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Simpson v. City of Coatesville

July 28, 2010


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


Pro se Plaintiff Chalmers Simpson brings this action in forma pauperis against 50 defendants, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his civil rights. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and injunctive relief, and asks us to order the arrest of certain individuals who have wronged him. Currently before the Court is Plaintiff's Petition to Amend Complaint. We have conducted the screening required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, and conclude, for the following reasons, that the Petition should be denied and the amended complaint dismissed.


Plaintiff is presently incarcerated by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the State Correctional Institute at Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. The events underlying his Complaint and Amended Complaint arose in Chester County, Pennsylvania between 2003 and 2009. Plaintiff's allegations pertain to various allegedly illegal arrests and prosecutions of the Plaintiff by officials and employees of Coatesville and Chester County, Pennsylvania.

On January 13, 2010, we dismissed Plaintiff's pro se civil rights Complaint, which he had filed in forma pauperis against the City of Coatesville, the City of West Chester, the Coatesville Police Department, police officers, judges, district attorneys, assistant district attorneys, and many others. Our Order dismissed the Complaint without prejudice, and we granted Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint within thirty (30) days. Our January 13, 2010 Memorandum noted that the Complaint was rambling and unclear and we instructed Plaintiff that, if he filed an amended complaint, he must comply with the following requirements:

He must file an amended complaint which contains all of his claims, and in which he describes as legibly, clearly and briefly as possible:

(1) the specific events or conditions which violated his constitutional rights; (2) the name of each person who violated his constitutional rights; (3) the dates on which his constitutional rights were violated by each defendant; (4) the harm he suffered, if any, from each violation; and (5) the specific relief he is requesting. Plaintiff is reminded of the requirement that he plead specific fact paragraphs in his amended complaint, and that the caption of his complaint must contain the names of all of his defendants. (Jan. 13, 2010 Mem. at 1-2.) On February 16, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Petition to Amend the Complaint, asking that we allow him to file nine separate complaints under the caption of the instant suit.*fn1 Plaintiff presently seeks relief from six judges of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas (one of these judges has joined the Pennsylvania Superior Court since the events alleged in the Amend Complaint); the Chester County District Attorney's Office; the Chester County District Attorney, the Deputy District Attorney, and six Assistant District Attorneys; two Magisterial District Judges; unnamed constables; the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development; the Regency Apartment Complex, the manager of the Regency and two tenants thereof; the Coatesville Police Department, four identified police officers, and six John Doe police officers; the City of Coatesville; the Chester County Board of Commissioners and six members of that Board; the Chester County Probation and Parole Office and one probation officer; the Chester County Courthouse; the Chester County Public Defender's Office, the Public Defender and four Assistant

Public Defenders, three of whom are identified and one of whom is a John Doe. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages from all of the Defendants. He also asks that we order all of the Defendant Judges, the District Attorney and Assistant District Attorneys to recuse themselves from his state criminal cases; order that the venue be changed for one of his state criminal cases; order the arrest of certain Defendants on criminal charges; and order that other Defendants be investigated for misconduct.


Plaintiff is a prisoner of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and seeks redress from governmental entities and officers and employees of governmental entities. We are thus required to review his Amended Complaint, "before docketing, if feasible...." See 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a). "On review, the court shall identify cognizable claims or dismiss the complaint, or any portion of the complaint, if the complaint -- (1) is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted; or (2) seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b). Two of the Defendants listed in the Amended Complaint are not alleged to be officers or employees of any governmental entity, one of those Defendants is a John Doe. To the extent that we are not required to screen claims asserted against private citizens pursuant to § 1915A, we are required to perform the same review of claims against non-governmental entities, officials and employees by 28 U.S.C. § 1915, because Plaintiff filed this action in forma pauperis. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) ("Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any portion thereof, that may have been paid, the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that... (B) the action or appeal -- (i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) "seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief."). A claim is frivolous if it is "based on an indisputably meritless legal theory" or its "factual contentions are clearly baseless." Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1989)). We review the sufficiency of the pleadings under § 1915(e)(2)(B) and § 1915A using the same standard applicable to a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See Walker v. Hensley. Civ. A. No. 08-685, 2009 WL 5064357, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 23, 2009) ("The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Section 1915(e)(2)(B) and Section 1915A is identical to the legal standard used when ruling on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion." (citing Allah v. Seiverling, 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000) and Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999))).

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), we look primarily at the facts alleged in the complaint and its attachments. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986) (cited with approval in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

A plaintiff's pleading obligation is to set forth "a short and plain statement of the claim," Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), which gives the defendant "'fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). The "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). In the end, we will dismiss a complaint if the factual allegations in the complaint are not sufficient "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, at 235-36 (3d ed. 2004)).


