United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
November 9, 2005.
JOHN TAURO, Plaintiff,
PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WELFARE, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOY CONTI, District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
For the reasons that follow, the action filed by the plaintiff
John Tauro ("Mr. Tauro" or the "plaintiff") will be dismissed
with prejudice as frivolous under the federal in forma pauperis
statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).
Plaintiff filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, naming as
defendants the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (the
"DPW"), the "Domestic Relations Section" of the "Allegheny County
Family Division," and the County Solicitor. See generally
Compl. (Doc. 2) at ¶¶ 2-4. Although his claim(s) are less than
entirely clear, Mr. Tauro generally complains of collection
activities taken against him for "welfare arrears" owed in
connection with child support obligations. See id. at ¶¶ 8-10.
Plaintiff is no stranger to this court. In 2002, Mr. Tauro
filed a lawsuit challenging the DPW's authority to collect child
support payments at one time owed to the mother of his child.
See generally Tauro v. Mulligan, et al., Civil Action No.
02-495 (W.D. Pa. 2002) (Conti, J.). Plaintiff apparently believed
that once he and the mother entered an agreement suspending his child support obligations, his payment responsibilities ceased.
The problem for Mr. Tauro, however, was that his child's mother
was on welfare assistance and, in order to receive it, she
assigned her child support rights to the DPW. See generally
Report and Recommendation dated Apr. 4, 2003 (Doc. 37 in Civ.
Action No. 02-495) (Caiazza, M.J.) at 15. When the mother and Mr.
Tauro signed a suspension agreement, the state court entered an
order confirming $14,162.75 in child support arrears which, by
operation of the mother's assignment, was due and owing to the
DPW. See id. at 3.
This court dismissed Mr. Tauro's lawsuit as frivolous. Among
other things, the court stated:
[A]ll of Mr. Tauro's grievances arise from his
undying conviction that the DPW cannot be awarded,
and that it cannot collect upon, child support
arrears by order of the Family Division. . . . Little
could be further from the truth. . . .
[T]he assignment to the DPW of support rights by
persons receiving state assistance [is] specifically
mandated by operation of [Pennsylvania] law . . .
[and] federal statute. . . . [T]he Third Circuit
[Court] has upheld the constitutionality of . . .
Pennsylvania's assignment statute. . . . Pennsylvania
courts [also] have confirmed the constitutionality of
the relevant statutory schemes, noting that
assignments to the DPW are not only consistent with
Pennsylvania law, but are expressly required by state
and federal statute. . . .
[For these reasons, t]he Plaintiff's assertion that
the DPW is not entitled to child support arrears . . .
flies in the face of clearly established state and
federal law. Federal and state courts alike have
uniformly upheld the relevant statutory schemes,
finding no constitutional infirmity. . . .
The Plaintiff's central premise is frivolous . . .,
[and] all of [his] claims [therefore are] dismissed. See Apr. 4th R&R at 14-18, adopted as opinion of Dist. Ct. by
Mem. Order dated May 8, 2003 (Doc. 39) (Conti, J.), aff'd,
90 Fed. Appx. 734 (3d Cir. Feb. 27, 2004) (table).*fn1
Apparently unsatisfied with these results, Mr. Tauro filed this
lawsuit under section 1983 to challenge collection efforts
regarding "welfare arrears, for which no operation of . . . law
exists," and "child support, which each of the Defendants . . .
knows does not exist." See, e.g., Compl. at ¶ 9. Again Mr.
Tauro proceeds in forma pauperis,*fn2 and again his
lawsuit will be dismissed as frivolous under section 1915(e)(2).
