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DEFERRO v. COCO

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


April 14, 1989

JOHN DeFERRO
v.
BEN COCO, DENNIS L. O'CONNELL, DAVID I. GRUNFELD, JAMES J. DeMARCO, JUDGE EDWARD F. BRADLEY, JUDGE NICHOLAS A. CIPRIANI, and LUCILLE DeFERRO

The opinion of the court was delivered by: KATZ

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

 MARVIN KATZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

 This is an action brought by John DeFerro, proceeding pro se, presumably under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983, *fn1" against defendants Judge Edward F. Bradley, President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas; Judge Nicholas A. Cipriani, Administrative Judge, Family Court Division of the Court of Common Pleas; Ben Coco, Chief of the Appointment Unit of the Family Court Division; Dennis O'Connell, Judge Cipriani's law clerk; David I. Grunfeld, plaintiff's attorney in a divorce proceeding in state court; James DeMarco, plaintiff's wife's attorney; and Lucille DeFerro, plaintiff's wife. The judicial defendants, i.e., Judge Bradley, Judge Cipriani, Mr. Coco and Mr. O'Connell, have jointly moved to dismiss the complaint on a number of grounds. Defendant Grunfeld has separately moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b) (6). Plaintiff has responded to both of these motions and has filed his own motion to compel discovery.

 When considering a motion to dismiss, the facts alleged in the complaint are to be treated as true and must be interpreted in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 40 L. Ed. 2d 90, 94 S. Ct. 1683 (1974). Pro se plaintiffs are entitled to even more deference on a motion to dismiss. E.g., Becker v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, 751 F.2d 146, 149 (3d Cir. 1984). However, there is an added pleading requirement in section 1983 cases that "the complaint contain a modicum of factual specificity, identifying the particular conduct of defendants that is alleged to have harmed the plaintiff[]." Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp., 838 F.2d 663, 666 (3d Cir. 1988), quoting Ross v. Meagan, 638 F.2d 646, 650 (3d Cir. 1981). Because I find that plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim against any of the moving defendants with the requisite particularity, I shall grant both motions to dismiss.

 Plaintiff's grievances stem from the conduct of defendants incident to a divorce action brought by his wife in the Court of Common Pleas on June 18, 1987. A close reading of the complaint reveals the existence of four more-or-less distinct claims. Plaintiff's first claim is that he has been denied access to public court records, in apparent violation of due process. Second, plaintiff claims that he was denied access to the courts by virtue of the state court's rejection of documents submitted by him for filing, also a due process violation. Third, he claims that he has been denied the use of his house and his property, also a violation of due process. Finally, he asserts that the provisions in Pennsylvania's divorce laws pertaining to the distribution of marital property, and the manner in which these laws have been implemented by defendants, discriminate against men, and that this constitutes an equal protection violation.

 Even viewing the complaint in its most favorable light, and construing every allegation as true, it is difficult to decipher the factual basis of plaintiff's claims to any reasonable degree of clarity, or to the requisite degree of particularity. *fn2" On October 24, 1988, plaintiff sent a letter to President Judge Bradley, in which he "requested assistance in obtaining access to the Public Court Records in divorce cases for general information." Complaint, para. 23. President Judge Bradley responded on October 31, informing plaintiff that the "matter" had been transferred to Judge Cipriani. *fn3" This, beyond a host of general allegations that the "court" and "judges" have refused to cooperate in granting plaintiff access to public records, seems to constitute the extent of plaintiff's charges against President Judge Bradley. *fn4" These allegations lack the requisite particularity to support a claim against President Judge Bradley.

 On October 24, 1988, plaintiff also sent a letter to Mr. Coco, in which he "attempted to ascertain the right for appointment of master for settlement/distribution of property" in connection with the state divorce action. Id., paras. 23, 25. Mr. Coco answered on October 30 that he could not assist plaintiff in preparing a motion and that, inasmuch as plaintiff was represented by counsel, it was improper for plaintiff to make such a request on his own behalf. *fn5" On November 9, plaintiff informed Mr. Coco that he had terminated all ties with Mr. Grunfeld and was proceeding pro se. Plaintiff then filed a motion requesting various kinds of relief from the court. *fn6" Mr. Coco refused to accept plaintiff's motion papers for filing. Further, instead of "carrying out his normal job of stamping them filed, returning them and then letting the court decide what to do with them," Complaint, para. 39, Mr. Coco also consulted Judge Cipriani's law clerk, Mr. O'Connell, about what action to take. This, again besides a number of conclusory allegations, is the factual essence of plaintiff's claim against Mr. Coco. These allegations alone lack the requisite particularity to support a claim against Mr. Coco.

 Mr. O'Connell wrote a letter to plaintiff on Judge Cipriani's letterhead, dated December 15, "stating that the plaintiff was not permitted to proceed on his own, even after notifying the court of counsel's dismissal, that the papers were not filed and would not be filed and that the requests were totally irrelevant to the case." Complaint, para. 36. This is the factual essence of plaintiff's claim against Mr. O'Connell. This allegation alone lacks the requisite particularity to support a claim against Mr. O'Connell.

 Judge Cipriani is charged with adopting, in an administrative capacity, a policy "whereby his law clerk is authorized to act in his behalf to deprive rights, to quash papers before they are filed, to prevent access to the courts and any other action necessary to ensure the discriminatory practices of the courts are protected and women continue to receive an 'unfair settlement' under guise of 'equity justice.'" Complaint, para. 44. This is the extent of plaintiff's factual allegations directly concerning Judge Cipriani. The allegations lack the requisite particularity to support a claim against Judge Cipriani.

 Plaintiff's grievance against Mr. Grunfeld appears simply to be that the manner in which Mr. Grunfeld handled the divorce action was unsatisfactory to plaintiff. Plaintiff's specific allegations are that Mr. Grunfeld has aided Mrs. DeFerro in continuing to deprive plaintiff use or the fair value of his property, that Mr. Grunfeld attempted to get plaintiff to sign a consent form, apparently against his wishes, *fn7" and that Mr. Grunfeld has impeded plaintiff's attempts at discovery. These allegations do not support a claim against Mr. Grunfeld. Plaintiff also claims that Mr. Grunfeld acted "in concert" with Mr. Coco because although letters plaintiff sent to Mr. Coco were allegedly never sent to Mr. Grunfeld, Mr. Grunfeld showed a communication with Mr. Coco on his bill to plaintiff. This allegation lacks the requisite particularity to support a claim against Mr. Grunfeld.

 In conclusion, plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim against any of the moving defendants for lack of particularity. *fn8"

 The motion to compel discovery will be denied as moot. An appropriate order follows.

 ORDER

 AND NOW, this 14th day of April, 1989, upon consideration of the Motion to Dismiss of defendants Judge Bradley, Judge Cipriani, Coco and O'Connell, the Motion to Dismiss of Defendant, David I. Grunfeld, and plaintiff's Brief/Memorandum Opposing Motion to Dismiss and Motion to Compel Discovery, and in accordance with the foregoing Memorandum, it is hereby ORDERED as follows:

 1. The Motions to Dismiss are GPANTED.

 2. Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery is DENIED as moot.


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