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Bragg v. Commonwealth

July 1, 2009

WILLIAM DAVID BRAGG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joel H. Slomsky, J.

OPINION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff William David Bragg's ("Plaintiff") Complaint (Doc. No. 7). It was filed by several Defendants, including the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, and the Honorable Leonard A. Ivanoski, a Senior Judge of the same Court of Common Pleas ("Judicial Defendants").*fn1 In response, Plaintiff, who is proceeding pro se,has filed two motions titled: "Motions to Proceed to Trial" (Doc. Nos. 9 and 10).

In the Complaint, Plaintiff brings a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against several defendants, including Judicial Defendants, and the Philadelphia District Attorney's office and its Interstate Child Support Enforcement Unit.*fn2 (Pl. Comp. at 4.) Plaintiff alleges that Judicial Defendants deprived him of due process by discriminating against him on the basis of his sex and his status as a disabled person in an underlying Family Court action in which Plaintiff is alleged to have failed to pay child support. (Id. at 4-5.) It appears from the Complaint that Plaintiff is in custody for failure to pay child support.

In the instant case, Plaintiff seeks his immediate release from prison and requests that all charges against him be vacated and expunged from his record. (Id. at 5.) In addition, Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief to compel all Defendants "to return to order of conducting business in a manner which is just and right." (Id.)

On June 3, 2008Plaintiff attended a "Support Conference" presided over by Sr. Judge Ivanoski. (Pl. Comp. at 4.) Plaintiff alleges that the "Support Conference" was actually an "Enforcement Hearing" that led to his immediate incarceration for failure to pay child support. (Id.) In order to enforce Plaintiff's legal obligation to provide child support, Judicial Defendants placed an assignment and levy against Plaintiff's Social Security Disability ("SSD") payments. (Id.) This action effectively withheld Plaintiff's SSD payment and diverted that money to cover Plaintiff's child support obligations. (Id.) Plaintiff was subsequently incarcerated for "alleged arrears" in child support payments. (Id. at 4-5.)

Plaintiff claims that Judicial Defendants are in direct violation of the "anti-garnishment, attachment, execution, levy provisions of SSI/SSD."*fn3 (Pl. Comp. at 4.) He provides no legal support for this claim. Plaintiff further alleges that Judicial Defendants were fully aware of the absence of a writ of execution against Plaintiff's SSD monies at the time of the imposition of the levy. (Id.) Plaintiff claims that on June 3, 2008, the Hearing Officer, before whom the Interstate Child Support Enforcement Unit brought its action, acknowledged that Plaintiff was in full compliance with his support order and, therefore, the levy was placed on his SSD payments without probable cause and for the sole purpose of wrongfully extracting money from Plaintiff. (Id. at 4-5.)

In addition to Plaintiff's challenge to the alleged violation of the "anti-garnishment provisions of SSD," Plaintiff states that the sanctions ordered, which include his incarceration and the levy, are the result of discriminatory practices by Defendants. (Pl. Comp. at 4-5.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendants discriminated against him on the basis of his sex as well as his physical disability. (Id. at 4.) Plaintiff alleges that the Family Court and its officers continuously disregard Plaintiff's disability, which requires a reasonable accommodation. (Id.) He also claims that Defendants have not given enough consideration to his ability to make payments as a disabled person and to the payments he has in fact made. (Id.) Plaintiff also claims that Defendants unfairly place greater responsibility for support on Plaintiff as the father than on the mother, and generally display an eagerness to aggressively prosecute a father for missing child support payments. (Id. at 4-5.)

Judicial Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on March 19, 2009 (Doc. No. 7). Plaintiff filed two motions titled: "Motions to Proceed to Trial" on May 18, 2009 (Doc. No. 9) and May 28, 2009 (Doc. No. 10). A review of Plaintiff's Motions show that Plaintiff is merely responding to Defendant's Motion to Dismiss and argues primarily that no Defendant should be afforded immunity because their actions do and would amount to a wrongful abuse of civil process. (Doc. Nos. 9 and 10). For the reasons that follow, Judicial Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be granted.

II. MOTION TO DISMISS STANDARD

Judicial Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under a reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted) (reasoning that this statement of Rule 12(b)(6) standard remains acceptable following U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007)). To withstand a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234. When a complaint contains well-pleaded factual allegations, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, No. 07-1015, 2009 U.S. LEXIS 3472, at *31 (2009) (reaffirming rationale set forth in Twombley). However, a court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Id. at 29. "[T]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements do not suffice." Id.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's Claim Against the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County Is Barred By Eleventh Amendment Sovereign Immunity

The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution states: "The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against any one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State." U.S. Const. amend. XI. While the language of the Eleventh Amendment does not, on its face, bar suit against a state in federal court brought by one of its own citizens, the Supreme Court has consistently interpreted the Amendment as precluding suits by a citizen against its own sovereign state. Hans v. Louisiana, 1 ...


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