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No jurisdiction over foster care system suit

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//May 12, 2022

No jurisdiction over foster care system suit

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//May 12, 2022

Where a mother alleged that social workers and agencies failed to provide services required under a foster care agreement, but there was no federal cause of action in her complaint nor complete diversity between the parties, the suit was dismissed.


Nicole Lynn Harris, appearing pro se, filed a second amended complaint on behalf of herself and her adult child, Jorjah Polk. The complaint alleges that as a minor, Polk was identified as a “child in need of supervision” and placed into the foster care system. Harris and Polk allege that they entered into a foster care agreement with certain social workers and entities, and that pursuant to the terms thereof, Polk was to be provided, among other things, a “safe & secure family environment” that was “nurturing” and “free of abuse/neglect,” threats and discrimination. Polk was also to receive “proper treatment,” “correct medication” and oversight with her finances.

Harris and Polk allege that the terms of the foster care agreement were breached. Harris and Polk also allege, among other things, that Polk did not receive proper medication or care, Polk’s finances were mismanaged and Polk received “irrelevant services that were not effective.” Harris and Polk assert a state law breach of contract claim against the named defendants. It also appears, based on a liberal construction of their pleading, that Harris and Polk intend to assert a state law negligence claim against defendants.


Courts have an “independent duty to ensure that jurisdiction is proper and, if there is a question as to whether such jurisdiction exists, [they] must ‘raise lack of subject-matter jurisdiction on [their] own motion,’ without regard to the positions of the parties.” Harris and Polk assert state law breach of contract and negligence claims against defendants in their second amended complaint. The second amended complaint does not include any federal claims against defendants that could serve as the basis for federal question jurisdiction. Thus, it is clear that Harris and Polk intend to rely on diversity jurisdiction as the basis for subject matter jurisdiction in this action.

For diversity jurisdiction to apply, there must be complete diversity between the parties, meaning that the “citizenship of each plaintiff must be different from that of each defendant.” Here, the parties are not completely diverse. Without complete diversity, the court cannot exercise diversity jurisdiction over this action.

Dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Harris v. Harbor Point Behavioral Health, Case No. 2:21-cv-499, April 29, 2022. EDVA at Norfolk (Young). VLW 022-3-188. 7 pp.

VLW 022-3-188

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