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Anthony Angelo Degenes v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

September 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge


I. Introduction

Pending before the court is a motion for judgment on the pleadings (ECF No. 59) filed by Brentwood Borough ("Brentwood") and a "motion to dismiss Plaintiff's second amended complaint or, in the alternative, motion for summary judgment" (ECF No. 51) filed by The Federal Bureau of Investigation ("FBI"). For the reasons set forth below, both Brentwood's motion to dismiss and the FBI's motion to dismiss will be granted.

II. Factual and procedural background

This claim arises from a series of requests submitted by plaintiff Anthony Angello Degenes ("plaintiff" or "Degenes"), to both the FBI, and Brentwood in an effort to discover any records in their possession regarding him. The first request was submitted under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. § 552, and was sent on May 19, 2011 to Michael A. Rodriguez, an agent in charge of the FBI's Pittsburgh Field Office asking "whether [he is] under surveillance or was [he] ever under surveillance." (Ex. A, ECF No. 51-2.) The request also questioned whether he was monitored or was being investigated. (Id.) This inquiry was forwarded to David M. Hardy ("Hardy") at the Records Management Division of the FBI. Hardy responded to the request on June 1, 2011 by forwarding Degenes the proper form for the request, which had to be signed before the request could be honored. (See ECF No. 51-1 at 7.) Eight days later on June 9, 2011, Degenes submitted the supplied form with the required signature. (Ex. C, ECF No. 51-4.) After an automated search for records was conducted which located no responsive records, a letter was sent to Degenes on June 21, 2011 informing him there were no responsive records. This letter also explained that the "manual" indices of the Pittsburgh Field Office were unable to be accessed because they were being "prepared for automation" at that time. (See Exhibit E, ECF No. 51-6.) Instructions for filing an appeal were included within this notice. Six days later on June 27, 2011, Degenes replied in a letter requesting clarification about the results of the search, (Ex. E, ECF No. 51-7.) The FBI did not respond. (Ex. 1, ECF No. 51-1 at 12.)

The second request was sent by Degenes to the Brentwood Police Department on June 6, 2011 asking to have a background check done on himself. In a reply, Degenes was told that "the police only investigate those who have applied to be police officers." (ECF No. 1 at 2.)

On July 13, 2011, Degenes, filed a pro se complaint in this court against Brentwood Borough and the Brentwood Police Department (the "Brentwood Defendants") in addition to Robert S. Mueller and Michael Rodriguez of the FBI (the "Federal Defendants"). In the complaint Degenes alleged that the defendants violated the FOIA, and the Pennsylvania Right- to-Know Law, 65 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 67.101, et seq. As relief, plaintiff asked the court to "grant [him] the right to know whether the FBI or the Brentwood Police had ever conducted any type of surveillance and/or investigation of [him]. An[d] is such a surveillance is still going on." (ECF No. 1 at 2.)

On August 4, 2011, the Brentwood Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. (ECF No. 10.) In their motion, they alleged the court does not have jurisdiction over this case because plaintiff failed to allege that there was diversity of citizenship and because there is no federal question involved. In addition, the Brentwood Defendants argued plaintiffs failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Id.) Specifically, they argued that the FOIA does not apply to records held by state or local government agencies. With respect to the claim of a violation under the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know Law, the Brentwood Defendants argued that this court lacked jurisdiction over such a claim because a challenge to the denial by a state or local agency of a request to produce records must be brought before a state court, not a federal court.

On August 9, 2011, plaintiff filed an "amended complaint" wherein he purported to "amend his Complaint to include a charge of civil rights discrimination." (ECF No. 13 at 1.) In particular, plaintiff alleged that "[t]he Brentwood Police and Brentwood Borough . . . denied plaintiff his civil rights under the 14th, 15th and all other Amendments which are stated in the Bill Of Rights." (ECF No. 13 at 1.) The following day, August 10, 2011, plaintiff filed a motion seeking leave to amend his complaint. (ECF No. 14.) The court granted that motion on September 19, 2011.

On September 23, 2011, the Brentwood Defendants filed an answer denying any and all allegations contained in the amended complaint and raising several affirmative defenses. (ECF No. 24.) On October 25, 2011, the Brentwood Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. (ECF No. 28.) After obtaining two extensions, the Federal Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted or, in the alternative, a motion for summary judgment. (ECF No. 31.)

On December 7, 2011, plaintiff filed a "motion to the court not to dismiss plaintiff's case." (ECF No. 35.) In his motion, plaintiff argued the amended complaint should not be dismissed because he was never told by the FBI whether there were records about him and that dismissal would amount to a denial of "justice because he did not receive from the FBI the record he was entitled to have." (Id. at 1.) Plaintiff acknowledged he was not aware that Right-to-Know claims under Pennsylvania law must be pursued in Pennsylvania state courts. (Id.)

On January 27, 2012, in a memorandum opinion, the court granted the Brentwood Defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction (ECF No. 10) and motion for judgment on the pleadings (ECF No. 28) without prejudice, except the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know claims, the FOIA claims, and any claims against Brentwood Police Department, which were dismissed with prejudice. (ECF No. 44 at 13.) The Federal Defendants' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (ECF No. 31) was granted with prejudice with respect to the dismissal of the FOIA claims against the individual party defendants and the Pennsylvania Right-to-Know claims. (Id.) Following this order, Degenes was given the opportunity to file a second amended complaint within thirty days, provided he could plead facts consistent with Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and name proper parties. (Id.)

On February 24, 2012, Degenes, filed a second amended complaint which included claims against only the FBI and Brentwood. (ECF No. 46.) The complaint against the FBI was purportedly based solely on alleged violations of the FOIA. With respect to Brentwood, Degenes claimed the borough had violated his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id.) After being granted an extension, the FBI filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on March 30, 2012. (ECF No. 50.) Degenes responded on April 26, 2012 with a "Motion not to dismiss Plaintiff's civil rights case against Brentwood Borough." (ECF No. 57.) Brentwood filed a motion "for judgment on the pleadings on second amended complaint." (ECF No. 59.)

I.Pro se plaintiffs

Before addressing the applicable standards, this court must be mindful of plaintiff's pro se status. Pro se plaintiffs are held to a less stringent standard than individuals represented by counsel. Fed. Express Corp. v. Holowecki, 552 U.S. 389, 402 (2008) ("pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties"). A pro se plaintiff, however, is still required to adhere to standard rules of civil procedure. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). While the court must accept as true all factual allegations in a complaint, it "need not credit a complaint's . . . legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)). Even though a plaintiff is pro se, he must "set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim." Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (citing 5A CHARLES A. WRIGHT & ARTHUR R. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1357, at 340 (2d ed. 1990)). Thus, plaintiff is required to present enough factual allegations for the court, accepting those allegations as true, to determine whether there is a plausible claim that defendants violated plaintiff's federal rights. Id.

II.Brentwood's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on the Second Amended ...

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