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Jean Coulter v. Christine Gale

IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


November 19, 2012

JEAN COULTER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHRISTINE GALE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Cathy Bissoon

Magistrate Judge Mitchell

ORDER

Jean Coulter ("Plaintiff") brings the instant cause of action pursuant to the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, et seq. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated her rights under First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States, as well as her "fundamental rights as a parent," due to their alleged acts and omissions in connection with proceedings to terminate her parental rights in the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, Pennsylvania.*fn1 (Doc. 1 at 14-16). It appears from the complaint that Plaintiff may be attempting to raise state law fraud, contract and malpractice claims as well. Id. at 14-16.

On October 11, 2012, the magistrate judge issued an order that Plaintiff show good cause why her complaint should not be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 2 at 1) Plaintiff timely filed a response thereto on November 1, 2012. (Doc. 3).

As Plaintiff is well aware,*fn2 two threshold requirements must be met in order to state a claim under Section 1983: first, the alleged misconduct giving rise to the cause of action must have been committed by a person acting under color of state law; and second, the defendant's conduct must have deprived the plaintiff of rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535 (1981), overruledinpartonothergrounds, Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-331 (1986). An otherwise private person acts "under color of" state law when he or she enters into a conspiracy with state officials to deprive another of his or her federal rights. See Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27-28 (1980). However, when pleading such a conspiracy, a plaintiff cannot rely on subjective suspicions and unsupported speculation. Young v. Kann, 926 F.2d 1396, 1405 n.16 (3d Cir. 1991)); see also Loftus v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 843 F. Supp. 981, 987 (E.D. Pa. 1994) ("[w]hile the pleading standard under Rule 8 is a liberal one, mere incantation of the words 'conspiracy' or 'acted in concert' does not talismanically satisfy the Rule's requirements"). Nor may a plaintiff rely on broad or conclusory allegations. D.R. by L.R. v. Middle Bucks Area Voc'l Tech'l Sch., 972 F.2d 1364, 1377 (3d Cir. 1992); Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 366 (3d Cir. 1989); Durre v. Dempsey, 869 F.2d 543, 545 (10th Cir. 1989). A complaint alleging a conspiracy must make "factual allegations of combination, agreement, or understanding among all or between any of the defendants [or coconspirators] to plot, plan, or conspire to carry out the alleged chain of events." Spencer v. Steinman, 968 F. Supp. 1011, 1020 (E.D. Pa. 1997). The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has noted that a civil rights conspiracy claim is sufficiently alleged if the complaint details the following: (1) the specific conduct that violated the plaintiff's rights; (2) the time and the place of the conduct; and (3) the identity of the officials responsible for the conduct. Oatess v. Sobolevitch, 914 F.2d 428, 431 n.8 (3d Cir. 1990).

Only Defendant Doerr*fn3 -- the judge who presided over Plaintiff's termination proceedings -- qualifies as a state actor in the instant case. While Plaintiff attempts to salvage her constitutional claims against the other Defendants with accusations of conspiracy, her allegations, even if true, do not "nudge[] [her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible . . . ." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). To the contrary, Plaintiff's allegations of fact do not so much as hint at the existence of a conspiracy between Defendant Doerr and any other person. Moreover, it is clear from her allegations that any leave to amend would be futile. As such, Plaintiff's federal claims will be dismissed with prejudice. See Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc., 482 F.3d 247, 251 (3d Cir. 2007).

Finally, in light of the fact that all of Plaintiff's federal claims have been disposed of, this Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over her claims under state law, pursuant to 28 U.S.C § 1367(c)(3). These claims will be dismissed without prejudice to Plaintiff raising them in state court, if appropriate.

AND NOW, this 19th day of November, 2012,

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that this case is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiff's state law claims are dismissed without prejudice to refiling in state court, if appropriate.

BY THE COURT:

CATHY BISSOON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

cc:

JEAN COULTER 4000 Presidential Boulevard Apartment #507 Philadelphia, PA 19131


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