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Roush v. Horner

September 22, 2006

FRANKLIN D. ROUSH, JR, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GARY C. HORNER INDIVIDUALLY, AS ATTORNEY FOR THE ESTATE OF MARY CHALKEY, AND AS AN ATTORNEY WITH THE LAW FIRM SPENCE, CUSTER, SAYLOR, WOLFE AND ROSE, AND AS GUARDIAN AD LITEM FOR MARY CHALKEY, MARY CHALKEY DECEASED, NOW THE ESTATE OF MARY CHALKEY ALSO KNOWN AS MARY MATULA, THE ESTATE OF MARY CHALKEY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Pending before this court is the motion (Doc. No. 30) of defendants Gary Horner ("Horner") and the Estate of Mary Chalkey (collectively "defendants") to dismiss the complaint filed by Franklin D. Roush, Jr. ("Roush" or "plaintiff"), pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendants argue, inter alia, that the complaint must be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1) because the court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the case. In response, plaintiff rejoins that the court has subject matter jurisdiction by reason of his claims arising under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. The court agrees with defendants' jurisdictional challenge. Therefore, plaintiff's complaint will be dismissed. Defendants' other arguments are moot as a result of the determination that this court does not have subject-matter jurisdiction over the case.

Factual Background

The following statement of facts is taken from plaintiff's second amended complaint ("complaint")*fn1 and other documents of record.*fn2 On December 4, 1995, plaintiff purchased a tract of land from Mary Chalkey ("Chalkey") for $76,000. Chalkey, however, continued to live on the land until July 29, 1997, when an electrical fire burned down the house. On October 7, 1997, Chalkey initiated an action in equity to void plaintiff's deed in the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County, Pennsylvania. The court of common pleas granted a temporary injunction against plaintiff related to the subject property. Following an initial hearing, the trial court continued the injunction pending the outcome of a trial on the merits. The state trial court also appointed Horner as Chalkey's guardian ad litem and counsel. Plaintiff contends that during the hearing related to the preliminary injunction, the state trial court acted as an adversary and refused plaintiff the opportunity to question witnesses and to testify on his behalf. Plaintiff argues that the state trial court's actions were in violation of his due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States.

On July 13, 1998, the state trial court conducted a trial on the merits. Chalkey, whose estate is a defendant in this case, presented no evidence during this trial. Plaintiff, therefore, made a motion to dismiss the matter which was denied by the state trial court. Following the state trial court's ruling on the motion to dismiss, plaintiff called one witness who briefly testified on plaintiff's behalf. Upon completion of the testimony, the state trial court incorporated the record from the prior preliminary injunction hearing. Plaintiff then made a second motion to dismiss, which also was denied by the state trial court. Subsequently, on August 11, 1998, the state trial court found in Chalkey's favor and held that the conveyance of the subject land was null and void.

Upon receiving the state trial court's opinion, plaintiff's attorney did not file a post-trial motion but instead filed a notice of appeal on September 8, 1998. Following the filing of the notice of appeal, the state trial court directed plaintiff to file a concise statement of matters complained of on appeal. Pursuant to the state trial court's order, plaintiff provided a statement for the court's review. The statement of matters complained of alleged the following judicial errors: (a) no evidence of a confidential relationship; (b) placing the burden on Roush to prove that the sale of the property in question was fair under all of the circumstances; (c) the comparison of potential sale prices of the property; (d) the state trial court's findings of fact were tainted as a result of the judge having been advised of settlement discussions and potential offers to purchase the property which post-dated the time of sale; and (e) failure to grant Roush's motion to dismiss and incorporation of prior testimony. On April 21, 1999, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania affirmed the trial court's decision.

Following the superior court's ruling, plaintiff filed an application for re-argument with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which was granted on June 25, 1999. More than one year later, on August 7, 2000, the superior court vacated the state court's order and remanded the matter to the Court of Common Pleas of Cambria County, Pennsylvania so that the state trial court could determine whether the sua sponte incorporation of evidence presented at the earlier preliminary injunction hearing during the trial on the merits was error.

As a result of the superior court's ruling, Chalkey filed a petition for allowance of appeal in the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted the petition and later held that the matter should be remanded to the state trial court for the filing of post-trial motions and the issuance of a decree nisi.

While before the state trial court for the second time, plaintiff identified six (6) issues in his exceptions and motions for post-trial relief. The issues included: (1) the state trial court should have granted the first motion to dismiss made by plaintiff; (2) the state trial court erroneously sua sponte incorporated evidence from a prior injunction hearing into a hearing on the merits; (3) after the incorporation of evidence, plaintiff's second motion to dismiss should have been granted as Chalkey failed to meet her burden of proof; (4) the state trial court improperly placed the burden on plaintiff to demonstrate that the sale of property was fair; (5) the state trial court erroneously found a confidential relationship; and (6) the state trial court erroneously considered other offers for the property. In response to plaintiff's exceptions and motions for post-trial relief, the state trial court incorporated into the record its earlier August 11, 1998 opinion and order.

Following the state trial court's ruling, plaintiff learned of an existing conflict of interest between the state trial court judge and Chalkey's attorney, defendant Horner. Plaintiff learned that the state trial court had retained Horner to represent the judge in an unrelated estate matter. Although the representation occurred in August 2001, some three (3) years after the state trial court's August 11, 1998 Opinion and Order related to the equity matter, plaintiff filed a motion to recuse the judge from the case. After some consideration the judge granted the motion and was permanently recused from the case. The matter was transferred to another state court judge. That state court judge considered the matter and dismissed plaintiff's motion for post-trial relief and affirmed the decree nisi entered by the prior judge.

On June 12, 2003, plaintiff again filed a notice of appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Plaintiff was directed to file a concise statement of matters complained of on appeal. Plaintiff identified the same issues as he had during his earlier appeals with the state trial and appellate courts. The state trial court issued an opinion and order finding that the issues raised by plaintiff had been adequately addressed in the order dismissing plaintiff's motion for post-trial relief.

Plaintiff filed timely appeals with both the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The superior court affirmed the trial court's decision and the supreme court denied plaintiff's petition for allowance of appeal.

After plaintiff exhausted his state court appeals, he filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court of the United States. In his petition, plaintiff identified three (3) issues for the Supreme Court to consider. The issues were whether violations of due process occurred under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the Constitution of the United States where: (a) a state trial court judge concealed his business relationship with the counsel for an opposing party; (b) the state trial judge, without notice, sua sponte incorporated testimony of a prior preliminary injunction hearing into a hearing on the merits; and (c) the Superior Court of Pennsylvania determined that the state trial court's denial of plaintiff's first motion to dismiss was proper. The Supreme Court of the United States denied plaintiff's petition for writ of certiorari and his subsequent petition for rehearing.

Following his unsuccessful attempts with the Pennsylvania state courts and the Supreme Court of the United States, plaintiff filed the instant case in this court. Plaintiff's complaint alleges numerous violations of his Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Each of the alleged violations stem from the equity action, which was fully ...


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