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Wahl v. Wecht

September 21, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joy Flowers Conti United States District Judge


CONTI, District Judge.

I. Introduction

Pending before the court is a motion to dismiss (the "Motion") (Docket No. 6) filed by defendants David N. Wecht ("Judge Wecht"), and the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, ("Court of Common Pleas" and together with Judge Wecht, "defendants"). The Motion seeks to dismiss the complaint ("Complaint") (Docket No. 1) filed by plaintiff Loretta J. Wahl ("Wahl" or "plaintiff"), on January 5, 2010. In the Complaint Wahl alleges defendants violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. ("ADA"), and seeks injunctive relief to secure those rights in future court proceedings. Defendants set forth five theories for dismissal. Two theories are jurisdictional in nature: the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and Younger abstention. Two theories are based on a failure to state a claim upon which a relief can be granted: there is no individual liability under the ADA, and plaintiff failed to plead sufficient factual allegations to show she has a plausible claim for relief. Defendants also argue that plaintiff failed to number her paragraphs as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 10(b). After careful examination of the pleadings and for the reasons set forth below, this court will dismiss the Complaint with respect to any claim against Judge Wecht in his individual capacity and will dismiss the Complaint in all other aspects without prejudice for failure to state a claim.

II. Background

Wahl filed her Complaint against defendants asserting that she was being denied accommodations by the Court of Common Pleas for her disability by Judge Wecht and the Court of Common Pleas in violation of the ADA. Underlying plaintiff's action in the Court of Common Pleas is an ongoing custody dispute between Wahl and the father of her children. Plaintiff sought to establish Pennsylvania as the children's home state.*fn1 Plaintiff claims to have a disability which adversely impacts her "cognitive ability to fully participate in proceedings conducted within the confines of Defendant COURT OF COMMON PLEAS OF ALLEGHENY COUNTY PENNSYLVANIA unless certain accommodations are provided." (Compl. at 5.)*fn2

Plaintiff claims this disability requires telephonic and electronic communication as an accommodation in lieu of physical court appearances. (Id.) In support of her claim, plaintiff attached to the Complaint the sworn declaration of Karin Huffer, M.S., M.F.T. (Compl., Ex. A.) In the affidavit, Ms. Huffer averred "Dr. Wahl qualifies for accommodations under the ADA as was confirmed by Santa Clara County in [sic] California ADA Administrator." (Id. ¶ 4)

Plaintiff contends that the "Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Pennsylvania, which houses and allows Defendant David N. Wecht to operate as an administrator, is a public entity under the ADA." (Compl. at 5.) Plaintiff contends that defendants are required to acknowledge that plaintiff is a "qualified individual with a disability" as defined in 42 U.S.C. § 12131(2). (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that she made several efforts to apply for the specific accommodations that she seeks, but to little avail. (Id. at 7.)

Plaintiff claims she first applied for ADA accommodations on July 30, 2009. (Id. at 8.) She alleges that Judge Wecht failed to provide her requested accommodations for the proceedings scheduled on September 29, 2009 and November 2, 2009. (Id. at 5.)

An administrator with the court of common pleas, Raymond Billotte ("Billotte"), granted plaintiff the ability to appear via telephone for the November 2, 2009 proceedings.*fn3 (need cite) Plaintiff alleges that Billotte's actions angered Judge Wecht, and that Judge Wecht insulted her and cut off the phone connection, which prevented plaintiff from explaining pertinent information regarding the issues for which the hearing was being held. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff subsequently submitted two applications requesting accommodations to be provided for the hearings scheduled for December 16, 2009 and January 5, 2010. (Id. at 7.) Plaintiff alleges that because the Court of Common Pleas failed to grant her the requested accommodations, she was unable to appear for the scheduled hearings.*fn4

On March 17, 2010, plaintiff filed a petition to disqualify Judge Wecht. (Ct. Com. Pleas Docket No. 37). On April 23, 2010, Judge Wecht issued an opinion and order denying that petition. (Ct. Com. Please No. 06-9228-00, Document No. 36 ). In the opinion Judge Wecht reviewed the background of plaintiff's appearance before him. (Op. dated Apr. 23, 2010, Ct. Com. Pleas No. FD 06-9228-003, Document No. 36). Judge Wecht noted:

