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James D. Schneller and v. Philadelphia Newspapers

August 28, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.


This case arises from actions surrounding a congressional election. Plaintiff, James D. Schneller, brings claims against a number of Defendants, including Philadelphia Newspapers, under various federal and state laws alleging injury to reputation and violations of constitutional rights. Defendants filed various motions to dismiss, which I now address.


Plaintiff was an independent candidate in the 2010 general election for Congress' 7th district of Pennsylvania. (Compl. at ¶ 1). "Friends of Jim Schneller" was the Plaintiff's registered candidate committee. (Compl. at ¶ 2). Schneller submitted Nomination Papers on August 2, 2010, in accordance with 25 P.S. § 2911(b).*fn1 Shortly thereafter, the Delaware County Republicans asserted that Democratic opponent, Bryan Lentz, and workers for the Democratic Party collected many of Schneller's signatures. (Compl. at ¶¶ 18-19).

Schneller alleges that the Defendants*fn2 then made these the "ongoing, headline fact of the race."*fn3 (Compl. at ¶ 25). Specifically, Schneller alleges that one or more of the Defendants defamed Plaintiff by charging that Schneller had the Democrats to thank for getting on the ballot, that Schneller colluded with the democratic circulators, that Schneller was a "spoiler" who would split the Republican vote, and that Schneller's conduct was "wrong, unwise, or irresponsible." (Compl. at ¶¶ 20-21, 25). Schneller also asserts that one or more of the Defendants declared that Schneller was guilty of misrepresentation and fraud because he suggested a Tea Party leader supported his campaign, and that he violated the Federal Election Campaign Act. (Compl. at ¶¶ 53, 67). Throughout the campaign Schneller alleges that the Defendants labeled Schneller an "ultraconservative," a "candidate from the right," and a member of the Tea Party. (Compl. at ¶¶ 52, 59).*fn4

The Defendants have filed motions to dismiss (Doc. Nos. 19, 20, &21). For the following reasons, I will grant these motions and dismiss this case.*fn5


A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must construe the complaint liberally, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of

the plaintiff. Id.; see also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll., 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which he bases his claim. Conley, 355 U.S. at 47. Rather, the Rules require a "short and plain statement" of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Id. The "complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Neither "bald assertions" nor "vague and conclusory allegations" are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Sterling v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 897 F. Supp. 893 (E.D. Pa. 1995). The claim must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or to "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" those elements. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555).

A case may be also dismissed under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(h)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "[w]henever it appears by suggestion of the parties or otherwise that the court lacks jurisdiction of the subject matter. . . ." FED.R.CIV.P. 12(h)(3). Alternatively, a court choosing not to grant a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction may, under Rule 12(e), grant a motion for a more definitive statement if "a pleading to which a responsive pleading is permitted is so vague or ambiguous that a party cannot reasonably be required to frame a responsive pleading. . . ." FED.R.CIV.P. 12(e).

Moreover, courts must liberally construe pro se complaints and "apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether [the] litigant has mentioned it by name." Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002). Thus, a plaintiff's complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to a less stringent standard than a formal pleading drafted by an attorney.*fn6 Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976).


A. Plaintiff Has Not Set Forth Facts Sufficient to State a Claim Under ...

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