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Winston v. Morgan

September 13, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sean J. McLAUGHLIN United States District Judge


Michael Winston is a pro se plaintiff prosecuting this and numerous other civil actions before this Court. In this complaint, he has sued a number of officials serving Warren County, Pennsylvania for alleged violations of his federal constitutional and statutory rights.*fn1 Presently pending before the Court are the Defendants' motions to dismiss this case for failure to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons set forth below, that motion will be granted.


Named as Defendants in this action are the following individuals: (i) William F. Morgan ("Morgan"), President Judge of the Warren County Court of Common Pleas; (ii) Maureen A. Skerda ("Skerda) and (iii) Paul H. Millin ("Millin), both Judges of the Warren County Court of Common Pleas; (iv) Ross McKeirnan ("McKeirnan"), the Warren County District Attorney; (v) Larry E. Kopko ("Kopko"), designated as "Warren County Sheriff and County Jail"; (vi) John E. Eggleston ("Eggleston"), Warren County Chairman; (vii) Terry L. Hawk ("Hawk"), Warren County Vice Chairman; (viii) John R. Bortz, Jr. ("Bortz"), designated as "Secretary"; (ix) John R. Parroccini ("Parroccini"), Warren County Chief Public Defender; (x) Alan M. Conn ("Conn"), Warren County Assistant Public Defender; and (xi) an anonymous Defendant designated as "Clerk of Courts (Set Up and Records)."

Though Plaintiff has cited numerous federal constitutional and statutory provisions in support of his claim, his factual allegations reveal that he is attempting to bring a class action based on due process violations allegedly arising from the Court of Common Pleas' "roll call" procedures (otherwise commonly known as the "call of the list" or "calendar call").*fn2 If the defendant or the defendant's counsel is not present at the time of the assigned roll call, the court issues a bench warrant for failure to appear. (See Complaint ¶ 17.)

Plaintiff does not allege that a warrant was issued as to him personally. Rather, he claims that he "has been to all proceedings" and alleges only the hypothetical possibility that a bench warrant could be issued against him at some point in the future. (See id. ("Plaintiff has a criminal case scheduling form with dates to appear [and] if I do not [appear] a warrent [sic] for my arrest will be isued [sic].").) Thus, Plaintiff claims no actual injury resulting from the issuing of a bench warrant against himself personally.

Instead, Plaintiff claims injury from the fact that he has witnessed the court issuing bench warrants against other citizens of Warren County. More specifically, he asserts that he "has... been a victim of these actors by eye-witnessing the acts performed in order to gain financially." (Complaint ¶ 15.) On two occasions, he claims, namely, August 3 and August 17, 2009, he observed the "call of the list" procedure whereby bench warrants were issued against individuals who failed to appear in court. (Id. at ¶ 17.) He seems to be alleging that the responsible officials violated due process by requiring attendance "under false pretenses" when there was no formal court proceeding going on. (Id. at ¶ 18 ("Citizens have rights, jobs, familys [sic], and better things to do than be bound and held against their will for no reason at all !!!").) He also seems to be complaining about the fact that, "after the judge took his roll call he [adjourned]" and the public defender then "took over this court room," using the courtroom as "his office" as "a way to make money." (Id.)

Plaintiff files his complaint on behalf of all the individuals who either appeared on the two days in question or who failed to appear and had bench warrants issued against them as a result. He also purports to bring his claims on behalf of "all past and future victims." (Id. at ¶ 19.) He requests, among other things, that punitive damages in the amount of $5,000,000.00 be assessed for the benefit of all those who appeared in the Warren County Court of Common Pleas on the aforementioned dates as well as for the benefit of lawyers pursuing federal court actions on their behalf.


Defendants have filed motions pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure to dismiss the within action for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. In addition, because this case is proceeding in forma pauperis, this Court is obligated, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), to dismiss the action "at any time" if the court determines that, among other things, the action 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." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii). When deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir.2008).

Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, his complaint must be "'liberally construed'" and "'held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers[.]'" Brown v. City of Long Branch, No. 09-3632, 2010 WL 1980997 at *2 (3d Cir. May 19, 2010) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). Nevertheless, "[t]o survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint -- even a pro se complaint --'must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Thakar v. Tan, No. 09-2084, 2010 WL 1141397 at *2 (3d Cir. March 25, 2010) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ---U.S. ----, ----, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). See also Brown, supra, at *2 ("The factual allegations in the complaint must be sufficient to "'raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'") (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008)).


Having reviewed the complaint under the foregoing standards, this Court finds that the Plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed on several bases.

First, the Plaintiff lacks standing to assert the claims he is premising on the alleged violation of the constitutional rights of others. "[T]he existence of a case and [or] controversy is a prerequisite to all federal actions." Joint Stock Society v. UDV North America, Inc., 266 F.3d 164, 174 (3d Cir. 2001) (internal quotations omitted) (citing Philadelphia Fed'n of Teachers v. Ridge, 150 F.3d 319, 322 (3d Cir.1998)). This Article III case-or-controversy requirement, in turn, includes a standing requirement, which focuses on who may bring an action. Id. (citations omitted). The doctrine of standing incorporates both a constitutional element and a non-constitutional, "prudential" element. Id. at 174-75 (citing Pitt News v. Fisher, 215 F.3d 354, 359 (3d Cir.2000); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts, Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 484 (3d Cir.1998)). Constitutional standing is a "threshold issue, and it includes three elements, all of which must be met:, to wit: (1) the plaintiff must have suffered an injury in fact; (2) there must be a causal nexus between that injury and the conduct complained of; and (3) it must be likely that the injury will be redressed by a favorable judicial decision. Id. at 175 (citing cases). "These requirements ensure that plaintiffs have a 'personal stake' or 'interest' in the outcome of the proceedings, 'sufficient to warrant ... [their] invocation of ...

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