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Hynoski v. Columbia County Redevelopment Auth.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 19, 2013

BONNIE HYNOSKI, STEPHEN HYNOSKI, CHRISTINE HYNOSKI, TOM HYNOSKI, THE BOROUGH OF CENTRALIA, HAROLD MERVINE, JOHN KOSCHOFF, HELEN HYNOSKI AND WALTER HYNOSKI, Plaintiffs
v.
COLUMBIA COUNTY REDEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY, ROSENN JENKINS AND GREENWALD, LLP, JOHN T ZELINKA, GARY TAROLI, BLASCHAK COAL CORP., STEVEN FISHMAN, COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPT. OF COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND C. ALAN WALKER, Defendants

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For Bonnie Hynoski, Stephen Hynoski, Christine Hynoski, Tom Hynoski, The Borough of Centralia, Harold Mervine, as Executor of the Estate of Lamar Mervine, Jr. and Lana Mervine, John Koschoff, Helen Hynoski, Walter Hynoski, Plaintiffs: Don A Bailey, LEAD ATTORNEY, Harrisburg, PA.

For Columbia County Redevelopment Authority, Defendant: Robert J. Tribeck, Stephanie E. DiVittore, Rhoads & Sinon LLP, Harrisburg, PA.

For Rosenn Jenkins and Greenwald, LLP, John T Zelinka, Gary Taroli, Defendants: Christopher J. Conrad, Edwin A.D. Schwartz, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman and Goggin, Harrisburg, PA.

For Blaschak Coal Corporation, Defendant: Barbara Sicalides, Matthew R. Williams, Michael J Hartman, Pepper Hamilton LLP, Philadelphia, PA; Brian P. Downey, PRO HAC VICE, Pepper Hamilton LLP, Harrisburg, PA.

For Steven Fishman, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Community and Economic Development, C. Alan Walker, Defendants: Sarah C. Yerger, Office of Attorney General, Harrisburg, PA.

OPINION

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MEMORANDUM

Matthew W. Brann, United States District Judge.

This section 1983 action, under the Civil Rights Act of 1871 (42 U.S.C. § 1983), commenced on October 27, 2010, proceeds on the amended complaint and arises from eminent domain proceedings conducted in Pennsylvania state court. Before the court is defendants' Rosenn Jenkins and Greenwald, LLP (" RJG" ), Gary Taroli (" Taroli" ), John T. Zelinka (" Zelinka" ), Columbia County Redevelopment Authority (" CCRA" ), Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Economic Development (" DECD" ), Stephen Fishman (" Fishman" ), C. Alan Walker (" Walker" ), and Blaschak Coal Corp.'s (" Blaschak" ) motions to dismiss. Defs.['] Mot. Dismiss, ECF Nos. 56, 57, 58, 59. Defendants have also jointly moved to stay discovery pending the outcome of these motions. Defs ['] Mot. Stay, ECF No. 108.

I. BACKGROUND

In 1962, an underground mine fire was discovered in the Borough of Centralia,

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Columbia County, Pennsylvania. [1] After prolonged but unsuccessful attempts to extinguish the fire, the government, in 1983, implemented a voluntary relocation program which was carried out by the CCRA, as an agent of the Department of Community Affairs (" DCA" ). [2] Thereafter, the CCRA and DCA initiated eminent domain proceedings against the remaining property owners who did not take part in the voluntary relocation efforts, including plaintiffs Bonnie, Stephen, Walter, and Christine Hynoski, and Lamar and Lana Mervine. In 1993, the CCRA -- at the behest of the Commonwealth -- filed declarations of taking against these properties. Plaintiffs all filed preliminary objections claiming that:

1. The CCRA acted ultra vires of its powers and vested authority, pursuant to and in accordance with the Urban Redevelopment Law, 35 P.S. § § 1701-1719.1,
2. As the condemnor, the DCA did not have the power or right to acquire the properties through the exercise of eminent domain, because it had not been delegated the authority to exercise this right by the Commonwealth; and
3. The takings were not conducted in accordance with due process of law and without proper security first being made, in violation of the Pennsylvania Eminent Domain Code, 26 P.S. § § 1-101 through 1-903, the Pennsylvania Constitution, and the Constitution of the United States of America.

See Def. Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 70-2, pp. 2-3; In re Condemnation Proceeding (Borough of Centralia), 658 A.2d 481, 483 (Pa.Commw. 1994). The Court of Common Pleas of Columbia County, Pennsylvania denied each of plaintiffs' objections, and the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania affirmed. See Def. Mot. Dismiss Exs. B, C, D, E, G, ECF Nos. 70-2, 70-3, 70-4, 70-5, 70-7. The state court proceedings came to an end when the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania denied plaintiffs' petition for an appeal in September 1995. See Def. Mot. Dismiss Ex. G, ECF No. 70-7. On July 1, 2010, a declaration of taking was filed, for the first time, against plaintiff John Koschoff's property.

The instant litigation followed and was commenced on October 27, 2010. Compl., ECF No. 1. Two days later, on October 29, 2010, and prior to any responsive pleadings being filed, plaintiffs filed a motion for preliminary injunction. Pl. Mot. Prelim. Inj., ECF No. 2. While that motion was pending, all defendants moved to dismiss the complaint. Defs.['] Mot. Dismiss, ECF Nos. 30, 35, 36, 43. Plaintiffs responded to the motions to dismiss by filing an amended complaint on February 3, 2011. [3] Motions to dismiss the amended complaint by all defendants followed. Defs.['] Mot. Dismiss, ECF Nos. 56-59.

