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Lennitt v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Dep't of Corrections

IN THE COMMONWEALTH COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA


December 23, 2008

MR. DAVID LENNITT JR., PETITIONER
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS (INMATE RECORDS DIVISION) AND DAVID DIGUGLIELMO, SUPERINTENDENT, RESPONDENTS

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Cohn Jubelirer

Submitted: September 12, 2008

BEFORE: HONORABLE BERNARD L. McGINLEY, Judge, HONORABLE RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge, HONORABLE JOHNNY J. BUTLER, Judge

OPINION

Before this Court for disposition is a preliminary objection in the nature of a demurrer filed by the Department of Corrections (Department) and David DiGuGlielmo (DiGuGlielmo), Superintendent of the State Correctional Institution at Graterford (SCI-Graterford) (collectively, Respondents), in response to a petition for review in the nature of mandamus filed, pro se, by David Lennitt Jr. (Lennitt) in our original jurisdiction.*fn1 For the reasons discussed herein, we sustain Respondents' preliminary objection and dismiss Lennitt's petition for review.

Lennitt is an inmate at SCI-Graterford. In his petition for review, Lennitt avers the following. On April 26, 2007, he and his fiancée met with James Davis, a counselor at SCI-Graterford, to discuss the procedures for getting married in prison. (Petition for Review ¶ 4.) On October 9 or 10, 2007, Mr. Davis sent Lennitt a letter advising him that his classification summary, which was dated July 23, 1991, indicated that he was already married. (Petition for Review ¶ 5.) Lennitt was further advised that, in order to be permitted to marry his fiancée, he would need to present a divorce decree showing that he was no longer married. However, no divorce decree exists "because there never . . . was a marriage." (Petition for Review ¶ 6.) Lennitt attempted to show that he was not married by performing a search using the USA People Search website; however, this did not satisfy the Department. (Petition for Review ¶ 7.) Lennitt and his fiancée tried to resolve the situation by corresponding with DiGuGlielmo and Jeffrey Beard, Secretary of the Department, but to no avail. (Petition for Review ¶¶ 8-9.)

Lennitt claims, in his petition for review, that there is "erroneous data residing in his inmate files that aver that he is married, and that [such data is] not substantiated by an[y] documents in support of [the] same and prevents [him] from the liberty interest of getting married." (Petition for Review ¶ 2.) Lennitt also claims that, "upon [his] arrival to [SCI-Graterford,] he somehow was deemed married" and that "any marriage was of a [common-law] nature if any." (Petition for Review ¶ 3.) Lennitt further claims that Governor Edward G. Rendell "abolished common law type marriages as of Jan[uary] 1, 2005. (Petition for Review ¶ 11.) Finally, Lennitt claims that "the allegation that he is married is based upon no marriage license [and] that the [Respondents] can not themselves . . . offer any documents to substantiate [their] claim except a verbal notation made upon [Lennitt's] arrival to prison." (Petition for Review ¶ 11.) Thus, Lennitt requests that this Court compel Respondents to:

(1) correct his classification summary to reflect that he is not married; and

(2) "allow[] him to marry his fiancé[e]." (Petition for Review at 3.)

In their preliminary objection, Respondents aver that Lennitt failed to sufficiently set forth a cause of action in mandamus. Respondents acknowledge that Lennitt is correct in averring that they have not given him permission to marry his fiancée because his classification summary, dated July 23, 1991, shows that he is already married.*fn2 Respondents aver that the information contained in Lennitt's classification summary, including his marital status, is based largely on information that Lennitt self-reported to the Department. Respondents contend that because Lennitt previously self-reported that he was married, it is his burden to prove that he is not married, and he cannot meet his burden "merely by alleging now that what he self-reported in 1991 may have been inaccurate." (Respondents' Br. at 7.)*fn3

Respondents further contend that Lennitt's allegation that, if he was part of a common-law marriage, he is no longer married because Governor Rendell abolished common-law marriage as of January 1, 2005, fails. Respondents assert that the applicable statutory provision setting forth the current state of the law regarding common-law marriage in Pennsylvania is Section 1103 of the Domestic Relations Code, 23 Pa. C.S. § 1103. Section 1103 provides that "[n]o common-law marriage contracted after January 1, 2005, shall be valid," but that "[n]othing in this part shall be deemed or taken to render any common-law marriage otherwise lawful and contracted on or before January 1, 2005, invalid." 23 Pa. C.S. § 1103. Thus, according to Respondents, Lennitt is required to come forth with documentation to prove that his common-law marriage was legally dissolved, but since he acknowledges that he has no such documentation, he has failed to set forth allegations establishing a right to mandamus relief. Additionally, Respondents contend that Lennitt is not entitled to mandamus relief because he has another available remedy in that he can adjudicate the status of his common-law marriage by using the procedures set forth in Section 3306 of the Divorce Code, 23 Pa. C.S. § 3306, which allows either party to a purported marriage to obtain a declaratory judgment regarding the validity or invalidity of the marriage.