A. New Complaint No. 1

Plaintiff's New Complaint No. 1 asserts claims against Judge Anthony A. Scarcione of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, Assistant District Attorney Donna Murphy, Magisterial District Judge Nancy Gill, Assistant District Attorney Anne Marie Wheatcraft, and unnamed and unnumbered constables. New Complaint No. 1 alleges the following facts. On May 21, 2009, Plaintiff was arrested without a warrant and incarcerated on false charges. (New Compl. No. 1 ¶¶ 9, 22, 37.) Plaintiff is still held in connection with his May 21, 2009 arrest. (Id. ¶ 10.) Judge Gill denied Plaintiff's request for a pre-trial line-up in connection with his May 21, 2009 arrest. (Id. ¶ 11.) The constables took Plaintiff to court to represent himself in connection with those charges. (Id. ¶ 12.) This criminal case, No. CR-2445-2009, was transferred to Judge Scarcione, who denied all of Plaintiff's pre-trial motions, including motions asking Judge Scarcione to recuse himself. (Id. ¶¶ 13-15. 18-19, 33-34.) Plaintiff issued trial subpoenas to the police officers who arrested him on May 21, 2009, but those subpoenas were not honored. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) Plaintiff also sought to present the testimony of Judge Gill at his trial, but she refused to appear. (Id. ¶ 26.) Plaintiff was denied access to certain court documents and transcripts to which he was entitled. (Id. ¶¶ 29-32, 35.) New Complaint No. 1 alleges that the Defendants violated his rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments through falsely arresting and imprisoning him and violated his Sixth Amendment right to compulsory process for obtaining witnesses.*fn2 (Id. ¶¶ 22, 24.)

Plaintiff seeks monetary damages of $2,000,000 from Judge Scarcione, $200,000 from District Attorney Murphy; $200,000 from District Attorney Wheatcraft; $1,000,000 from Judge Gill, and $100,000 from Constable Doe. He also seeks an order requiring Judge Scarcione and five other Judges of the Chester County Court of Pleas, District Attorneys Wheatcraft and Murphy, four Assistant District Attorneys and the Chester County District Attorney's Office to recuse themselves from his case. He also asks this Court to grant his state court motion for change of venue and file criminal charges against each Defendant who has been involved in the factual circumstances underlying his claims.

Plaintiff has brought his claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress....

42 U.S.C. § 1983. "Section 1983 provides remedies for deprivations of rights established in the Constitution or federal laws. It does not, by its own terms, create substantive rights." Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (footnote omitted) (citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3 (1979)); see also City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816 (1985) (stating that Section 1983 "creates no substantive rights; it merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere" (citing Baker, 443 U.S. at 140, 144 n.3)). Consequently, in order to state a claim for relief pursuant to § 1983, "a plaintiff must demonstrate the defendant, acting under color of state law, deprived him or her of a right secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States." Kaucher, 455 F.3d at 423 (citing Am. Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50 (1999) and Mark v. Borough of Hatboro, 51 F.3d 1137, 1141 (3d Cir. 1995).

Plaintiff's claims challenge the constitutionality of his May 21, 2009 arrest and his subsequent imprisonment, and prosecution. We must, therefore, consider whether they are barred by the favorable termination rule announced by the Supreme Court in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994): in order to recover damages for allegedly unconstitutional conviction or imprisonment, or for other harm caused by actions whose unlawfulness would render a conviction or sentence invalid, a § 1983 plaintiff must prove that the conviction or sentence has been reversed on direct appeal, expunged by executive order, declared invalid by a state tribunal authorized to make such determination, or called into question by a federal court's issuance of a writ of habeas corpus, 28 U.S.C. § 2254. A claim for damages bearing that relationship to a conviction or sentence that has not been so invalidated is not cognizable under § 1983. Thus, when a state prisoner seeks damages in a § 1983 suit, the district court must consider whether a judgment in favor of the plaintiff would necessarily imply the invalidity of his conviction or sentence; if it would, the complaint must be dismissed unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the conviction or sentence has already been invalidated.

