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Adams v. Lynn

August 9, 2010


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


Defendant, Judge James Lynn of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, and court defendants, the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, and Supreme Court of Pennsylvaniahave filed the present motion to dismiss (docket no. 8) plaintiff's complaint (docket no. 1) that alleges that the defendants violated her rights to due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments and that seeks redress under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff, an attorney, responded through her former counsel (docket no. 12) but, after deciding to proceed pro se, plaintiff filed another response (docket no. 22). The motion is now ripe for disposition.

I. Facts

The relevant facts of this case, as alleged in the complaint, are as follows. Defendant James Murray Lynn is a Court of Common Pleas Judge for Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. Compl. ¶ 8. Defendant Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County is the trial court in the Pennsylvania court system. Id. at ¶ 9. Defendant Superior Court of Pennsylvania and Supreme Court of Pennsylvania are Pennsylvania appellate courts. Id. at ¶ 10-11. At all times defendants acted through their agents and employees all of whom were duly qualified and acting judicial officers and personnel. Id. at ¶ 12.

The present action arises from a series of lawsuits in Pennsylvania state court. In the first action, plaintiff sought damages for, inter alia, breach of contract against Patrick Charles and Craigg Real Estate Investment Corporation (Craigg). Id. at ¶ 19. On July 10, 2002, Judge Norma Ackerman of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas issued a settlement order in that action, which incorporated a settlement agreement reached by the parties in that action. Id. at ¶ 20. The agreement was that the property in dispute, at 2212 Watkins Street, was to be sold with fifty percent of the proceeds going to plaintiff once Charles and Craigg received a credit of $3000. Id. at 21.

In the years following, the property was not sold and communication between the parties broke down. Id. at ¶ 22. In August 2005, plaintiff offered to settle the issues regarding the outstanding order for $2000 and the cessation of all communication between the parties, to which Charles and Craigg made a counter offer through their attorney, Thomas F. Grady. Id. at ¶ 23-25. Thereafter, plaintiff filed a motion to enforce settlement on September 29, 2006. Id. at ¶ 25. Shortly after the motion to enforce was filed, plaintiff discovered that Charles and Craigg sold the property at issue for $70,000 to Charles's sister and brother-in-law on August 6, 2006, in violation of the July 2002 settlement order. Id. at ¶ 26-27. Due to the sale, plaintiff requested that the motion to enforce be modified and that a constructive trust be place on the proceeds of the sale. Id. at ¶ 29.

On May 1, 2007, Judge Lynn ordered that plaintiff was due fifty percent of the proceeds of the sale, but denied the imposition of constructive trust. Id. at ¶ 32. The plaintiff filed a cross-appeal seeking the imposition of the constructive trust. Id. at ¶ 33. On June 23, 2008, the Superior Court issued a memorandum opinion remanding the case to Judge Lynn in order for him to impose a constructive trust on the property (June 23, 2008 order). Id. at ¶ 34-35.

On remand Judge Lynn called for an informal conference, which was led by Judge Pro Tem, Vincent Melchiorre, Esq., who told the parties that a constructive trust would be imposed on the $70,000 and that Charles and Craigg Real Estate would be sanctioned if they failed to appear with that amount. Id. at ¶ 36. On August 6, 2008, instead of the scheduled hearing, plaintiff alleges that Judge Lynn held a bifurcated settlement conference, where plaintiff was pressured by Judge Pro Tem Melchiorre to not only settle the litigation against Charles and Craigg, but also to settle a related action against Thomas F. Grady, counsel for Charles and Craigg. Id. at 28. According to the complaint, Melchiorre stated that "there are groups of attorneys, Jewish Attorneys, Italian Attorneys, Black Attorneys and Judge Lynn would not let [Plaintiff] take Grady down like this." Id. at ¶ 39 (alteration in original). In an order dated August 6, 2008, and filed August 14, 2008 (August 6, 2008 order), Judge Lynn did not impose a constructive trust on the $70,000 and instead imposed a receivership on the amount of $30,500. Id. at ¶ 40.

On October 10, 2008, plaintiff then filed a motion to enforce with the Superior Court pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure 1925(b). Id. at ¶ 44. The Superior Court denied the motion to enforce. Id. at ¶ 45. It stated that the August 6, 2008 order fulfilled the directions to Judge Lynn contained in its June 23, 2008 order.

Id. at Exh. E. The Superior Court further stated that if plaintiff wished to challenge the August 6, 2008 order, she should have filed an appeal. Id. It stated that even if the court construed the motion to enforce as an appeal, it would be untimely. Id. Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration with the Superior Court, which was denied. Id. at ¶ 47. Plaintiff then filed an application for relief with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which that court declined to hear. Id. at ¶ 48.

Plaintiff seeks: (1) a declaratory judgment that plaintiff is entitled to the imposition of a constructive trust on the $70,000; (2) a declaratory judgment that the collective Pennsylvania courts have violated her due process rights by failing to enforce the Superior Court's June 23, 2008 order; (3) an order directing the Court of Common pleas to conduct a hearing to determine plaintiff's share of proceeds; and (4) a mandatory injunction requiring Judge Lynn to act within ten days of this court's order.

II. Analysis

The defendants raise several grounds for dismissal including: (1) immunity under the Eleventh Amendment; (2) the Younger abstention doctrine; (3) lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine; (4) res judicata and collateral estoppel; (5) absolute judicial immunity; (6) failure to state a claim under ยง 1983 as the defendants are not "persons" within the meaning of the statute; and (7) failure to state a ...

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