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Thomas Dash v. Ronda J. Winnecour

December 2, 2011


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


Presently pending before the Court in the above-captioned matter is a motion by the Defendant Ronda J. Winnecour, the Chapter 13 Standing Trustee for the Western District of Pennsylvania, to dismiss the case for failure to state a cognizable legal claim or, alternatively, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and/or improper venue. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted and the case will be dismissed.


Plaintiff Thomas Dash, a resident of Erie County, filed for protection under Chapter 13 of the Bankruptcy Code on May 13, 2005. Defendant Winnecour was appointed as the Chapter 13 Trustee. Upon successfully completing his Chapter 13 Plan, Dash received a discharge from the Bankruptcy Court on September 14, 2010. See In re Thomas Michael Dash, Case No. 05-11619-TPA (Bankr. W.D. Pa.), Order dated Sept. 14, 2010 [58].

On October 22, 2010, Dash commenced the instant action against Winnecour. The complaint alleges that, as part of his Chapter 13 plan, Dash was required to make monthly payments to Winnecour so that Winnecour, in turn, could make monthly payments on Dash‟s behalf to PNC Bank and Washington Mutual Bank (later Chase Bank), his secured mortgage creditors. (Complaint ¶ 4.) Dash claims he learned in 2008 that the required payments were not being made on a monthly basis by Winnecour, resulting in his accounts being assessed additional late fees, per diems, and recomputed interest. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Dash further contends that his secured mortgage creditors have told him that the additional charges are his responsibility to pay, as the underlying mortgage and home equity loans are in his name. (Id. at ¶ 7.) According to the complaint, Dash "is looking for the defendant to take responsibility and pay all penalties, late fees, per diems and accrued interest that were the result of the payments not being made in accordance with the Chapter 13 plan." (Id. at ¶ 8.)

Winnecour has filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted and/or this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the matter. Dash was directed to respond to the motion on or before May 4, 2011. Since then, he has filed a letter response [8] as well as various documents [9] and other supplemental material [10] which he believes support his claim against Winnecour.


A. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(6)

Winncour contends that the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, we are required to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them after construing them in the light most favorable to the non-movant (Dash). Pocono Mountain Charter School v. Pocono Mountain School Dist., No. 10-4478,2011 WL 3737443 at *2 (3d Cir. Aug. 25, 2011) (slip copy) (citing Rocks v. City of Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir.1989)). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.‟" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ------ U.S. --------, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

B. Motion to Dismiss Under Rule 12(b)(1)

Winnecour also claims that the complaint, on its face, fails to establish a basis for federal subject matter jurisdiction. When evaluating a facial challenge to subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), "we review only whether the allegations on the face of the complaint, taken as true, allege facts sufficient to invoke the jurisdiction of the district court.‟" Common Cause of Pennsylvania v. Pennsylvania, 558 F.3d 249, 257 (3d Cir.2009) (quoting Taliaferro v. Darby Twp. Zoning Bd., 458 F.3d 181, 188 (3d Cir.2006)).


Upon review of the pending motion and Dash‟s response thereto, this Court concludes the instant case should be dismissed inasmuch as Dash has asserted his claim in the wrong forum. Dash‟s claim against Winnecour is related to his Chapter 13 case which was commenced, and administered, in the Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania pursuant to the District Court‟s standing Order of Reference dated October 16, 1984. The reference of Dash‟s case to the Bankruptcy Court has never been withdrawn by this Court, nor should it be now. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §157(d), a district court "may withdraw, in whole or in part, any case or proceeding referred under this section . for cause shown." Relevant factors include "‟the goals of promoting uniformity in bankruptcy administration, reducing forum shopping and confusion, fostering the economical use of the debtors' and creditors' resources, and expediting the bankruptcy process.‟" In re Pruitt, 910 F.2d 1160, 1168 (3d Cir.1990) (quoting Holland America Ins. Co. v. Succession of Roy, 777 F.2d 992, 999 (5th Cir. 1985)).

No cause for withdrawal of the reference exists here based on the foregoing considerations and, in fact, present circumstances counsel against it. As Winnecour points out, the determination as to whether Winnecour properly performed her duties as Trustee in Dash‟s Chapter 13 case is made by the Bankruptcy Judge upon the filing of the Trustee‟s final account. In Dash‟s Chapter 13 case, Winnecour filed her final report and account on July 27, 2010, and the Bankruptcy Court approved it as part of its September 14, 2010 Order Discharging Debtor, which also discharged Winnecour from her duties as Trustee. See In re Thomas Michael Dash, supra, Document Nos. [52] and [58]. Were this Court to now entertain Dash‟s claim against Winnecour, which runs counter to the Bankruptcy Court‟s previous ruling, it would frustrate the aforementioned goals of promoting uniformity in bankruptcy ...

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