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O'Neil v. O'Neil

December 11, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie


On August 25, 2008, Plaintiffs Susan Krankowski and Kaitlin C. O'Neil filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging constitutional violations arising out of the handling of Plaintiffs' state court petition to modify child support payments in June of 2005. (Compl., Dkt. Entry 1.) The eleven-named Defendants include Timothy J. O'Neil, the father of Kaitlin O'Neil; the Northumberland County Domestic Relations Office; Cynthia Price, Director of Domestic Relations; Attorney Michael Seward; the Northumberland County Board of Commissioners; Vinnie Clausi, Frank Sawicki, and Kurt Masser, all of whom are alleged to be employees of the Northumberland County Domestic Relations Office; Northumberland County Common Pleas Judge Charles Saylor; and Domestic Relations case workers Shelley Supatina and Brian Moroskie. Along with the Complaint, Plaintiffs have provided a Declaration in Support of Request to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (Dkt. Entry 2), and a Corrected Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. (Dkt. Entry 6.) For the reasons stated below, Defendants Judge Saylor, the Northumberland County Relations Office, and the Northumberland County Board of Commissioners will be dismissed from this action, and Plaintiffs shall be afforded the opportunity to amend their Complaint.


In June of 2005, Plaintiffs petitioned the Northumberland County Court to increase the child support payable by Mr. O'Neil. (Compl. ¶ 3.) A conference was held in October of 2005 where Plaintiffs allegedly were denied access to information regarding Mr. O'Neil's income. Following the conference, Plaintiffs continued to petition the Court to correct its purported mistake and to properly calculate the child support payments. (Id. at ¶ 4.)

Mr. Seward and Ms. Supatina are alleged to have intentionally misrepresented Mr. O'Neil's income. (Id.) Plaintiffs requested that the Domestic Relations Office correct the error and give them $100,000 in overdue child support payments. (Id. at ¶¶ 4 & 5.) Plaintiffs contend that Defendants have a duty to comply with Ms. Krankowski's request and correct these errors. (Id. at ¶ 6.)

The first claim for relief alleges that Plaintiffs were denied Procedural Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment by all Defendants in being denied access to Mr. O'Neil's financial information; a fair and impartial hearing; access to the Domestic Relations Office; and an equal opportunity to litigate, all of which resulted in a significant financial loss. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-16.) All Defendants purportedly acted in concert to deprive Plaintiffs of Procedural Due Process, and did so with bad faith and malice. (Id. at ¶¶ 12 & 14.)

The second claim for relief, asserting violations of the Substantive Due Process component of the Fourteenth Amendment, alleges Plaintiffs have a property interest in the correct amount of child support and Defendants have intentionally deprived them of that amount. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-19.) This conduct has allegedly deprived Plaintiffs of dental insurance and the lack of support has placed Kaitlin in a worse condition, with more health and behavioral problems. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Specifically, Plaintiffs allege they have the right to be paid for adequate and reasonable health care by Mr. O'Neil. (Id. at ¶ 19.)

The third claim for relief asserts an abuse of process. Plaintiffs allege that Judge Saylor and others "smirked and laughed while rules of law, procedure and evidence were bent to the Defendant's bad faith agenda." (Id. at ¶ 28.) Judge Saylor is also alleged to have refused to allow a recorded oral argument. (Id.) Mr. O'Neil was apparently given every procedural and substantive advantage in order to arrive at a favorable result. (Id.) It is alleged that Northumberland County paid for Mr. O'Neil's litigation expenses even though he was not indigent. (Id. at ¶ 29.) All Defendants are alleged to have a history of violating Plaintiffs' rights in depriving them of property and treating them differently than those similarly situated. (Id. at ¶ 30.)

The fourth claim for relief alleges violations of the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. at 6.) It is alleged that Defendants side stepped the appropriate laws, court personnel smirked or laughed out loud, and that Mr. O'Neil was given procedural and substantive advantages. (Id. at ¶¶ 34-35.) It is further alleged that the County Commissioners and their agents have a history of violating Plaintiffs' constitutional and statutory rights.*fn1 (Id. at 37.)


A. Standard of Review

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), in proceedings in forma pauperis, a court shall dismiss a claim if it determines that the claim "(I) is frivolous or malicious;(ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." In reviewing the legal sufficiency of a plaintiff's complaint, a court must accept the truth of the plaintiff's factual allegations. Morrison v. Madison Dearborn Capital Partners III L.P., 463 F.3d 312, 314 (3d Cir. 2006). A complaint must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, --- U.S. ----, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (rejecting the "no set of facts" language from Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). Pro se pleadings are to be construed liberally. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 234 (3d Cir. 2004).

B. Defendant Judge Saylor

It is well recognized that members of the judiciary are entitled to absolute immunity. Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967). "A judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he has acted in the 'clear absence of all jurisdiction.' " Gallas v. Supreme Court of Pa., 211 F.3d 760, 769 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Strump v. Spartkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978)). "Further, immunity will not be ...

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