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Michael Winston v. John Pavlock

July 13, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: McLAUGHLIN, Sean J., District J.,


Plaintiff Michael Winston, a frequent litigator in this Court, has filed this civil lawsuit based on events arising out of an assault allegedly perpetrated upon him in 2007. Named as Defendants are John H. Pavlock (President Judge of the McKean County Court of Common Pleas), Dominic Cercone (a McKean County Magisterial District Judge), Ray Learn (the McKean County District Attorney), Bonnie Moore Howard*fn1 (the McKean County Prothonotary and Clerk of Records), and Jeffrey Wilson, (a police sergeant with the Pennsylvania State Police). As grounds for this Court‟s jurisdiction, Winston purports to invoke various federal constitutional and statutory provisions. All Defendants have entered appearances and have moved to dismiss the complaint. Because Winston‟s complaint fails to state a viable legal claim and is incapable of a curative amendment, it will be dismissed with prejudice.


A. Pro Se Pleadings

Pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded," must be held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-521 (1972). If the court can reasonably read pleadings to state a valid claim on which the litigant could prevail, it should do so despite failure to cite proper legal authority, confusion of legal theories, poor syntax and sentence construction, or the litigant's unfamiliarity with pleading requirements. Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364 (1982); United States ex rel. Montgomery v. Bierley, 141 F.2d 552, 555 (3d Cir.1969) (petition prepared by a prisoner may be inartfully drawn and should be read "with a measure of tolerance"); Smith v. U.S. District Court, 956 F.2d 295 (D.C.Cir.1992); Freeman v. Department of Corrections, 949 F.2d 360 (10th Cir.1991). Under our liberal pleading rules, during the initial stages of litigation, a district court should construe all allegations in the pleadings in favor of the complainant. Gibbs v. Roman, 116 F.3d 83 (3d Cir.1997). See Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir.1996) (discussing Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) standard); Markowitz v. Northeast Land Company, 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir.1990) (same). Because Winston is proceeding pro se in this case, the foregoing standards will be applied to his papers.

B. Motion to Dismiss

In reviewing a motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the claims at issue must be viewed in the light most favorable to the complainant and all the well-pleaded allegations must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 95 (2007). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (rejecting the traditional 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S., ----, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 173 L. Ed. 2d 868 (May 18, 2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act).

A court need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir.2004) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir.1997)). Nor must a court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). See also McTernan v. City of York, Pennsylvania, 577 F.3d 521, 531 (3d Cir.2009) ("[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.") (quoting Iqbal, --- U.S. at ----, 129 S. Ct. at 1949) (alteration in the original). A plaintiff's factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. Although the United States Supreme Court does "not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

In other words, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff is "required to make a "showing‟ rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Smith v. Sullivan, 2008 WL 482469, at *1 (D. Del. February 22, 2008) (quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir.2008)). "This does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n. 3).

Recently, the Third Circuit expounded on the Twombly/Iqbal/Phillips line of cases:

To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must now set out sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible. This then allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct.

After Iqbal, when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The district court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a district court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief. In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to show such an entitlement with its facts. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not shown-that the pleader is entitled to relief. This plausibility requirement will be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir.2009).


This lawsuit stems from an assault which was allegedly perpetrated on Winston on December 20, of 2007. On that date, it is claimed, Winston was patronizing the Keystone Bar in the City of Bradford when he was assaulted by one Todd Hennard, owner of the Bradford Window Company, and two of Hennard‟s employees. The attack was allegedly motivated by legal action which Winston took against Hennard for wages owed.

Winston claims that, while he was in the bar, the three men attacked him from behind, threw him to the ground, and beat his head against a foot rest, causing "sever[e] pain to [pre-existing] spinal injuries." (Complaint [3] at p. 2, ¶ 1.) After the attack was temporarily broken up, Winston went outside to call 911 but was allegedly attacked again by the three men, who threw him to the ground and beat his head against the sidewalk.

Winston avers that, after the Bradford city police arrived, they questioned him and he explained that he had been beaten in retaliation for legal action he had taken against Hennard. In addition, a witness allegedly told the police that "it was three against one [and] Mike never had a chance." (Complaint [3] at p. 3, ¶3.) Despite this information, it is claimed, the police began to accuse Winston of wrongdoing. The day following the attack, Winston filed a private complaint at the police department but, he claims, no action was ever taken against his assailants.

Winston asserts that he has "called [and written] across the entire State of Pa." at all levels of law enforcement, all levels of the judicial systems "all the way to the US [sic] Supreme Court," and all levels of government ("local, state and federal"), but "to this day[,] nothing." (Complaint at p. 3, ¶ 5.) He has tried to hire lawyers but has evidently been unsuccessful. He states that one lawyer "helped, and filed a civil action," but then died and, according to Winston, the "justice system refuses to let me proceed without a lawyer." (Id.)

Winston avers that he has filed five federal civil actions but has been "retaliated against" for doing so. He claims to have endured "over six years of torture, assaults" and being "beaten down." (Complaint at p. 3, ¶ 7.) As relief, he seeks (among other things) an award of $7 million, as well as an order directing the federal government to request an investigation into the alleged misconduct on the part of law enforcement and the judicial system.

Winston has appended various materials to his complaint, presumably as evidence of the injustice and corruption which has allegedly been occurring within McKean County. Among the materials are news articles discussing controversies and/or complaints involving various public officials operating out of McKean County. One story discusses a controversy in which Tom Riel, the Mayor of Bradford, accused certain "rogue" law enforcement officers of plotting to frame him for drug offenses, allegedly for political reasons. Other articles discuss how Defendant Pavlock, then the McKean County District Attorney, initially responded to the controversy and how he and Riel later resolved the disagreement. Another article concerns complaints that various motorists had lodged against state police operating in McKean County on the grounds that troopers were being too aggressive in pulling motorists over and/or were operating out of retaliatory motives. Still another article features a guest commentary by ...

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