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Lennitt v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Dep't of Corrections

December 23, 2008


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

Submitted: September 12, 2008



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 ...

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