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James Lang Civil Action v. Elizabeth Lang Houser

March 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Norma L. Shapiro, J.


Plaintiff James Lang brings this action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(2) against his siblings Elizabeth Lang Houser and Paul Lang, Jr.,*fn1 three individuals who served as Register of Wills, the Montgomery County Office of Register of Wills and Clerk of Orphans' Court, and his former attorney, Michael P. Creedon, Esq. The action concerns the Estate of Paul G. Lang, Sr. and Kathryn Lang ("Lang parents"). Defendant Ronald Holt ("Holt") was the Montgomery County Register of Wills ("Register") from 2000--03; defendant Frances Pierce ("Pierce") was Register from 2004--07, and defendant D. Bruce Hanes, Esq. ("Hanes") was Register from 2008--11. Defendant Michael P. Creedon, Esq. ("Creedon") represented James Lang from the late 1990s to 2009.

James Lang alleges defendants conspired to deprive him of property without due process, in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. He seeks judgment against all defendants in an amount exceeding $500,000.00 and "[a]ppropriate injunctive relief." See Am. Compl. at 26. Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint. James Lang has moved to strike the Paul Lang, Jr. motion to dismiss and to disqualify counsel representing Elizabeth Lang Houser. The court will deny the motion to strike (paper no. 37), grant the motions to dismiss (paper nos. 12, 14, 15, 36), and deny the motion to disqualify counsel (paper no. 32) as moot.

I. Background

In 1991, the Lang parents wrote a joint will ("1991 will") and named James Lang and Robert Lang as sole heirs. James Lang submitted the 1991 will to the Register, executed an oath, and verified the will signature.*fn2

On March 1, 1994, the Lang parents executed a deed leaving their house at 623 Griscom Lane, Radnor, Pennsylvania, to James Lang and Robert Lang.

In 1995,*fn3 Paul Lang, Jr. petitioned the Montgomery County Orphans' Court to have the Lang parents declared incapacitated persons. On June 20, 1995, at the suggestion of Elizabeth Lang Houser, James Lang met with John P. Crampton, Esq. ("Crampton"), of Dilworth Paxson LLP, for legal representation; the meeting lasted four hours; Crampton charged James Lang $1,500. Id. ¶ 22, 25. On August 17, 1995, the Orphans' Court held the Lang parents were incapacitated persons and appointed James Lang and Robert Lang as guardians.

Paul G. Lang, Sr. died in October 1996, and Kathryn Lang died in March 2002. After the deaths of Paul G. Lang, Sr. and Kathryn Lang, James Lang gave the deed to his attorney, Creedon, with instructions to record it, but Creedon did not do so.*fn4 Am. Compl. ¶ 80. It is unclear from the complaint whether James Lang has attempted to enforce the unrecorded deed in probate court.

In October 2002, Creedon wrote a letter to Register Holt and requested that James Lang be appointed administrator of the Lang Estate. Holt appointed Sonya G. Moody Distance, Esq., and Peter Klenk, Esq., as administrators. On appeal, the Orphans' Court vacated the appointments of Distance and Klenk, and directed Holt to appoint James Lang as administrator upon his applying and qualifying for same. Holt did not appoint James Lang as administrator; it is unclear from the complaint whether James Lang had applied and qualified for the appointment.

On August 30, 2002, James Lang petitioned the Orphans' Court to probate the 1991 will. On April 22, 2005, Crampton sent a letter to Register Pierce and requested she appoint Elizabeth Lang Houser as administrator of the Lang Estate. Creedon received a copy of the letter, but James Lang did not. On April 27, 2005, Pierce appointed Elizabeth Lang Houser as administrator.

James Lang appealed the appointment of Elizabeth Lang Houser as administrator by filing a Motion to Strike; the court denied the motion as an "improper pleading" on November 1, 2005. The court scheduled a hearing when Holt was unavailable; James Lang sent a letter requesting the court to: (1) hold the record open for 30 days after the hearing to allow him to subpoena and depose Holt; or (2) continue the hearing until Holt could appear in person. The court denied his request and petition, and later ordered him removed from the Lang house.

James Lang moved this court to enjoin the Orphans' Court removal order. See Mot. Prelim. Inj. (paper no. 2). The court denied the motion because enjoining removal would have required the court to assume in rem jurisdiction over property in custody of the Orphans' Court. See Order (paper no. 7) at 1.

Dilworth Paxson LLP represents Elizabeth Lang Houser in this action despite meeting with James Lang to give him legal advice in Lang family matters. See Mot. Disqualify (paper no. 32). James Lang alleges Crampton obtained information about him during the meeting and used it against him in subsequent litigation. See Am. Compl. ¶ 25. Crampton filed an affidavit averring James Lang did not divulge personal information or mention the 1994 will or the unrecorded deed at the meeting. See Crampton Aff. ¶ 5.

II. Discussion

A. Motion to strike

James Lang filed his complaint on July 22, 2011, and amended his complaint on August 10, 2011. All defendants except Paul Lang, Jr. moved to dismiss the complaint, and the court held oral argument on those motions. Paul Lang, Jr., having yet to respond to the complaint, appeared at oral argument unrepresented.*fn5 He then retained counsel and moved to dismiss the complaint on February 7, 2012, more than six months after it was filed and seven weeks after oral argument. James Lang moves to strike the motion as untimely, or, in the alternative, for leave to file a second amended complaint.

A defendant must respond within 21 days of being served with a summons and complaint. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(a). On motion or on its own, a court may strike an insufficient defense. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f). In deciding a motion to strike, a court has "considerable discretion." River Rd. Dev. Corp. v. Carlson Corp. Ne., No. 89-7037, 1990 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6201, at *7, 1990 WL 69085, at *3 (E.D. Pa. May 23, 1990). Motions to strike are disfavored and usually denied unless the allegations confuse the issues or do not relate to the controversy. See id.

In his motion to dismiss, Paul Lang, Jr. makes arguments substantially similar to those made by the other defendants in their motions to dismiss. The Paul Lang, Jr. motion to dismiss relates to the controversy and does not ...

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