In considering preliminary objections in the nature of a demurer, this Court has stated:

Preliminary objections in the nature of a demurrer are deemed to admit all well-pleaded material facts and any inferences reasonably deduced therefrom, but not the complaint's legal conclusions and averments. The allegations of a pro se complainant are held to a less stringent standard than that applied to pleadings filed by attorneys. If a fair reading of the complaint shows that the complainant has pleaded facts that may entitle him to relief, the preliminary objections will be overruled. A demurrer should be sustained only in cases that are clear and free from doubt and only where it appears with certainty that the law permits no recovery under the allegations pleaded.

Danysh v. Department of Corrections, 845 A.2d 260, 262-63 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2004) (citations omitted).

"Mandamus is an extraordinary writ that is available only to compel a ministerial duty where there exists: 1) a clear legal right in the plaintiff; 2) a corresponding duty in the defendant; and 3) the lack of any other adequate and appropriate remedy." Banks v. Department of Corrections, 759 A.2d 432, 433 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2000). A mandamus action "is not proper to establish legal rights, but is only appropriate to enforce those rights which have already been established." Feigley v. Department of Corrections, 731 A.2d 220, 222 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999).

After carefully considering the facts alleged by Lennitt, and the arguments presented by Respondents in support of their demurer, we conclude that Lennitt has failed to sufficiently set forth a cause of action in mandamus. Lennitt acknowledges in his allegations that Respondents are not permitting him to marry his fiancée because of information contained in his classification summary, which indicates that he is already married. (See Petition for Review ¶¶ 5-6.) It can also be inferred from Lennitt's allegations that he acknowledges that the information contained in his classification summary is based on a verbal statement that he provided to the Department upon his arrival to SCI-Graterford.*fn4 (Petition for Review ¶ 11.) Importantly, Lennitt neither alleges that he did not make such a statement nor that the statement he provided was inaccurately transcribed on his classification summary. Instead, as Respondents point out, Lennitt merely alleges now that what he self-reported in 1991 was inaccurate and should not have been believed by the Department without being verified.*fn5 However, such allegation, without more, is insufficient to establish a clear right to mandamus relief.

Moreover, while Lennitt alleges that any marriage he entered into was of a common-law nature and that such marriage no longer exists because common-law marriage was abolished by Governor Rendell as of January 1, 2005, this allegation fails. As Respondents correctly assert, Section 1103 of the Domestic Relations Code is the applicable statutory provision which sets forth the current state of the law regarding common-law marriage in Pennsylvania, and the plain language of that Section makes clear that it does not apply retroactively "to render any common-law marriage otherwise lawful and contracted on or before January 1, 2005, invalid."

23 Pa. C.S. § 1103. Thus, if Lennitt was a party to a valid common-law marriage*fn6 prior to January 1, 2005, such marriage remains valid, and Lennitt would need to obtain a divorcee decree in order to terminate that marriage. See 3323(a) of the Divorce Code, 23 Pa. C.S. § 3323. As Respondents correctly note, however, Lennitt has acknowledged that no divorce decree exists. Therefore, Lennitt's allegations are once again insufficient to establish a clear right to mandamus relief.

Furthermore, as Respondents contend, Lennitt does appear to have another adequate remedy that he may pursue, which is to adjudicate the status of his purported common-law marriage using the procedures set forth in Section 3306 of the Divorce Code. Section 3306 provides that:

When the validity of a marriage is denied or doubted, either or both of the parties to the marriage may bring an action for a declaratory judgment seeking a declaration of the validity or invalidity of the marriage and, upon proof of the validity or invalidity of the marriage, the marriage shall be declared valid or invalid by decree of court and, unless reversed upon appeal, the declaration shall be conclusive upon all persons concerned.

23 Pa. C.S. § 3306. Using the procedures set forth in Section 3306, Lennitt may obtain a declaratory judgment indicating that his purported marriage was invalid. If Lennitt obtains such a judgment, Lennitt may present the same to Respondents, and Respondents would be required to change Lennitt's classification summary to reflect that he is not married. Provided that Lennitt complies with all other applicable procedures imposed by the Department, Lennitt would then be permitted to marry his fiancée. Therefore, Lennitt has another adequate remedy that he may pursue to obtain the relief that he desires, and he is precluded from obtaining mandamus relief.*fn7

Accordingly, for the foregoing reasons, Respondents' preliminary objection is sustained, and Lennitt's petition for review is dismissed.

ORDER

NOW, December 23, 2008, the preliminary objection filed by the Department of Corrections and David DiGuGlielmo, Superintendent of the State Correctional Institution at Graterford, in the above-captioned matter is hereby sustained, and the petition for review filed by David Lennitt Jr. is dismissed.

RENÉE COHN JUBELIRER, Judge


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