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Sanders v. Downs

March 9, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo



Presently before the Court are the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") of U.S. Magistrate Judge Mannion (Doc. 58), Plaintiff's Objections to the R&R (Docs. 59, 62, 68, 69), Plaintiff's Motions to Appoint Counsel (Docs. 56, 63), and Plaintiff's Motion to Disqualify Counsel of Defendant Cynthia Dunlap (Doc. 64.). The R&R recommends that the Defendants' motions to dismiss (Docs. 41, 45, 47, 53) be granted and that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 21) be dismissed. For the reasons discussed below, the Plaintiff's Motion to Disqualify will be granted, the R&R will be adopted and the Plaintiff's Amended Complaint Dismissed, and the Motions to Appoint Counselwill be denied as moot. This Court has jurisdiction over the federal causes of action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question).


The allegations of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint are as follows: Plaintiff Cyrus R. Sanders, acting pro se, commenced this lawsuit on August 20, 2008, alleging numerous violations of his federal constitutional rights. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff brings claims against four general groups of defendants. First, he brings claims against police officers from the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP") and from Bradford County. These Defendants, collectively the "Police Defendants," include PSP Captain Donald Peters, and Troopers Bernosky, George Confer, John Kern, Jr., David Pelachick, and Petros. (Amend. Compl. 2 ¶¶ 5-6, Doc. 21.)*fn1 Second, he brings claims against prosecutors from Bradford and Sullivan Counties. These Defendants, collectively the "DA Defendants," include District Attorneys Steven Downs and Daniel Barrett, and Assistant District Attorneys Francis Rineer and Albert Ondrey from Bradford County, as well as District Attorney Leonard Simpson from Sullivan County. (Amend Compl. 2 ¶¶ 4, 8.) Third, he brings claims against Bradford County Court of Common Pleas officials, including the Honorable Jeffery Smith and Court Administrator Marylou Vanderpool. (Amend. Compl. 2 ¶ 7.) Finally, he brings claims against Cynthia Dunlap ("Dunlap"), a private citizen. (Amend. Compl. 2 ¶ 9.)

A search of Plaintiff's home was conducted on January 9, 2006, by the PSP. (Amend. Compl. 16-17 ¶¶ 64-65.) The PSP knew that Plaintiff was the sole owner of the home and had been for fiteen years. (Amend. Compl. 16 ¶ 63.) In order to obtain consent to search Plaintiff's home, PSP officers conspired with Dunlap. (Amend. Compl. 16 ¶ 64.) The PSP officers obtained Dunlap's consent to search in exchange for overlooking her "meth related contraband." (Amend. Compl. 16 ¶ 62.) PSP officers, as well as Bradford County District Attorney Steven Downs, knowingly accepted false information from Dunlap as to her control of Plaintiff's home, and nevertheless used her consent to justify the search. (Amend. Compl. 17 ¶ 67.)

From on or about June 2006 through March 2007 Plaintiff experienced a large series of thefts at his home while he was incarcerated. (Amend. Compl. 2 ¶ 1.) These thefts were reported to the PSP Defendants and to the DA Defendants by Plaintiff's representative Nanette Fries ("Fries"). (Amend. Compl. 3 ¶¶ 3, 6.) PSP officers were dispatched to Plaintiff's home, but "no actions by the [PSP] on the perpetrators were taken." (Amend. Compl. 4 ¶ 11.) PSP officers relied upon false, unverified statements of the perpetrators without investigating further. (Amend. Compl. 5 ¶ 16.) Fries was told by Trooper Petros that she should not call the PSP anymore, and that the thefts were a civil matter. (Amend. Compl. 4 ¶ 12.) Plaintiff also filed complaints with the PSP internal affairs division and those complaints were addressed by PSP Captain Peters. (Amend. Compl. 5 ¶ 16.) The PSP have refused to adequately investigate the thefts of the Plaintiff's property, "and have exhibited bad faith by taking the unverified and undocumented verbal statements of the accused that no crimes were committed." (Amend. Compl. 6 ¶ 24.)

On or about June 2006, Plaintiff contacted District Attorney Steven Downs about the thefts. (Amend. Compl. 8 ¶ 26.) None of the DA Defendants ever made any effort to respond to Plaintiff's requests for charges to be filed against the perpetrators of the thefts at his home. (Amend. Compl. 9 ¶ 28.) Plaintiff filed private criminal complaints in Bradford County, but these were denied by Assistant District Attorney Francis Rineer due to "ownership issues." (Amend. Compl. 10 ¶ 34.) A second set of privately filed criminal complaints were also denied on the same blanket policy rationale. (Amend. Compl. 11 ¶ 38.) Bradford County Detective Greg Hostettler, an agent of the District Attorney's Office, also refused to investigate the thefts. (Amend. Compl. 12 ¶ 48.) Sullivan County District Attorney Leonard Simpson also failed to respond to criminal complaints filed by Plaintiff regarding the thefts. (Amend. Compl. 15 ¶ 57.) Similarly, Bradford County District Attorney Daniel Barrett failed to take action on the Plaintiff's criminal complaints. (Amend. Compl. 21 ¶ 94-95.) Plaintiff filed a petition for review of the District Attorney's decision not to prosecute, which was denied by Bradford County Common Pleas Judge Jeffrey Smith. (Amend. Compl. 11 ¶¶ 40-41.) Plaintiff also received a response from Marylou Vanderpool instructing him to file documents with the Clerk of Court, despite the fact that he was previously able to file documents through Ms. Vanderpool's office in the past. (Amend. Compl. 19-20 ¶¶ 86-88.)

Plaintiff filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania on August 20, 2008. (Doc. 1.) Additionally, Plaintiff has filed two motions for appointment of counsel (Docs. 56, 63) and a motion to disqualify the counsel of Defendant Dunlap due to a conflict of interest. (Doc. 64.) All Defendants filed motions to dismiss between July 17, 2009 and September 21, 2009. (Docs. 41, 45, 47, 53.) On November 25, 2009, Magistrate Judge Mannion filed an R&R recommending that all of the motions to dismiss be granted. (Doc. 58.) Plaintiff has filed several documents objecting to the R&R. (Docs. 59, 62, 68, 69.)


I. Review of Report and Recommendation

Where objections to a magistrate judge's report are filed, the Court must conduct a de novo review of the contested portions of the report, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C), Sample v. Diecks, 885 F.2d 1099, 1106 n.3 (3d Cir. 1989), provided the objections are both timely and specific, Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984). In its de novo review, the Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the factual findings or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Owens v. Beard, 829 F. Supp. 736, 738 (M.D. Pa. 1993). Although the review is de novo, the statute permits the Court to rely on the recommendations of the Magistrate Judge to the extent it deems proper. See United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 675-76 (1980) ("Congress intended to permit whatever reliance a district judge, in the exercise of sound judicial discretion, chose to place on a magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations"); Goney, 749 F.2d at 6-7; Ball v. U.S. Parole Comm'n, 849 F. Supp. 328, 330 (M.D. Pa. 1994). Uncontested portions of the report may be reviewed at a standard determined by the district court. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 154 (1985) (the statute neither prevents nor requires a particular standard if no objections are filed); Goney, 749 F.2d at 7. At the very least, the Court should review uncontested portions for clear error. See, e.g., Cruz v. Chater, 990 F. Supp. 375, 376-77 (M.D. Pa. 1998) (citing Advisory Committee notes on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b), implementing 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C)).

II. Motion to Dismiss

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring a complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "'give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "[T]he ...

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