Id. at 486-487 (footnote omitted). Plaintiff filed this suit before the underlying state court criminal action, No. CR-2445-2009, concluded. In such cases we ordinarily stay the Plaintiff's claims until the criminal proceeding is resolved. The Supreme Court has explained that, "[i]f a plaintiff files a false-arrest claim before he has been convicted (or files any other claim related to rulings that will likely be made in a pending or anticipated criminal trial), it is within the power of the district court, and in accord with common practice, to stay the civil action until the criminal case or the likelihood of a criminal case is ended." Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 393-394 (2007) (citations omitted). In such a case, "[i]f the plaintiff is ultimately convicted, and if the stayed civil suit would impugn that conviction, Heck will require dismissal; otherwise, the civil action will proceed, absent some other bar to suit." Id. at 394 (citations omitted).

In order to determine whether Plaintiff's claims should be stayed, we have reviewed the docket for case no. CR-2445-2009.*fn3 The docket shows that Plaintiff pled guilty to one count of retail theft pursuant to 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 3929 on April 13, 2010 and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment of 6 to 12 months on the same day. See Commonwealth v. Simpson, Docket No. CR-2445-2009 (Chester County Ct. of Common Pleas). He did not appeal this conviction, so it is now final. See Pa. R. Crim. P. 720 (stating that a defendant who does not file a post-sentence motion shall file a notice of appeal within 30 days of imposition of sentence). We conclude, accordingly,

that there is no basis to stay our consideration of whether his claims pertaining to that charge are barred by Heck.

Since Plaintiff entered a guilty plea to the charge in case no. CR-2445-2009, he cannot satisfy the favorable termination rule. Consequently, the claims asserted in New Complaint No. 1 are barred by Heck, including Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief. See Wilkinson v. Dotson, 544 U.S. 74, 81-82 (2005) ("[A] state prisoner's § 1983 action is barred (absent prior invalidation) - no matter the relief sought (damages or equitable relief), no matter the target of the prisoner's suit (state conduct leading to conviction or internal prison proceedings) - if success in that action would necessarily demonstrate the invalidity of confinement or its duration."). New Complaint No. 1 thus fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Plaintiff's Petition to Amend Complaint is, accordingly, denied with respect to New Complaint No. 1 and the claims asserted in that Complaint are dismissed with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.*fn4

B. New Complaint No. 2

Plaintiff's New Complaint No. 2 asserts claims against the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"), the Regency Apartment Complex, manager Amanda Brake, tenant Danyell Johnson, and "Black John Doe Tenant Short" ("Tenant Doe"). New Complaint No. 2 alleges the following facts. Plaintiff lived at the Regency Apartment Complex, which is owned by HUD, between 2007 and 2010 with his fiancee and their two children. (New Compl. No. 2 ¶¶ 2-3.). In late July or August 2007, Plaintiff was abused by Brake, Johnson and Tenant Doe, and obtained a protection from abuse order (the "PFA order"). (Id. ¶ 9.) Brake, Johnson and Sergeant James Pinto violated the PFA order several times. (Id. ¶ 10.) Brake and Johnson violated state law. (New Compl. No. 2, Ex B ¶¶ S, V.) Johnson failed to report income and assets to HUD that rendered her ineligible to reside in housing owned by HUD. (Id. ¶¶ T-U.) Plaintiff sought assistance from District Attorney Donna Murphy, the Coatesville Police Department, and Magisterial District Judge Grover E. Koon, but they did not help him. (New Compl. No. 2 ¶ 11.) On May 1, 2008, Plaintiff was forced from his apartment and, after being acquitted on trespassing charges on August 28, 2008, agreed not to return to his apartment while the PFA order was in effect. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) Plaintiff seeks an award of damages in the amount of $2,000,000 from Johnson; $8,000,000 from Brake and HUD; $100,000 from Tenant Doe; and $8,000,000 from the Regency Apartment Complex. (Id. ¶ 16.) He also seeks the arrest of all defendants on various state and federal criminal charges.

Plaintiff cannot assert an action pursuant to Section 1983 against an agency or employee of the federal government, as the statute applies only to persons acting under color of state law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. A plaintiff seeking to assert claims that a federal official violated his or her constitutional rights may bring a claim pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). See Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1948 (stating that a Bivens action "'is the "federal analog to suits brought against state officials under... 42 U.S.C. § 1983.'" (quoting Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250, 254 n.2 (2006))). In Bivens, the Supreme Court recognized the existence of an implied private right of action for monetary damages against federal officers for violation of a citizen's Fourth Amendment rights. Corr. Servs. Corp. v. Malesko, 534 U.S. 61, 66-67 (2001). This private right of action has been extended to violations of the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Cruel and Unusual Punishments clause of the Eighth Amendment. Ponton v. U.S. Dist. Court for the E. Dist. of Pa., Civ. A. No. 10-1514, 2010 WL 2010885, at *5 (E.D. Pa. May 17, 2010) (citing Davis v. Passman, 442 U.S. 228 (1979), and Carlson v. Green, 446 U.S. 14 (1980)).

