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Stacey v. City of Hermitage

March 11, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McVerry, J.


Pending before the Court for consideration and disposition are the MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 171) filed by Defendants Richard and Roseann Sereday d/b/a Sereday Excavating ("Sereday"), and DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (Document No. 174) filed by the City of Hermitage, Gary P. Hinkson, Edward Stanton, Russell V. Penn, Jr., Jeffrey Osborne, Robert S. Goeltz, James Pat White, Thomas W. Kuster, and H. William White, III (collectively, the "City Defendants"). Defendants filed supporting statements of material fact and memoranda of law (Document Nos. 172-180). Stacey filed Plaintiff's Responsive Concise Statement to Defendants' Concise Statements of Material Facts and an Appendix (Document Nos. 186, 187). The summary judgment motions are ripe for disposition.*fn1 Also pending is DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SANCTIONS (Document No. 183) filed by the City Defendants, which will be addressed separately.

Procedural History

This case arose from the condemnation and subsequent demolition of the home of Helen Stacey, Plaintiff's mother, in November 2000 -- over eight years ago. The case has been embroiled in extensive legal wrangling and the entire procedural history is well known to all involved and will not be reiterated.

The original pro se complaint was dismissed in 2003 by the Honorable Robert J. Cindrich. On November 24, 2004, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ("Court of Appeals") affirmed this order in part and vacated in part. On October 11, 2005, the United States Supreme Court vacated the ruling of the Court of Appeals as to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and remanded to the Court of Appeals for further consideration. On April 19, 2006, the Court of Appeals issued a second opinion ("Stacey II") which affirmed in part and vacated in part the district court's original order of dismissal and remanded for further proceedings consistent with its Opinion. Stacey II held that some, but not all, of Defendants' asserted grounds for dismissal had merit, Opinion at 8, and concluded that the only claims which survived the motions to dismiss were:

(1) claims under § 1983 against the City defendants and Sereday arising from the demolition; (2) claims under § 1983 against the City defendants arising from the imposition of the lien against the Stacey property; and (3) legal malpractice claims against the Staceys' attorneys.

Opinion at 14 (emphasis added).

Further procedural skirmishing continued after the case was remanded, in which additional Defendants and claims were dismissed. On May 9, 2008, the Court entered a Case Management/Scheduling Order ("CMO") that established a discovery deadline of November 10, 2008. Although the case was approximately five years old, the parties were granted six months to complete discovery. Defendants engaged in such discovery.

Plaintiff recognized that the evidence to be obtained in discovery was crucial and necessary to support his allegations. The Amended Complaint ¶ 66, states, in relevant part:

Without discovery, Plaintiff Raymond Stacey cannot plead with greater particularity at this time, so he cannot set forth exactly how each defendant acted in concert with the others in infringing upon his and his mother's constitutional rights. Information crucial to proof of these claims is in the custody and control of the Defendants. . . . Plaintiff Stacey relies on liberal federal discovery rules to define all disputed facts and issues. Any expectation of complete factual sufficiency without discovery is premature or impossible.

Nevertheless, when the time to undertake such discovery finally presented itself, Plaintiff wholly failed to take advantage of the opportunity. In fact, Plaintiff initiated no timely discovery whatsoever. Plaintiff's counsel did not take any depositions and did not file any discovery requests "within sufficient time to allow responses to be completed and depositions taken prior to the close of discovery." Plaintiff's counsel provided no excuse or good cause justification for her inaction. Unfortunately, this conduct was consistent with the approach of Plaintiff's counsel throughout this litigation.*fn2 On November 12, 2008, the Court denied Plaintiff's motion to extend the discovery deadline.

In response to Defendants' motions for summary judgment, Plaintiff has offered the "Declaration of Plaintiff Raymond Stacey" and exhibits attached thereto. Stacey's Declaration essentially repeats the allegations in the complaint.*fn3 Conclusory, self-serving affidavits are insufficient to withstand a motion for summary judgment. In order to satisfy the standard for summary judgment "the affiant must ordinarily set forth facts, rather than opinions or conclusions. An affidavit that is 'essentially conclusory' and lacking in specific facts is inadequate to satisfy the movant [or non-movant]'s burden." See Blair v. Scott Specialty Gases, 283 F.3d 595, 608 (3d Cir. 2002) (citation omitted).

Plaintiff has also submitted the complete transcript of the deposition of Raymond Stacey and an Appendix containing, among other exhibits, a state court docket sheet, the City of Hermitage Property Maintenance Code, attorney time sheets, and various letters and newspaper articles. Generalized references to entire deposition transcripts do not satisfy a litigant's burden to oppose a motion for summary judgment. See Barnes Foundation v. Township of Lower Merion, 982 F. Supp. 970, 986 n.9 (E.D. Pa. 1997). In an abundance of caution, however, the Court has reviewed the entire deposition transcript of Raymond Stacey. Newspaper articles usually constitute inadmissible hearsay which cannot be used to defeat summary judgment. Id. at 996. In Barnes, the Court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment on a § 1983 conspiracy claim due to Plaintiff's lack of evidence and commented that the record "merely details various stages of a run of the mill land dispute." Id. at 987. The Court commented that municipalities should not have to face a civil rights trial any time a citizen loses a battle in a zoning dispute. Id.

The current status of Plaintiff's evidence is best illustrated by the following quote from Raymond Stacey's deposition testimony (Day 2) at 37, which was quoted by Plaintiff in Plaintiffs' Responsive Concise Statement to Defendants' Concise Statements of Material Fact at 16 (emphasis added): "It was done in secret. I have no idea what went on. That's what a conspiracy is, something done in secret."

Factual Background

Defendants set forth the following evidence of record, which for the most part is admitted by Plaintiff.*fn4 This case arises from the demolition of a residence at 1560 East State Street, Hermitage, Pennsylvania (the "Stacey Home") on November 6, 2000. The saga began in June 1997 when Raymond Stacey contacted the City of Hermitage Fire Department because extensive stormwater runoff flooded the basement of the Stacey Home. The Stacey Home was declared structurally unsafe by the building inspector and fire marshal. In July 1997, a warning was posted on the Stacey Home followed by a letter to the Staceys stating that the Stacey Home was considered to be a "dilapidated structure" under the City's ordinance, which must be repaired or demolished. In September 1997, the Staceys were given a Notice of Demolition and advised to remove their personal property from the Stacey Home.

In October 1997, a letter was sent to the Stacey children in an attempt to determine the family's intention and to provide an extension of time to effect repairs. The children, Robert and Raymond Stacey and Marianne Uhl, each removed certain items from the home. Plaintiff Raymond Stacey decided NOT to remove other items from the Stacey Home but to instead "fight the City to the ground."*fn5 Although Raymond Stacey removed newspapers that had been stacked from floor to ceiling, among the items he decided to leave in the Stacey Home were comic books which he claimed were ...

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