[I]n August 2009, a non-lawyer "advocate" working for Mother*fn5 began approaching various members of the court staff to indicate that Mother wanted some accommodations(s) under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. A. §§ 1210 et seq. ["ADA"]. On her accommodation request submitted to Court administration, Mother alleged that she was disabled by "legal abuse syndrome." In the meantime, Mother filed several papers with the Department of Court Records, but never presented them in this Court. These filings included a Petition for Custody Contempt (August 3, 2009), a second Petition for Custody Contempt (August 9, 2009), and a praecipe for a hearing to contest the registration of a foreign order (August 26, 2009). On August 19, 2009, court administration informed Mother that she was not entitled to a hearing on her ADA request. Also on August 19, Mother's then-attorney presented a Petition for Leave to Withdraw. No one appeared to oppose, and this Court granted the Petition.

On October 27, 2009, court administration advised this Court that it was requesting that Mother be allowed to present a motion via telephone on November 2, 2009, although court administration was not granting specific ADA accommodations for Mother. Although advance leave of Court is required prior to presentation of argument or testimony by telephone, this Court consented to the request, in deference to court administration. Accordingly on November 2, 2009, Mother presented, via telephone, a "Supplemental Application to Petitioner's Previous Application for Hearing Date Pursuant to 23 Pa. C.S.A. 5445(d)." Father's attorney appeared. After argument, Mother's "supplemental application," which sought generally to contest registration of California orders, was denied.

Mother (or someone on her behalf) signed up to present another motion on December 16, 2009. However, on December 6, 2009, Mother informed this Court by fax that she was withdrawing her motion because court administration had granted her ADA accommodation request. Mother then scheduled herself to present a Motion for Reconsideration on January 5, 2010. However, Mother failed to attend the Motions session, although Father's attorney did. The motion was denied.

Id. at 2-4.

Judge Wecht was aware of this federal action and commented:

The gravamen of Mother's federal complaint appears to be that ADA accommodations were not provided to her. This Court played no role in determining Mother's ADA request as that decision is made by court administration.

Id. at 5-6.

In denying the petition Judge Wecht expressed concern that this federal lawsuit was filed in an attempt to create a reason to disqualify him. He found that the judicial system would be adversely impacted if such a tactic were to succeed. He noted that there was no current litigation pending before him and if future litigation ensued he would be able to "hear and dispose of such litigation without bias or prejudice if and when [Wahl] returns to this Court." (Id. 8). Plaintiff appealed the April 23, 2010 order to the Pennsylvania Superior Court (Ct. Com. Pleas, FD-06-009228, Document No. 38). On May 27, 2010, the appeal was quashed, sua sponte. (Ct. Com. Pleas, FD-06-009228, Document No. 43.)

Wahl claims she was discriminated against by defendants based upon her disability, and that as a result, she was not afforded access to the court -- in direct violation of her ADA rights.

Plaintiff requests that this court: order that defendants must immediately and forthwith are to permanently provide the plaintiff with the reasonable ADA accommodations, including but not limited to, prompt, definitive, respectful communications via telephonic appearances and communications, electronic and/or facsimile filings, automatic recordings and prompt transcriptions of any and all proceedings as well as any other needed remedy to permit full participation in any/all legal proceedings, hearing, communications, conferences, as well as adequate advocacy/support as needed for full participation.

(Id. at 9.)

Defendants jointly filed the Motion, arguing that this court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. In the alternative, defendants claim plaintiff's Complaint should be dismissed under the Younger abstention doctrine. If this court possesses subject-matter jurisdiction, defendants argue that plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. For the reasons set forth below, the court determines that the Motion, to the extent it seeks dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims or for this court to abstain, cannot be granted on either of those bases. The claim against Judge Wecht in his individual capacity will be dismissed with prejudice and the remaining claims will be dismissed without prejudice for failure to state a claim.

III. Standard of Review

A. Subject-Matter ...

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