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Phillips v. James

July 8, 2010

JOSEPH S. PHILLIPS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RICHARD JAMES, PAUL LUTTY, GENE STRASSBURGER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

Pending before the court are two motions to dismiss the complaint ("Complaint") (Docket No. 1) filed, pro se, by Joseph Phillips ("Phillips" or "plaintiff"). The first motion to dismiss (Docket No. 7) was filed by judicial defendants Paul Lutty ("Judge Lutty") and Gene Strassburger ("Judge Strassburger"). The second motion to dismiss (Docket No. 12) was filed by individual defendant Richard James ("James" and together with Judge Lutty and Judge Strassburger, "defendants").

II. Background*fn1

Filings

On November 5, 2009, Phillips filed the Complaint against James, Judge Lutty and Judge Strassburger seeking monetary damages and retrial by jury alleging that: (1) James violated plaintiff's rights under the American with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., when he entered into a contract with plaintiff for the purchase of a home, knowing that plaintiff was mentally impaired (Compl. ¶ 16); (2) Judge Strassburger violated: a) plaintiff's due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution by not determining competence at the time of trial when plaintiff raised the issue; and b) plaintiff's Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel (Compl. ¶ 17); and 3) Judge Lutty obstructed justice when he: a) changed a jury trial demand to a non-jury trial, b) withheld award from the docket that denied plaintiff a basis for appeal, and c) overturned the court verdict ruling in plaintiff's favor on December 15, 2008 (Compl. ¶ 18).

On November 12, 2009, Judge Lutty and Judge Strassburger filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint and brief in support (Docket No. 8), pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). On November 20, 2009, plaintiff filed a motion to strike and motion to amend defendants (the "motion to strike and amend defendants" (Docket No. 10)), requesting to strike Judge Lutty and Judge Strassburger from the Complaint and by amendment to name as a defendant the Commonweath of Pennsylvania. On December 3, 2009, James, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint. On January 6, 2010, plaintiff filed a motion for stay of proceedings (the "motion for stay" Docket No. 16)). Plaintiff requests this court to stay judgment while an appeal is pending in two allegedly linked cases filed with the Court of Common Pleas of the County of Allegheny, Pennsylvania, i.e., AR-08-012191 and GD-09-002758.

On January 21, 2010, plaintiff filed a motion for protection under civil rights acts and the ADA (the "motion for protection" (Docket No. 19)). On April 15, 2010, plaintiff filed a motion to amend the complaint (the "motion to amend" (Docket No. 21)).

The Complaint

Plaintiff avers he entered into a contract with James on October 3, 2006, for the purchase of a home and paid James installments in the amount of $11,700. (Compl. ¶¶ 6-7.) On September 5, 2008, James filed a complaint against plaintiff in state court alleging slander with respect to a verbal argument. (Compl. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff contends he received an arbitration award in his favor on December 15, 2008, which James appealed and a trial was scheduled for September 11, 2009. (Compl. ¶¶ 9-10.) On the date of trial plaintiff avers he requested a continuance based upon incompetence to stand trial due to the influence of medications and pain, which Judge Strassburger denied. (Compl. ¶¶ 11-12.) A non-jury trial commenced before Judge Lutty, who rendered a verdict in favor of James. (Compl. ¶¶ 13-14.)

Plaintiff alleges James violated the ADA when James knowingly entered into a contract with plaintiff for the purchase of a home and failed to convey the deed after receiving payment in full. Plaintiff contends James was aware that plaintiff was mentally impaired, intentionally started an argument with plaintiff, and filed a complaint alleging slander against plaintiff. Plaintiff alleges James' slander complaint was an attempt to nullify the obligation to convey the deed, because plaintiff placed a lien upon the home in the amount the court had allegedly wrongfully awarded defendant. (Compl. ¶ 16.)

Plaintiff alleges Judge Strassburger violated his due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments by not determining his competence to stand trial, resulting in a violation of his Sixth Amendment right to assistance of counsel. (Compl. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff alleges Judge Lutty obstructed justice by changing a jury trial demand to a non-jury trial and withheld the award from the docket, thereby denying plaintiff a basis for appeal. (Compl. ¶ 18.)

Judge Lutty's and Judge Strassburger's Motion to Dismiss

Judge Lutty and Judge Strassburger move to dismiss plaintiff's Complaint upon five grounds: 1) plaintiff's claims against them in their official capacity are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; 2) plaintiff's claims against them in their official capacity are barred because they are not "persons" subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983; 3) plaintiff's claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine; 4) plaintiff's claims against them in their individual capacities are barred by judicial immunity; and 5) this court may not usurp Pennsylvania's authority over its court system by granting plaintiff's request for a new trial. Plaintiff filed a response to the motion to dismiss, in ...


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