenge to the Plaintiff's claim that subject matter jurisdiction is present. It asserts that Plaintiff's bare invocation of federal statutes and constitutional provisions are insufficient to meet Plaintiff's burden to prove the existence of subject matter jurisdiction.

         “Federal-question jurisdiction exists when ‘the plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law.' ” Biscanin v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 407 F.3d 905, 906 (8th Cir. 2005) (quoting Franchise Tax Bd. v. Construction Laborers Vacation Trust, 463 U.S. 1, 27-28 (1983)). However, merely raising a federal question in a complaint is insufficient to confer federal-question jurisdiction upon a court. Id. at 907. A plaintiff does not safely clear the subject matter jurisdiction hurdle by simply citing a federal statute or a constitutional provision as the chosen vehicle for a cause of action. “[A] suit may sometimes be dismissed for want of jurisdiction where the alleged claim under the Constitution or federal statutes . . . is wholly insubstantial and frivolous.” Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682-83 (1946). “If the asserted basis of federal jurisdiction is patently meritless, then dismissal for lack of jurisdiction is appropriate.” Biscanin, 407 F.3d at 907. Defendants challenge the First Amended Complaint's claim of subject matter jurisdiction on its face. Thus, this Court will “determine whether the asserted jurisdictional basis is patently meritless by looking to the face of the complaint and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.” Id. (internal citations omitted).

         The Court will interpret Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint liberally, and it construes each of the five counts as being brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A plaintiff who seeks a remedy under Section 1983 must prove two elements: (1) the defendants acted under color of state law, and; (2) the allegedly wrongful conduct of the defendants deprived the plaintiff of a constitutionally protected federal right. Schmidt v. City of Bella Villa, 557 F.3d 564, 572 (8th Cir. 2009). The Court will presume that, as employees of the University of Missouri putting into effect the University's policies, the Defendants acted under color of state law. Thus, the only question that must be addressed is whether any of Plaintiff's claims relate to the deprivation of a constitutionally protected federal right.

         Upon examining the First Amended Complaint, it is clear that Plaintiff's federal law claims are patently meritless. The bulk of Plaintiff's dispute with Defendants is one of contract law. Although Plaintiff seeks to give them a constitutional dimension, none of his claims reflect a right to a remedy under Section 1983. Either the constitutional right he seeks to enforce does not exist, or the precedents ...


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