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Beckerman v. Weber

August 9, 2007

MARK BECKERMAN, PLAINTIFF
v.
THOMAS J. WEBER, GOLDBERG, KATZMAN & SHIPMAN, P.C., JOHN DOE, AND JOHN DOE, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yvette Kane, Chief Judge United States District Court

(Chief Judge Kane)

MEMORANDUM

Pending before the Court is Defendants Goldberg, Katzman & Shipman, P.C. and Thomas Weber, Esq.'s, motion to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint. (Doc. No. 14.) The motion is fully briefed and is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted and Plaintiff's motion to file a sur-reply (Doc. No. 29) will be denied.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

On or about June 23, 1991, Plaintiff won the Pennsylvania State Lottery drawing. As a result, Plaintiff became entitled to a prize of $3,234,000.00, which Plaintiff began receiving in installments of $154,000 per year, less required tax withholdings.

On or about February 25, 1998, Plaintiff entered into a Lottery Price Assignment Agreement with Woodbridge Sterling Capital, LLC ("Woodbridge"), pursuant to which Woodbridge agreed to pay Plaintiff $400,000 on or about June 21, 1998, in consideration for Plaintiff's agreement to assign his rights to receive three future annual lottery payments.

Around this time, one or more attorneys of the Harrisburg law firm of Goldberg, Katzman & Shipman, P.C. ("Goldberg Katzman"), were providing legal services to Plaintiff regarding various matters. Plaintiff made Goldberg Katzman aware of the Lottery Prize Assignment Agreement with Woodbridge. According to Plaintiff, the law firm expressed concern that the assignment agreement was not in Plaintiff's best interests. At some unspecified time, Woodbridge assigned its interest in the Lottery Prize Assignment Agreement to Aurora Financial Corporation ("Aurora"). After Plaintiff sought to rescind the assignment, Aurora brought a civil action in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas to enforce the terms of the agreement. Plaintiff retained Goldberg Katzman to represent him in that litigation. Plaintiff represents that Goldberg Katzman asserted that Plaintiff was incapable of entering into a valid assignment in 1998 due to certain injuries and substance abuse that caused Plaintiff to be unable to appreciate or understand the terms of the assignment. Plaintiff and Aurora settled their civil action at some point in 1999.

Plaintiff represents generally that "[d]uring the same time frame that Defendant Weber and Defendant Law Firm were representing the Plaintiff to nullify the contract with Woodbridge . . . Defendant Weber and [Goldberg Katzman] were negotiating a contract with Defendant Peachtree" by which Plaintiff would assign three future lottery payments in the total amount of $462,000 to Peachtree Settlement Funding Corporation ("Peachtree")*fn2 in exchange for Peachtree paying him $187,250.*fn3 (Am. Compl. ¶ 31.) Plaintiff alleges that at some unspecified time after Goldberg Katzman resolved Plaintiff's dispute with Woodbridge and/or Aurora, Defendant Weber and Goldberg Katzman acted on behalf of both Plaintiff and Peachtree and "had Plaintiff execute a contract with Peachtree" regarding the financing agreement discussed above. (Id. ¶ 32.)

Plaintiff alleges that sometime thereafter Goldberg Katzman filed a Petition for Judicial Approval of Assignment of Lottery Proceeds in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas with respect to the assignment agreement between Plaintiff and Peachtree. Plaintiff avers that Goldberg Katzman concealed Plaintiff's medical and mental history from the court in connection with seeking court approval of the assignment, and "actively set forth to the Court that Plaintiff fully understood and appreciated the terms of the contract with Defendant Peachtree . . . ." (Id. ¶ 37.)*fn4 Plaintiff avers, without specificity, that at some point during Defendant Weber's representation of Peachtree, he attempted to "recruit" an unnamed attorney to execute a document to indicate that Plaintiff had received legal advice regarding the assignment to Peachtree.

Although the amended complaint fails to provide any mention of it, the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas convened a hearing on April 5, 2000, to consider whether to approve the assignment. During this hearing, which is a matter of public record, Plaintiff testified that he entered into the assignment agreement voluntarily; that he reaffirmed his intention to go through with the assignment by executing an affidavit attesting to his intention on or about February 11, 2000; that he was of sound mind at the time of the hearing; that he was not under duress at the time he entered into the assignment agreement; and that he had conferred with an attorney regarding the terms of the agreement. (Def. Reply Brief, Ex. 1, Transcript of April 5, 2000, Hearing before the Honorable Scott A. Evans, Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas.) On the same day, Judge Scott A. Evans of the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas entered an order authorizing the assignment between Plaintiff and Peachtree pursuant to the terms of the agreement.

Defendant alleges that Defendant Weber maintained Plaintiff's legal files and that he "fraudulently concealed documents from the plaintiff which would have alerted the plaintiff to the violations of his first and fourteenth amendment rights, the fraud perpetrated against him as well as the conspiracy to commit fraud." (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 43-44.)*fn5 Similarly, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Weber "committed an affirmative and independent act of concealment that would divert or mislead the plaintiff from discovering the injury." (Id. ¶ 45.)*fn6 Plaintiff avers, again generally, that he requested copies of all documents in his legal file "numerous times" but that Defendant Weber "withheld and concealed" Plaintiff's file. (Id. ¶¶ 47-48.)*fn7 Plaintiff alleges that he received his legal file "in the Spring of 2006" only after he sought the aid of an unnamed attorney and threatened to contact the office of the United States Attorney General to compel the production. (Id. ¶ 49.) Plaintiff asserts that his claims "could not have accrued until he discovered the evidence when he obtained his file in the Spring of 2006." (Id. ¶ 50.)

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff commenced this civil litigation by filing a complaint in this Court on July 7, 2006. Plaintiff named as defendants Goldberg Katzman and one of its attorneys, Thomas J. Weber, Esq. Additionally, Plaintiff named two John Doe defendants, one of whom allegedly is employed by the Pennsylvania Lottery Commission and the other allegedly employed by Peachtree.

Goldberg Katzman*fn8 waived service on September 22, 2006, and moved to dismiss all claims on the same day. (Doc. No. 4.) On October 17, 2006, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (Doc. No. 12.) Goldberg Katzman moved to dismiss the amended complaint on October 26, 2006. (Doc. No. 14.) After being granted two extensions, Plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to the motion on November 29, 2006. (Doc. No. 23.) Goldberg Katzman filed a reply brief on December 8, 2006. (Doc. No. 24.) The Court held a hearing on the motion on December 15, 2006. On ...


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