Critchfield v. Engfer

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Justia Opinion Summary

Plaintiff brought an action against Defendants - a Wisconsin investigator, a Wisconsin attorney, chief judge of the Wisconsin Circuit Court, and an agent with the Department of Homeland Security located in Chicago, Illinois - in a Wisconsin state court, alleging that Defendants violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights by conducting or contributing to an improper search and seizure. The Wisconsin complaint was dismissed without prejudice for failure to serve the complaint and summons within the statutorily mandated timeframe. Plaintiff then brought this action in the Court of Chancery, arguing that the Court had jurisdiction because he was “denied justice in the at-law courts.” The Court of Chancery dismissed the complaint, holding that the complaint failed to state a basis upon which the Court may exercise subject matter jurisdiction over this action.

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COURT OF CHANCERY OF THE STATE OF DELAWARE New Castle County Courthouse 500 N. King Street, Suite 11400 Wilmington, Delaware 19801-3734 TAMIKA R. MONTGOMERY-REEVES VICE CHANCELLOR May 9, 2016 Mr. Michael Vernon Critchfield P.O. Box 11 Mondovi, WI 54755 RE: Michael Vernon Critchfield v. Lee Engfer, et al. Civil Action No. 11729-VCMR Dear Mr. Critchfield, Plaintiff Michael Vernon Critchfield brings this action against Defendants Lee Engfer, a Wisconsin investigator; C. Michael Chambers, a Wisconsin attorney; James Duvall, Chief Judge of the Wisconsin Circuit Court located in Buffalo/Pepin counties, Wisconsin; and Anthony W. Castillo, an agent with the Department of Homeland Security located in Chicago, Illinois (together, “Defendants”).1 Mr. Critchfield’s complaint (the “Complaint”) alleges that Defendants violated his First and Fourth Amendment rights by conducting or contributing to an improper search and seizure.2 Specifically, officers of the Buffalo County Sheriff’s Department and agents of the Department of Homeland Security allegedly “interrogated” Mr. 1 Compl. at 1. 2 Id. at 2, 4. Critchfield v. Engfer C.A. No. 11729-VCMR May 9, 2016 Page 2 of 3 Critchfield and his family members and “confiscated” his laptop computer pursuant to an invalid search warrant.3 This “raid” allegedly was motivated by an attempt to plant child pornography on Mr. Critchfield’s computer and “quash” his and his family’s rights to free speech.4 The burden of establishing the Court’s subject matter jurisdiction lies with the plaintiff.5 The issue of subject matter jurisdiction is “crucial,” and the Court is obligated to ensure it exists, even if it must raise the issue sua sponte.6 Moreover, a plaintiff’s desire to litigate in a “court of exclusive equity” 7 is insufficient, without more, to confer subject matter jurisdiction over the underlying claims.8 The Complaint fails to state a basis upon which this Court may exercise subject matter jurisdiction over this action. In a section titled “General 3 Id. at 2-3. 4 Id. at 4. 5 Prestancia Mgmt. Gp., Inc. v. Virginia Heritage Found., II LLC, 2005 WL 1364616, at *3 (Del. Ch. May 27, 2005). 6 Ct. Ch. R. 12(h)(3); Appoquinimink Educ. Ass’n v. Appoquinimink Sch. Dist., 2003 WL 1794963, at *3 (Del. Ch. Mar. 31, 2003), corrected (Apr. 17, 2003), aff’d, 844 A.2d 991 (Del. 2004). 7 Compl. at 5. 8 See Christiana Town Ctr., LLC v. New Castle Cty., 2003 WL 21314499, at *3 (Del. Ch. June 6, 2003) (“Chancery jurisdiction is not conferred by the incantation of magic words.”), aff’d, 841 A.2d 307 (Del. 2004). Critchfield v. Engfer C.A. No. 11729-VCMR May 9, 2016 Page 3 of 3 Jurisdiction,” Mr. Critchfield argues that this Court has jurisdiction because he was “denied justice in the at-law courts” when a court in Wisconsin dismissed his claims without prejudice.9 Mr. Critchfield’s Wisconsin complaint was dismissed, however, because he failed to serve that complaint and a summons upon the defendants within the statutorily mandated timeframe.10 Without suggesting that Mr. Critchfield’s theories have any merit, the dismissal without prejudice implies that Mr. Critchfield had an adequate legal remedy in Wisconsin before he commenced this action. Regardless, no facts alleged suffice to grant this Court jurisdiction.11 Thus, the Complaint is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. IT IS SO ORDERED. Sincerely, /s/ Tamika Montgomery-Reeves Vice Chancellor TMR/jp 9 Compl. at 5. 10 Id., Ex. 9. 11 The Complaint also makes no reference to Delaware and alleges facts taking place entirely outside Delaware. For example, the allegedly illegal search occurred at Mr. Critchfield’s house in Wisconsin, and Defendants are located in Wisconsin and Illinois.