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Crooker v. Delta Management Associates

April 1, 2010

MICHAEL ALAN CROOKER, PLAINTIFF
v.
DELTA MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATES, INC., CARTER BUSINESS SYSTEMS, NATIONAL CREDIT SYSTEMS, NH NORTHEAST CREDIT SERVICES, MUNICIPAL COLLECTION AGENCY, AND UNITED REAUDIT ADJUSTMENT, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Michael Alan Crooker filed this pro se action under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692(d), alleging, among other things, that defendants' debt collectors engaged in a pattern of abuse and harassment. Presently before the Court is Defendant Delta Management Associates, Inc. ("Delta") motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). For the reasons that follow, we will grant the motion.

II. Background

On December 18, 2009, Plaintiff began these proceedings by initially filing his complaint in forma pauperis in the in the Court of Common Pleas for Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. Delta timely removed the case to this Court, and filed its answer which contained a counterclaim seeking injunctive relief and attorney's fees. On January 29, 2010, nine days after Delta served its answer, Crooker filed a notice of voluntary dismissal pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a). We issued an Order dismissing all defendants except Delta. (See doc. 6). Delta then filed the instant motion for judgment on the pleadings.

In its motion, Delta argues that plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed and an injunction should issue prohibiting Crooker from filing suit in this district because of his history of filing frivolous lawsuits that serve no legitimate purpose other than to harass.

Crooker is no stranger to federal courts. We found more than one hundred civil actions involving the plaintiff in district courts across the country, including courts in Massachusetts, California, the District of Columbia, and Pennsylvania. Judge Edward F. Harrington of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts documented twenty-six filings in Massachusetts federal and state courts alone in the span of one year. See Crooker v. Merchants CR Guide Co., No. 08-10382-EFH, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56852 (D.Ma. March 24, 2008)(gathering Crooker's Massachusetts state and federal filings). Judge Kim R. Gibson of the Western District of Pennsylvania noted that, as of November 20, 2009, Plaintiff had filed nine cases that were removed to his court in the span of one year. See Crooker v. United States of America, No. 2009-cv-206 (W.D.Pa. Nov. 20, 2009).

A search of the Middle District docket uncovered four additional cases that have been voluntary dismissed by Crooker within the last thirty days. See Crooker v. Cleversy & Massa, P.C., No. 10-cv-387 (voluntarily dismissed on Mar. 3, 2010); Crooker v. Northeast Creditors, No. 10-cv-381 (voluntarily dismissed on Feb. 25, 2010); Crooker v. Popular Mortgage Serv., Inc., No. 10-cv-356 (voluntarily dismissed on Fed. 25, 2010); Crooker v. Adams, Stevens & Bradley, No. 10-cv-499 (voluntarily dismissed on Mar. 11, 2010).*fn1 In each case, Crooker has filed the exact same complaint, alleging violations of the FDCPA, simply substituting the names of the various defendants.*fn2 The procedural history is the same in each of these cases. He begins by filing a claim under the FDCPA in state court. The defendant then removes the case to federal court. After removal, however, Crooker moves to voluntarily dismiss the action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(1).

Crooker's litigation strategy is disturbing and has been admonished by numerous courts. He has previously been ruled a "three-strikes" plaintiff under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g), and thus is unable to proceed in forma pauperis in federal courts. See Crooker v. Merchants CR Guide Co., No. 08-10382-EFH, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 56852 (D.Ma. March 24, 2008). In his decision, Judge Harrington describes Crooker's litigation practice "Crooker's litigation history...leaves little room for doubt that he has developed a repeated litigation practice in order to circumvent the three-strikes rule of § 1915(g). Specifically, Crooker files his civil actions in...state courts, knowing those actions will be removed by the defendant(s) to [the district court]. This is true particularly where he is asserting federal claims. This scheme accomplishes several purposes for Crooker. First, because Crooker appears to be indigent (based on past litigation) he would be unable to pay the $350.00 filing fee up-front, and therefore could not proceed with a civil action in federal court. By filing in state court instead (knowing the action would likely be removed by the defendant), he manages to circumvent the filing fee requirements of [the district court] and, essentially, to eviscerate the affect of the three-strikes rule on him, since the removal fee is paid by the defendant(s). Second, by not proceeding in forma pauperis, he avoids a preliminary screening on the merits, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)."

Id. at *10-11 (material in brackets added).

It is clear that Crooker's pattern of filing complaints represents a calculated and precise method to avoid paying filing fees so he may continue his litigious behavior. As Judge Gibson noted, this strategy allows him to "file claims in state court with frugal impunity, knowing that it will be removed to federal court, and the defendant will foot the bill. Furthermore, by not filing in forma pauperis in federal court, he evades the preliminary screening mechanism under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)." See Crooker v. United States of America, No. 2009-cv-206 (W.D.Pa. Nov. 20, 2009).

Under Pennsylvania law, there is no "three-strikes" provision. See 231 Pa. Code Rule 240. Crooker is permitted to file repeated in forma pauperis petitions in Pennsylvania state court and is able to re-file his complaints in Pennsylvania courts after he has voluntarily dismissed them in federal court. It appears that plaintiff's act of voluntarily withdrawing his complaints is a calculated attempt to harass or coerce a settlement. We conclude plaintiff's tactics are an abuse of the judicial system.

III. Discussion

A. Standard of ...


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