The operative complaint alleges violations of plaintiffs' due process, equal protection, and First Amendment rights. It

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is plaintiffs' belief that the underground mine fire, discovered in the Borough of Centralia, never posed a threat to the health or safety of its residents, but was instead used a pretext to justify removing all residents from the land under which the fire burned, and allow access to billions of dollars worth of coal which could then be mined by defendant Blaschack. See Am. Compl. ¶ ¶ 44-45, ECF No. 54, Central to plaintiffs' claims is the allegation that one property (the " Netchel property" ) was treated differently from the plaintiffs' property in that the declaration of taking filed against the Netchel property was subsequently withdrawn by the CCRA while the taking of plaintiffs' property remained in force. See Am. Compl., ¶ ¶ 46-57, ECF No. 54.

II. DISCUSSION

A. LEGAL STANDARDS

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6), tests the legal sufficiency of a claim, (see Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-27, 109 S.Ct. 1827, 104 L.Ed.2d 338 (1989); Petruska v. Gannon University, 462 F.3d 294, 302 (3rd Cir. 2006)), and " streamlines litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and fact finding." Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 326-27. A complaint should only be dismissed if, accepting as true all of the allegations in the complaint, plaintiff has not pled enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face. See Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Such a standard requires the court to engage in the following three step analysis to determine the sufficiency of a complaint:

First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.

Connelly v. Steel Valley School Dist., 706 F.3d 209, 212 (3rd Cir. January 24, 2013) (quoting Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 221 (3rd Cir. 2011)).

" The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the [factual] allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (internal citations omitted). In ruling on such a motion, the court primarily considers the allegations of the pleading, but is not required to consider legal conclusions alleged in the complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3rd Cir. 1993). " Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. At the motion to dismiss stage, the court considers whether plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support the allegations in the complaint. Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000).

" Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 662. In considering a Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) motion, it must be taken into account that federal courts require only notice pleading, as opposed to the heightened standard of fact pleading. Hellmann v. Kercher, 2008 WL 2756282, *3 (W.D. Pa. July 15, 2008) (Lancaster, J.) Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 " requires only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to

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relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the...claim is and the grounds on which it rests," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47, 78 S.Ct. 99, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957)). However, even under this lower notice pleading standard, a plaintiff must do more than recite the elements of a cause of action, and then make a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief under it. Hellmann, 2008 WL 2756282 at *3. Instead, a plaintiff must make a factual showing of his entitlement to relief by alleging sufficient facts that, when taken as true, suggest the required elements of a particular legal theory. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. " [W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged -- but it has not " shown" -- " that the pleader is entitled to relief." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 662 (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)). A court may dismiss a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) where there is a " dispositive issue of law." Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 326. If it is beyond a doubt that the non-moving party can prove no set of facts in support of its allegations, then a claim must be dismissed " without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one." Id. at 327.

B. MATERIAL OUTSIDE THE COMPLAINT

Although none of the defendants' motions to dismiss specifically requests that the court take judicial notice of any documents, defendant Blaschak attaches seven (7) exhibits to its motion. See Def. Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 70. Additionally, plaintiffs seek to incorporate exhibits from their motion for preliminary injunction (ECF No. 2) -- along with the preliminary injunction motion itself -- into their oppositions to the motions to dismiss. Because it appears as though both parties intend the court to take judicial notice of their attached and incorporated documents, the court addresses the issue here.

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the court generally considers only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Ben. Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Industries, Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3rd Cir. 1993) (public records have included dispositions of criminal cases, decisions of government agencies, and published reports of administrative bodies); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). The court may also, however, take judicial notice of certain facts, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complainant's claims are based upon these documents. Id. (parties' purchase and sale agreement upon which complaint was based could be judicially noticed); and see Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3rd Cir. 2010). A judicially noticed fact is one that is " not subject to reasonable dispute in that it is either (1) generally known within the territorial jurisdiction of the trial court or (2) capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot reasonably be questioned." Fed.R.Evid. 201(b).

Here, all of the exhibits attached to Blaschak's motion to dismiss fall within the proper scope of the court's notice. The documents include: (1) the declaration of taking against plaintiff Koschoff's property (2) the Hynoski and Mervine plaintiff's objections to the takings; and (3) four Pennsylvania state court opinions related to the objections. See Def. Mot. Dismiss, Exs. A, G, ECF Nos. 70-1 - 70-7. All of these documents are matters of public record

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and their accuracy is not reasonably questioned as they were all filed in formal state court proceedings. See Southern Cross Overseas Agencies, Inc. v. Wah Kwong Shipping Group Ltd., 181 F.3d 410, 413 (3rd Cir. 1999) (taking judicial notice of an earlier court opinion as a matter of public record). Taking judicial notice of these documents does not mean that the court accepts as true all the contentions and allegations of the parties contained therein. Rather, the court notices the fact of their filing and the rulings issued by the court of record.

Plaintiffs' documents, in contrast, present a smattering of exhibits which will not all be given the effect of judicial notice by this court. As to plaintiffs' preliminary injunction motion, plaintiffs do not identify what, exactly, they seek to incorporate, other than the entirety of their ...


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