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CREWS v. METRO

March 19, 1981

James CREWS, Plaintiff,
v.
Metro PETROSKY, Jr., Clerk of Courts, Washington, Penna.; Walter W. Gregory, Court Administrator, Washington, Penna., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ZIEGLER

I. History of Case

 Plaintiff, James Crews, a prisoner at the State Correctional Institution at Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, instituted this civil action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Metro Petrosky, Jr., Clerk of Courts of Washington County, Pennsylvania, and Walter W. Gregory, Court Administrator of Washington County. Crews alleges that, under color of state law, defendants violated his constitutionally protected right of access to the courts. *fn1" Plaintiff seeks damages in excess of ten thousand dollars and a declaratory judgment. Jurisdiction is predicated on 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3).

 All parties have moved for summary judgment and for the reasons set forth below, the motion of Gregory will be granted, but the motions of Petrosky and Crews will be denied.

 James Crews was charged with armed robbery, and tried in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania. Following a guilty verdict, plaintiff was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of eight to eighteen years on September 25, 1978. On or about August 30, 1979, plaintiff filed a petition for relief under the Post-Conviction Hearing Act. Pa.R.Crim.P., Rules 1501-1506. On January 4, 1980, the petition was denied by order of President Judge Charles G. Sweet of the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County. *fn2"

 Crews then manifested a desire to appeal the order to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and prepared a notice of appeal. The notice was mailed to defendant, Metro Petrosky, Jr., Clerk of Courts of Washington County on January 17, 1980. Crews also filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, an affidavit of poverty and a proof of service. These papers were received by the Office of Clerk of Courts on or about January 22, 1980, stamped and filed on that date.

 Plaintiff contends that, sometime in late January of 1980, after discovering the notice of appeal had not been filed with the Prothonotary of the Superior Court, he wrote to Petrosky by certified letter on February 7, 1980, demanding an explanation for the delay. A copy of this letter was also mailed, according to plaintiff, to Walter W. Gregory, Court Administrator of Washington County. A copy of the letter, addressed to the Clerk of Courts of Washington County, is attached to plaintiff's amended complaint. *fn3"

 In the original complaint, Crews alleges that defendants were engaged in an ongoing violation of plaintiff's constitutional rights because they refused to file the notice of appeal "just because plaintiff is a prisoner." Defendants answered by stating that the notice had in fact been docketed in the appellate court as of March 18, 1980, and the record was transmitted to the Superior Court on March 26, 1980.

 Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint contending that defendants had "willfully, knowingly and maliciously" delayed filing the notice to deny him access to the courts since the appeal could not be heard by the Superior Court during the April term of 1980. Instead, plaintiff asserts, the appeal could not be heard until the November term of 1980, at the earliest. *fn4"

 II. The Motion of Walter W. Gregory for Summary Judgment

 Walter W. Gregory, Court Administrator of Washington County, contends that summary judgment is required because he had no authority to accept, process or docket appeals. Plaintiff, on the other hand, rejoins that the Administrator of Courts "is responsible to make sure all documents received by the Clerk of Courts receive immediate attention." He argues that Gregory may be liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 since the letter of February 4, 1980, was mailed and received by him.

 For purposes of defendant's motion for judgment, we must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, in this case the plaintiff. We therefore assume that Crews mailed a copy of the letter of February 4, 1980 to defendant. We further assume that Gregory read the letter, and therefore was aware that the notice of appeal had not been filed. Nevertheless, we conclude that the Court Administrator did not possess the authority to process or expedite the filing of plaintiff's appeal.

 The responsibilities of a court administrator in Pennsylvania are outlined in the order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, signed by Chief Justice Benjamin R. Jones, and dated December 9, 1975. *fn5" It is evident from that order, as well as from the title of the office, that the duties of a court administrator are essentially administrative. An administrator is an employee of the court, and his duties involve the day-to-day management of the business of the court.

 There is no evidence that a court administrator has any authority to accept, stamp, file or transmit notices of appeal to an appellate court in Pennsylvania. Those duties, pursuant to Rule 905 of the Pennsylvania Rules of Appellate Procedure, are imposed on the clerk of courts. *fn6" Moreover, a clerk of courts is an elected official, with sole responsibility for the internal functioning of the office. There is no evidence ...


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