The doctrine of issue preclusion, also known as collateral
estoppel, "ensures that once an issue is actually and necessarily
determined by a court of competent jurisdiction, that
determination is conclusive in subsequent suits based on a
different cause of action involving a party to the prior
litigation." See Burlington North R. Co. v. Hyundai Merchant
Marine Co., Ltd., 63 F.3d 1227, 1232 (3d Cir. 1995) (citation
and internal quotations omitted). "The prerequisites for the application of issue preclusion are
satisfied when: (1) the issue sought to be precluded is the same
as that involved in the prior action; (2) that issue was actually
litigated; (3) it was determined by a final and valid judgment;
and (4) the determination [was] essential to the prior judgment."
See id. (citations, internal quotations, and alterations
These elements are satisfied here. The lawfulness and
constitutionality of the statutes referenced above were "actually
litigated" and "essential" to "a final and valid judgment" of
this court. See id.; compare also, e.g., Compl. at ¶ 9
(complaining of allegedly invalid demands for "welfare arrears"
and/or "child support") with discussion supra (discussing
court's prior judgment affirming validity of DPW's demands for
arrears). Indeed, the same type of collection activities
challenged in this case were part of the case Mr. Tauro already
lost. Compare, e.g., Compl. at ¶ 8 (complaining of I.R.S.'s
seizure of tax refunds) with Am. Compl. (Doc. 20) in Civ.
Action No. 02-495 at ¶ 15 (same). Having reviewed plaintiff's
entire complaint, moreover, this court can decipher no potential
claim for relief not precluded by the prior ruling.
As referenced above, Mr. Tauro proceeds here as an in forma
pauperis litigant. He, therefore, is subject to section
1915(e)(2), which "helps to prevent potential abuses . . . by
mandating . . . the . . . dismiss[al of] an in forma pauperis
complaint" that is, among other things, "frivolous." See
generally Stevens v. Chex Sys. of Dallas, 2000 WL 1522856, *1
(E.D. Pa. Oct. 13, 2000) (citing and quoting
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)).
Claims are deemed frivolous "when the plaintiff asserts a
violation of a legal interest that does not exist," "when the
plaintiff asserts facts that do not support a claim," or when his
claims "lack an arguable basis in law or fact." See Esnault
v. Suthers, 2001 WL 1285551, *1 (10th Cir. Oct. 24, 2001)
(citation omitted); Smith v. New York City Transit Auth., 1999
WL 1212562, *1 (2d Cir. Dec. 13, 1999) (citation omitted); Sack v. Lowder,
1992 WL 2884, *7 (10th Cir. Jan. 6, 1992). In light of the
application of collateral estoppel, plaintiff's current claims
are frivolous. See id.; see also, e.g., Newton v. Nixon,
110 Fed. Appx. 734, 734-35 (8th Cir. Oct. 12, 2004) (affirming
district court's dismissal of pleading as frivolous based on
application of collateral estoppel); Lewis v. Green,
101 Fed. Appx. 446, 446 (5th Cir. Jun. 22, 2004) (same), cert. denied,
___ U.S. ___, 125 S. Ct. 1297 (2005).
For all of the reasons stated above, the court will dismiss
this action, with prejudice, as frivolous under
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The DPW's pending motion to dismiss (Doc. 4),
therefore, will be denied as moot.
Finally, Mr. Tauro is placed on notice that, should he continue
to file frivolous actions in this court, he may well face the
entry of sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. Rule
11 authorizes sanctions against any party whose pleadings do not
present legal claims "warranted by existing law or by a
nonfrivolous argument for the extension, modification, or
reversal" thereof. See generally Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b)(2). Mr.
Tauro's status as a pro se litigant is no excuse. See
generally In re Armstrong, 2001 WL 799705, *3 (E.D. Pa. Jul.
10, 2001) ("pro se plaintiffs are not entitled to any special
handling or exceptions" under Rule 11). (citations and internal
Consistent with the above Memorandum, the Court enters the
following: II. ORDER
AND NOW, on this 9th day of November 2005, IT IS HEREBY
ORDERED that defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 4) is DENIED
AS MOOT, and plaintiff's lawsuit is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE
as frivolous under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).
The Clerk is directed to mark this case closed.
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