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Simonson v. Hemlock Farms Community Association

January 16, 2007

GEORGE SIMONSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
HEMLOCK FARMS COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION, INC., MICHAEL SIBIO (COMMUNITY MANAGER), AND WILLIAM HAMBY (CHIEF OF UNIT), DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (Judge Munley)

ORDER

Before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rules 12(b)(6) and 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Doc. 5). The matter has been fully briefed and is ripe for decision.

Background

On October 23, 2006, plaintiff, filing pro se, instituted the present action in this court. In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that defendants violated his Civil Rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and committed fraud, attempted fraud and extortion against him. The complaint apparently arose from a long-running dispute about the enforcement of traffic regulations at the Hemlock Farms Community Association (hereinafter "Hemlock Farms" or "the Association"), a private residential and recreational facility located in Lords Valley, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff had previously filed suit on similar grounds in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and he claims that case settled and was dismissed.*fn1 After the resolution of that case, plaintiff complains, defendants mailed him two speeding tickets and demanded that he pay a fine. These requests "ingnor[ed] the constitutional rights of the Plaintiff," and "ignor[ed] the results of the previous case." (Complaint (hereinafter "Complt.") Doc. 1 at 1). Plaintiff apparently asserts that by issuing these tickets and demanding money of him even though he was not a member of the association, Hemlock Farms violated his civil rights. After plaintiff refused to pay the fines demanded of him, Hemlock Farms filed suit against him in the Court of Common Pleas of Pike County, Pennsylvania, alleging that plaintiff regularly violated the speed limits established on community property and had "repeatedly refused to cooperate with the Association's security force and instead has resorted to cursing at and evading same." (Hemlock Farms Community Association, Inc. v. Simonson, No. 629 Equity 2006 (Pike County Ct. of Comm. Pleas, April 24, 2006) (attached as exhibit 3(a) to Complt.) at ¶ 23). Plaintiff contends that this lawsuit contained allegations that Hemlock Farms knew to be false. Plaintiff also alleges that defendants altered a notation he had added to a personal check he used to pay his speeding fine. Plaintiff claims this action violated federal law.

Plaintiff sought an order from this court assigning the case for arbitration and requested punitive damages totaling $150 million. He also sought removal of his name from any database controlled by defendants that contained reference to the tickets he received from the Hemlock Farms and a refund of the fines he paid for these allegedly illegal tickets.

On November 3, 2006, defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Doc. 5), arguing that plaintiff had failed to allege facts which would make the Association liable for violating his civil rights and that the decision in the state court case filed by Hemlock Farms precluded this court from exercising jurisdiction over this action. Plaintiff responded with a document titled "Motion to Dismiss Defendants' Motion to Dismiss" (Doc. 9), which we will construe as a brief in opposition. The matter is thus ripe for disposition.

Standard of Review

When a 12(b)(6) motion is filed, the sufficiency of a complaint's allegations are tested. The issue is whether the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, support a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can fairly be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).

Read in the light most favorable to the pro se plaintiff, the instant complaint is before this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We will therefore evaluate plaintiff's claims under the standards established for that statute. To establish a claim under section 1983, two criteria must be met. First, the conduct complained of must have been committed by a person acting under of color of state law. Second, the conduct must deprive the complainant of rights secured under the Constitution or federal law. Sameric Corp. of Delaware, Inc. v. City of Philadelphia, 142 F.3d 582, 590 (3d Cir. 1998). Section 1983 does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights. Rather, it provides only remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere in the Constitution or federal laws. United States v. Kneipp, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996).

Discussion

A. A Person Acting Under the Color of State Law

The defendants here are private individuals and a private corporation, not the governmental body or officer who traditionally has faced liability in section 1983 actions. Courts have found that a private party can be liable as a state actor under § 1983, but only under certain conditions. To be liable, "the conduct allegedly causing the deprivation of a federal right [must] be fairly attributable to the State." Lugar v. Edmonson Oil Co., 457 U.S. 922, 937 (1982). A two-part test makes this determination for private actors: "First, the deprivation must be caused by the exercise of some right or privilege created by the State or by a rule of conduct imposed by the State or by a person for whom the State is responsible." Id. "Second, the party charged with the deprivation must be a person who may fairly be said to be a state actor." Id. A party can be a state actor if that person is a "state official," an individual who "has acted together with or has obtained significant aid from state officials," or someone whose "conduct is otherwise chargeable to the State." Id.; see also Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1265 (3d Cir. 1994) (quoting this test). The Third Circuit has defined the test for determining whether a private individual acts under color of state law as "whether the state, through its agents or laws, has established a formal procedure or working relationship that drapes private actors with the power of the state." Cruz v. Donnelly, 727 F.2d 79, 82 (3d Cir. 1984); Robb v. Philadelphia, 733 F.2d 286, 292 (3d Cir. 1984). We shall address each defendant separately to determine whether they acted under color of state law.

I. Defendant William Hamby

Plaintiff admits that one of the defendants, William Hamby, who serves as Chief of the Hemlock Farms Community Safety Unit, "is not a police office [sic] under the statutes of the State or Federal Government. He is nothing more than a citizen and has no authority over anyone, especially a non-resident." (Complt. at ¶ 5). Since in deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) we take all facts alleged in the complaint as true, we accept plaintiff's assertion that Defendant Hamby is a private citizen, and not a police officer or otherwise employed by state or local government. Plaintiff also admits that Defendant Hamby did not act in any way to enforce state law, but instead operated as a private citizen. Plaintiff thus does not allege that Hamby's actions were "draped" with the "power of the state." Cruz, 727 F.2d at 82. As such, plaintiff cannot bring suit against Defendant Hamby under § 1983, since Hamby was not acting ...


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