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Mattingly v. Elias

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT


decided: July 9, 1973.

CAROL MATTINGLY, INDIVIDUALLY, AND HER MINOR CHILDREN, PATRICIA E. MATTINGLY, MARY E. MATTINGLY, JOSEPH MATTINGLY, JR., FRANCIS C. MATTINGLY, BERNADETTE MATTINGLY, AND KENNETH MATTINGLY, BY CAROL MATTINGLY AND DOROTHY WALDRON, INDIVIDUALLY, AND BY HER MINOR CHILDREN, JOANNE WALDRON, WILLIAM WALDRON, JOSEPH WALDRON, CATHERINE WALDRON AND JOANNE WALDRON, IN HER OWN RIGHT AND HER MINOR CHILD, LISA, BY DOROTHY WALDRON, APPELLEES,
v.
GABRIEL ELIAS, NORTHCHESTER CORPORATION, DANIEL J. SHEA, HAROLD AYERS AND BELLA ANGEL CAROL MATTINGLY, DOROTHY WALDRON AND CHARLES AND ANNA JAGGERS, AND THE CLASS THEY REPRESENT, APPELLANTS

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Hunter and Weis, Circuit Judges, and Scalera, District Judge.

Author: Per Curiam

Opinion OF THE COURT

Holding that it lacked federal jurisdiction, the district court dismissed appellants' action. Mattingly v. Elias, 325 F. Supp. 1374 (E.D. Pa. 1971). Appellants claim that various practices of their landlords and the landlords' employees violate 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and that the district court did have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3).*fn1

Appellants' original complaint may be divided into three areas. One, they alleged that appellees Gabriel Elias and the Northchester Corporation employed a deputy constable, appellee Daniel Shea. Under color of his state office, appellee Shea allegedly performed various illegal acts, including forcibly entering homes, removing goods and selling them at private sales, conducting illegal constable sales, and removing electric and water meters. The acts were allegedly conducted in a conspiracy with the other appellees.

Two, they alleged that dwellings provided by their landlords had many serious deficiencies which made them almost uninhabitable. The district court's opinion vividly portrays the poor living conditions. Appellants asked that a warranty of habitability be implied by the district court in the lease agreements between appellants and appellees. They also asked for a declaration that the present lease which they must sign is unconscionable and void.

Three, they alleged that appellees took retaliatory action against appellants who sought legal counsel, who became active in community groups, or who reported violations of health and housing codes to local authorities. Mattingly v. Elias, supra at 1379. They asked for injunctive relief against this practice.

The first series of allegations concerning the actions of the constable were disposed of five months prior to the district court's opinion by a stipulation between the parties approved by the court on November 23, 1970 in the form of an injunction against appellees.*fn2

The district court then held that there was no jurisdiction on which appellants could base their claims for declaration of a warrant of habitability and for declaration of the lease as unconscionable. It dismissed these claims with prejudice.

As to appellants' retaliatory eviction claim, the court held that:

"The present record does not indicate whether the plaintiffs have raised the defense of retaliatory eviction in any state court proceeding. Before this defense is raised and rejected in state court proceedings, it would be inappropriate for this Court to issue an injunction against any threatened retaliatory eviction by the defendant." Mattingly v. Elias, supra at 1384.

It then denied appellants' motion for injunctive relief without prejudice.

Appellants challenge the dismissal of their claims for declaratory relief and the denial of their claim for injunctive relief. Neither side is presently contesting the order of November 23, 1970.

WARRANTY OF HABITABILITY, ETC.

We affirm the dismissal of those portions of the complaint dealing with appellants' claims for a warranty of habitability and for a declaration that the lease is unconscionable. Appellants contend, among other things, that a constable abusing his office in conspiracy with others is a classic § 1983 case. See Screws v. United States, 325 U.S. 91, 89 L. Ed. 1495, 65 S. Ct. 1031 (1945); Griffin v. Maryland, 378 U.S. 130, 12 L. Ed. 2d 754, 84 S. Ct. 1770 (1964); and Gillibeau v. City of Richmond, 417 F.2d 426, 430 (9th Cir. 1969). They argue that the district court thus had original federal jurisdiction over these portions of the complaint and that it had jurisdiction over the rest of the complaint via the doctrine of pendant jurisdiction.

As the district court recognized, Mattingly v. Elias, supra at footnote 27, the stipulation of November 23, 1970 mooted those portions of the complaint dealing with the actions of the constable. It was therefore appropriate for the district court not to adjudicate appellants' non-federal claims. United States to Use of Claude C. Wood Co. v. General Insurance Co. of America, 247 F. Supp. 543 (N.D. Cal. 1965). 6 Wright and Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure, Civil § 1588 at 814-815 (1971). Pendant jurisdiction is a matter of judicial discretion, not a party's right, United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 16 L. Ed. 2d 218, 86 S. Ct. 1130 (1966); and there is a serious question as to whether that discretion could properly have been exercised in favor of appellants had the district court been so inclined.*fn3

We have reviewed appellants' other arguments in relation to these portions of the complaint, and we find no merit in them. The judgment of the district court on these matters will therefore be affirmed.

RETALIATORY EVICTION

With all due deference to the district court, we think it was error for that court to require appellants to present their claim for relief against alleged retaliatory evictions in the state courts. There was no indication by the court of any on-going state proceeding which would be interfered with by an adjudication of this issue. Nor does it appear that there is any Pennsylvania statute in question whose constitutionality could be "saved" by an interpretation by the state's courts. In these circumstances, this case is governed by our decision in Lewis v. Kugler, 446 F.2d 1343 (3d Cir. 1971), decided after the district court handed down its decision.

Accordingly, the judgment of the district court dismissing appellants' complaint will be affirmed as to all portions of the complaint other than those dealing with appellants' claim for relief against alleged retaliatory evictions, and the judgment of the district court will be reversed solely as to those portions of the complaint dealing with retaliatory evictions.*fn4 The case will be remanded to the district court to hear those claims.


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