The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley
Before the court for preliminary consideration is plaintiff's complaint (Doc. 1). Because plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis with this court (Doc. 2), we give his complaint a preliminary screening to determine whether we should allow the issuance of summons and service of the complaint.
This case has its origins in a dispute over child custody and spousal support that has played out in Pennsylvania courts over at least the last eight years. The events that gave rise to the complaint began in part when Pennsylvania State Police arrested the common-law husband of plaintiff's ex-wife (Defendant Maresca) for threatening to kill a man with a shotgun. (Complaint (Doc. 1) (hereinafter "Complt.") at 4). In 1998 plaintiff filed suit seeking custody of his daughter, who was then living with her mother. (Id.). A state court apparently ordered a mental evaluation of Defendant Maresca's paramour and an inspection of the living conditions in her home. An agency--presumably Defendant Monroe County Domestic Relations Department--conducted this investigation and found the living conditions for plaintiff's daughter appropriate. (Id.). Plaintiff sought information on this decision from investigators, and plaintiff alleges that Judge Mark refused to grant a state-court hearing on the propriety of the investigator's findings. (Id.).
At some point in this process, plaintiff was injured on the job and received a workers' compensation settlement. (Id.). His employer thereafter fired him. (Id.). After this injury settlement, plaintiff's ex-wife sought and obtained an adjustment to the child support owed her by the plaintiff. (Id. at 4-5). Plaintiff sought relief from these agency findings, but the state courts refused to enforce plaintiff's subpoenas for evidence concerning them. (Id. at 5). The court also refused plaintiff's motion for waiver of the filing fee in his case, causing him to spend money he claims he should not have had to spend. (Id.). Plaintiff's ex-wife allegedly received more income than she reported to the federal government, and she also benefitted from a "lump-sum" payment her common-law husband received. (Id.). She allegedly did not report this income. (Id.). Plaintiff received unemployment compensation, food stamps and heating oil assistance based on his low income, but still paid the same direct support for his child as his wife. (Id.). He also provided a "safe refuge" for his daughter when things "[got] wild" at his ex-wife's house. (Id. at 6). Still, plaintiff contends that his ex-wife's lawyer mailed a false statement by U.S. mail in connection with the case. (Id.).
Plaintiff brings the instant complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that defendants violated his due process rights while operating under the color of state law. His complaint apparently contains four counts. First, plaintiff contends that Judges Jonathan Mark and Arthur Zulick of the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County, Pennsylvania violated his constitutional rights by denying his petition to waive the filing fees for a court document, abused proceedings to cover illegal conduct, and "railroad[ed]" him into jail to end his custody proceeding. (Complt. at 2). Second, plaintiff alleges that Defendants Maresca and the Domestic Relations Department of Monroe County operated under color of state law to deprive him of his constitutional rights by ignoring and improperly assembling evaluations of his daughter's home environment. He also complains that these defendants failed to follow state law regarding custody hearings. Count Three, which is not addressed to any particular defendant, alleges that "[t]he U.S. Mail was used to perpetrate a fraud on the Plaintiff for financial gains" by an unnamed person operating under color of state law. (Id. at 3). Apparently, this fraud occurred when the attorney for plaintiff's ex-wife used the mail to file a statement with a state court she allegedly knew to be untrue. In Count Four, plaintiff contends that one of the defendants--presumably Defendant Maresca--evaded Federal Income Taxes and lied about that evasion during support proceedings. He also asserts that the Domestic Relations Department knew of this behavior and concealed that knowledge. This action, he argues, violated his constitutional rights and also constituted negligence.
As relief, plaintiff: asks the court to: 1) issue a writ of habeas corpus in the event plaintiff were incarcerated; 2) issue a temporary injunction halting state custody and support cases; 3) grant a transfer of the child custody case to the Court of Common Pleas in Scranton, Pennsylvania; 4) entertain claims against plaintiff's ex-wife and the Pennsylvania Department of Domestic Relations for negligence; and 5) issue an injunction to bar defendant and her live-in boyfriend from selling or mortgaging the home in which they lived.
Because plaintiff brings his complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, we have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have supplemental jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d), we are permitted "to consider whether an in forma pauperis complaint is frivolous or malicious before authorizing issuance of the summons and service of the complaint." Urrutia v. Harrisburg County Police Dept., 91 F.3d 451, 453 (3d Cir. 1996). We may "dismiss as frivolous claims based on an indisputably meritless legal theory and whose factual contentions are clearly baseless." Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990). We undertake such an evaluation before service of the complaint.
Plaintiff apparently brings an "appeal to this Court from adverse decisions of the Court fo Common Pleas" in Monroe County, Pennsylvania. (Complt. at 2). He contends that by the decisions of two judges on that court "my appeal rights were unjustly taken from me by the courts [sic] decisions." (Id.). To the extent that this complaint seeks review of the decisions of a lower state court, we find that plaintiff has filed a "frivolous claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory." Jeffes, 904 F.2d at 194. This court does not serve as an appeals court for the Court of Common Pleas of Monroe County, and we do not have authority to review lower state courts' decisions on state law. See In re GMC Pick-Up Truck Tank Prods. Liab. Litig., 134 F.3d 133, 143 (3d Cir. 1998) (holding that "[d]istrict courts lack subject matter jurisdiction once a state court has adjudicated an issue because Congress has conferred only original jurisdiction, not appellate jurisdiction, on the district courts."); D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482 (1983) (holding that "a United States District Court has no authority to review final judgments of a state court in judicial proceedings. Review of such judgments may be had only in [the Supreme Court]."). Our authority extends to cases arising under federal law or the United States Constitution, and to cases between citizens of different states or countries where the amount in controversy exceeds $75,000. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (establishing that "[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."); 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) (establishing that "[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between" citizens of different states or citizens of one state and a foreign country.). The proper forum for plaintiff's challenge to the decisions of the Monroe County courts is an appeal to higher courts in Pennsylvania.
Plaintiff also apparently brings a claim in Count 1 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Jonathan Mark and Arthur Zulick, Judges of the Monroe County Court of Common Pleas, alleging that the judges denied a petition to waive fees for filing an exception to the report of a special master, acted to cover illegal conduct and attempted to "railroad" the plaintiff into jail in an attempt to force him to end his custody case. (Complt. at 2). This claim also rests on a meritless legal theory. The United States Supreme Court has been clear that "'judges of courts of superior or general jurisdiction are not liable to civil actions for their judicial acts, even when such acts are in excess of their jurisdiction, and are alleged to have been done maliciously or corruptly.'" Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 355 (1978) (quoting Bradley v. Fisher, 13 Wall. 335, 351 (1872)). This doctrine aims to keep judges independent from influence and protect them from intimidation by those who would use the threat of court action to influence the outcome of a proceeding. See Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967) (finding that "it is a judge's duty to decide all cases within his jurisdiction that are brought before him, including controversial cases that arouse the most intense feeling in the litigants. His errors may be corrected on appeal, but he should not have to fear that unsatisfied litigants may hound him with litigation charging ...