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Shaud v. Sugarloaf Township Supervisors

February 4, 2008

WALTER M. SHAUD, PLAINTIFF
v.
SUGARLOAF TOWNSHIP SUPERVISORS, JOHN HUDSON, TOMMY BROWN, JUDY JAMES, STANLEY GORSKY, WILBER GOOD, SUGARLOAF TOWNSHIP FIRE DEPARTMENT, JAMES A. SCHNEIDER, SHARON SLUSSER, DAVID LUPAS, DANNY O'DONNELL, PETER PAUL OLSZEWSKI, JR., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is plaintiff's motion for an appointed attorney and motion to proceed in forma pauperis. We give the complaint an initial screening to determine whether it should be served on the defendants.

I. Background

This complaint grows out of a series of disputes between the plaintiff and Sugarloaf Township, as well as between the plaintiff and his neighbor, Sharon Slusser. Plaintiff contends that he received an out-of-court settlement after a Township police officer assaulted his wife in 1997, and that the township has retaliated against him since that settlement by failing to enforce the laws fairly or properly investigate complaints raised by the plaintiff about his neighbor's behavior and violations of Township ordinances. In addition, he has faced continual harassment from his neighbor and her children, much of it related to his disability of post-traumatic stress disorder. Schlusser's children have allegedly shot plaintiff with a pellet gun, thrown and hit rocks onto plaintiff's property, had illegal bonfires, trespassed, pointed guns at plaintiff's home, brought illegal weapons onto plaintiff's property and made obscene and rude comments to plaintiff. Their mother, Mrs. Schlusser, also allegedly made inappropriate comments about plaintiff's disability, suggesting that he take an overdose of medication that would kill him.

Plaintiff's pro se complaint, filed on July 3, 2007, alleges that the defendants have violated a variety of plaintiff's rights. (See Doc. 1). The complaint does not make specific allegations against particular parties, but contends that all defendants were involved in "at least one" of a series of improper acts.*fn1 Those alleged acts included: aiding and abetting unlawful discrimination; malicious prosecution; retaliation; harassment; public stalking; interference with plaintiff's right to enjoy his family home; threats of physical harm; due process violations; equal protection violations; causing physical harm; and conspiracy. Plaintiff also filed simultaneously with the complaint a motion to proceed in forma pauperis, a motion to have an attorney appointed, and several exhibits related to the events that gave rise to the case and to complaints plaintiff filed with state agencies and courts.

II. Jurisdiction

Because plaintiff brings his complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., 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.

III. Legal Standard

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.

IV. Discussion

We will address each of the defendants in turn.

A. Immunity for Certain Defendants

i. Judge O'Donnell

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 malice or corruption. Imposing such a burden on judges would contribute not to principled and fearless decisionmaking but to intimidation.").

Judges enjoy this immunity for all actions, no matter how erroneous or malicious, so long as when the judge took "the challenged action he had jurisdiction over the subject matter before him." Stump, 435 U.S. 356. See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 13 (1991) (holding that a judge accused of ordering deputies to use excessive force to bring an attorney who failed to appear before the judge to a courtroom was immune because compelling attorneys to appear was a judicial function, regardless of whether the judge ordered the use of excessive force.). This doctrine applies in cases brought under Section 1983. See Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27 (1980) (holding that "judges defending against §1983 actions enjoy absolute immunity from damages liability for acts performed in their judicial capacities."). In any case, the key question in such cases is whether the judge's act was judicial in nature, and whether the judge acted within the bounds of her jurisdiction.

Plaintiff's complaints against Magistrate Judge O'Donnell all relate to his performance of his duties as a judge. Plaintiff contends that Judge O'Donnell made decisions based on his relationship to parties to the litigation and on other corrupt motives. Included in the papers plaintiffs filed are copies of complaints to the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board regarding Magistrate Judge O'Donnell. These complaints all point to what plaintiff considers improper behavior and motives behind the Judge's decisions in cases involving plaintiff. Such decisions are all judicial in nature and Defendant Judge O'Donnell enjoys immunity from suit for them. We will accordingly dismiss the case against him.

ii. Judge Olszewski

For the same reasons that Magistrate Judge O'Donnell enjoys immunity from suit for his judicial actions, Judge Olszewski also enjoys immunity in this case. The allegations against Judge Olszewski all concern his actions as the judge of a court of general jurisdiction. As such, he is immune from suit in this court and we will dismiss the case against him.

iii. Defendant Lupas*fn2

The United States Supreme Court has found that "in initiating a prosecution and in presenting the State's case, the prosecutor is immune from a civil suit for damages under § 1983." Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 430 (1976). See Kulwicki v. Dawson, 969 F.2d 1154, 1163-64 (3d Cir. 1992) (holding that "[t]he decision to initiate a prosecution is at the core of a prosecutor's judicial role [citations omitted]. A prosecutor is absolutely immune when making this decision, even where he acts without a good faith belief that any wrongdoing has occurred [citations omitted]. Harm to a falsely-charged defendant is remedied by safeguards built into the judicial system--probable cause hearings, dismissal of the charges--and into the state codes of professional responsibility."). Here, plaintiffs' complaint ...


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