Bivens actions seeking monetary damages may not be asserted against federal agencies. See F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 486 (1994). Consequently, we conclude that New Complaint No. 2 fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted against HUD, or its apartment complex. Plaintiff alleges that Brake is an employee of HUD, making her a federal employee. He does not, however, allege any facts that would support a claim that she has violated his Fourth, Fifth, or Eighth Amendment rights. Thus, New Complaint No. 2 fails to state a claim against Brake upon which relief may be granted. Neither Johnson nor Tenant Doe are alleged to be employees of the federal government. The Supreme Court has not extended the scope of Bivens actions to reach the conduct of private parties. Tare v. Bank of Am., Civ. A. No. 07-583, 2009 WL 799236, at *10 (D.N.J. Mar. 24, 2009) (citing Corr. Servs. Corp., 534 U.S. at 70). New Complaint No. 2 accordingly fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted against either Johnson or Tenant Doe.

We also note Plaintiff lacks standing to bring a claim for the criminal prosecution of another person. "It is well-established that 'a private citizen lacks a judicially cognizable interest in the prosecution or non-prosecution of another.'" Williams ex rel. Faison v. U.S. Penitentiary Lewisburg, Pa., No. 10-1300, 2010 WL 1695632, at *1 (3d Cir. Apr. 28, 2010) (per curiam) (quoting Linda R.S. v. Richard D., 410 U.S. 614, 619 (1973)). As New Complaint No. 2 fails to state a claim against any of the named Defendants, Plaintiff's Petition to Amend Complaint is denied with respect to New Complaint No. 2, and the claims asserted in that Complaint are dismissed with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) and 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

C. New Complaint No. 3

Plaintiff's New Complaint No. 3 asserts claims against Magisterial District Judge Grover E. Koon, Judge Thomas G. Gavin of the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, Danyell Johnson, Chester County Assistant District Attorney ("ADA") Jessica Krilivinsky, Sergeant James Pinto, Police Officer "John Doe White Male," the Coatesville Police Department, and the Chester County District Attorney's Office. New Complaint No. 3 alleges the following facts. On May 1, 2008, Plaintiff was arrested in his home by Sergeant Pinto and Police Officer Doe. (New Compl. No. 3 ¶ 1.) The police officers claimed that Plaintiff was trespassing. (Id.) The police officers did not have a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest. (Id. at ¶ 2.) Plaintiff showed the officers a copy of the PFA order, which gave him possession of the property, but he was arrested anyway and held for more than four hours. (Id. at ¶¶ 2, 20.) Plaintiff later discovered that his arrest was ordered by the Chester County District Attorney's Office and ADA Donna Murphy. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Plaintiff gave Judge Koon a copy of the PFA order at his arraignment, but Judge Koon ignored the PFA order and ordered Plaintiff not to return to his home. (Id. at ¶ 5.)

Prior to Plaintiff's May 1, 2008 arrest, he had been locked out of his apartment by Brake, who refused to give him a key between December 2007 and May 1, 2008. (Id. at ¶ 11.) During this time period, Plaintiff had to leave his door unlocked because he did not have a key, and his property was stolen from his home. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-15.) He tried to file a lawsuit against his landlord, but was prevented from doing so by Judge Koon. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Plaintiff also tried to file private criminal complaints but was prevented from doing so by the Coatesville Police Department and the Chester County District Attorney's Office. (Id. at ¶ 17-18.)

Plaintiff's case was transferred to Judge Gavin, ADA Krilivinsky was the prosecutor. (Id. at ¶ 23.) ADA Krilivinsky and Judge Gavin tampered with evidence during Plaintiff's July 2008 trial by destroying the transcripts and recordings of his pretrial proceedings before Judge Koon. (Id. ¶¶ 23, 31-38.) In addition, Drake and Johnson were permitted to present perjured testimony during Plaintiff's trial. (Id. at ¶ 25.) Judge Gavin acquitted Plaintiff on August 28, 2008, but told him not to return to his apartment. (Id. at ¶ 26.)

New Complaint No. 3 asserts claims for violation of Plaintiff's Fourth, Fourteenth, Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages of $5,000,000 from Judge Koon; $2,000,000 from Judge Gavin, $1,000,000 from Johnson; $2,000,000 from ADA Krilivinsky; $5,000,000 from Sergeant Pinto; $1,000,000 from Police Officer Doe; $10,000,000 from the Coatesville Police Department; and $5,000,000 from the Chester County District Attorney's ...

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