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Anderson v. Morrow

February 26, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge


Introduction and Background

Plaintiff William D. Anderson filed a pro se Complaint in Equity in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, which was removed to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441 by the municipal Defendants, Jacqueline R. Morrow, the Solicitor for the City of Pittsburgh Solicitor, and the "City of Pittsburgh Building Inspector and the Office of Municipal Investigations," based upon the federal civil rights claims raised in the complaint. Although captioned as a "Complaint in Equity," Plaintiff explicitly seeks monetary damages in the amount of "Thirty Million Dollars ($30 mil)" for defamation and violations of the "4th and 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America," and for damages stemming from a series of actions allegedly taken against him, his auto body repair business, and property he alleges was his residence during a period from January 1999 through October 2005.

After careful consideration of Defendants' motion to dismiss and brief in support, Plaintiff's response (which he entitled "Motion in Opposition of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss"), Defendants' reply to Plaintiff's response, and all of the supporting documentation submitted on both sides, the Court granted defendants' motion to dismiss in part, and denied it in part.

In deciding the motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 12(b)(6), the Court accepted the well-pleaded factual allegations of the complaint as true, and drew all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff, Armstrong Surgical Center, Inc. v. Armstrong County Memorial Hospital, 185 F.3d 154, 155 (3d Cir. 1999), applying the rule that a cause of action should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond a doubt that the non-moving party can prove no set of facts in support of its allegations which would entitle it to relief. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). Construing the pleading in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, Budinsky v. Pennsylvania Dept. of Environmental Resources, 819 F.2d 418, 421 (3d Cir. 1987), and allowing the pro se plaintiff more leeway than counseled litigants, Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003), this Court found it appropriate to dismiss much of Plaintiff's complaint, for the reasons excerpted below:

Harassment by Inspectors and Other Officials

Plaintiff alleges he was repeatedly and unjustly inspected and harassed by various officials and employees of the City of Pittsburgh in the operations of his auto repair business from January 29, 1999 through April 2, 2003, and that the City failed to do anything about his complaints about the harassment. Complaint in Equity, ¶¶ 1-16. It is difficult to discern any federal constitutional violations in plaintiff's allegations, but the Court need not and does not decide the merits of these claims.

As defendants correctly argue, these claims are barred by the two year statute of limitations to the extent they raise civil rights/ section 1983 claims, see Reitz v. County of Bucks, No. 95-6603, 1996 WL 530021 *2 (E.D.Pa. 1997) (claim stemming from municipal defendants' allegedly unlawful seizure and detention of plaintiffs personal and real property governed by the two year statute of limitations that applies to torts against real and personal property, 42 Pa.C.S. § 5524), and to the extent they attempt to raise a common law defamation cause of action, such claims are barred by Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, 42 Pa.C.S. §§ 8541-61, which does not permit defamation actions against public officials or municipalities. See, e.g., Keim v. County of Bucks, 275 F. Supp.2d 628 (E.D.Pa. 2003) (county and county corrections department were immune, under the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act, from county corrections officers' defamation and false light tort claims).

Plaintiff does not counter defendants' argument on the statute of limitations, and he does not suggest anything that might conceivably raise tolling or any other equitable impediment to application of the statute of limitations, and the Court therefore will dismiss these claims.

Defendants Failed to Repair a Sink Hole in Street

Although plaintiff's claim (if it is a federal claim) about the City's failure to respond to his complaint on or about April 25, 2004 about a large sink hole on Fushsia Way, Complaint in Equity, ¶ 17, was arguably within the statute of limitations, there is no constitutional right implicated, and this claim (if it is a federal claim) will be dismissed. Plaintiff also does not assert that he or his business or property sustained any damages from the sink hole or by the City's alleged failure to respond to his complaints about it, and to the extent this attempts to raise a state claim, it will be dismissed for failure to allege any damages to him.

Mem.Op. July 28, 2006 (doc. no. 20), at 3-4.

As to Plaintiff's claim of a Fourth Amendment violation, he states that on or about June 8, 2004, agents from the City of Pittsburgh, including employees from its Bureau of Building Inspection ("BBI"), executed a warrantless search of his property at 7428 Monticello Street in Pittsburgh, in which he claims he resided and owned pursuant to an unrecorded land installment contract purchased from the record owners, Mr. and Mrs. George Bouie. Plaintiff claims that employees of the BBI executed this search, "ransacking [his home] and ripping down curtains on the first floor and a blind from a second floor window." Complaint in Equity, ¶ 18. Plaintiff further claims that defendants were unresponsive to his complaints about this ransacking. Defendants assert that plaintiff is not the record owner of this property and has no standing to assert damage claims.*fn1

Given the liberality and leeway federal courts allow pro se plaintiffs, this Court was unable to say at that stage of the proceedings, that Plaintiff had no ownership or other personal interest in this property, or that he would ultimately be unable to prove any set of facts that might sustain a claim of a Fourth Amendment violation for a warrantless search that might have caused some damage to any interest he may have in this property. Thus, the Court provisionally denied Defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim regarding the property at 7428 Monticello Street as premature, but without prejudice to raise the issue at an appropriate time in a motion for summary judgment ...

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