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Tilli v. Ford

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 9, 2013

DANIEL TILLI, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM FORD, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

ROBERT F. KELLY, Sr. J.

Presently before this Court are separate Motions to Dismiss filed by Defendant, William Ford, and Defendants, Andrea Naugle and the County of Lehigh, and Plaintiff’s Responses thereto. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss are granted.

I. BACKGROUND

On July 30, 2013, Plaintiff, Daniel Tilli (“Plaintiff”), filed a pro se Complaint against Defendants, William Ford (Defendant Ford), Andrea Naugle (Defendant Naugle) and the County of Lehigh (Defendant Lehigh County) (collectively “Defendants”) in federal court alleging violations of his civil rights.[1] See Compl. at 1. The following facts are derived from Plaintiff’s often rambling and incomprehensible Complaint and supplemented where needed with facts set forth in Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss.

On July 27, 2011, Plaintiff filed a civil action in the Common Pleas Court of Lehigh County against a nursing home, known as Manor Care, and several individuals associated with the operations of Manor Care.[2] Compl. at 1; Def. Ford’s Mot. to Dismiss at 1. Defendant Ford, a Judge in the Court of Common Pleas of Lehigh County, presided over Plaintiff’s action. Def. Ford’s Mot. to Dismiss at 1. On September 15, 2011, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking the recusal of Defendant Ford in the Manor Care litigation. Compl. at 2. Plaintiff’s motion was denied by Defendant Ford on October 31, 2011. Id.

After alleging that defendants failed to answer his Complaint, Plaintiff moved for default judgment on September 28, 2011. Compl. at 1; Def. Ford’s Mot. to Dismiss at 2. After finding default judgment improper because the defendants in the Manor Care litigation filed preliminary objections, Defendant Ford dismissed Plaintiff’s claims on December 1, 2011. Def. Ford’s Mot. to Dismiss at 2. Subsequent to dismissal, Plaintiff filed appeals with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, which were denied.[3] Id.

In the matter before this Court, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated his civil rights. Compl. 2. However, Plaintiff’s pro se Complaint is rife with conclusory allegations and short on facts. Nonetheless, we interpret Plaintiff’s disorganized and sometimes incomprehensible Complaint to assert the following claims.[4] Plaintiff contends that Defendant Ford retaliated against him for filing “a complaint” against Defendant Ford. Id. We believe that Plaintiff is referring to his denied motion for the recusal of Defendant Ford as Judge in the Manor Care litigation. In addition, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Ford and Defendant Naugle, in her capacity as the elected Clerk of Judicial Records for Lehigh County, engaged in a conspiracy to deprive Plaintiff of a default judgment against the defendants in the Manor Care litigation. Compl. at 1.

In remuneration for Defendants’ alleged violations, Plaintiff seeks relief in the sum of $850, 000 in actual damages, $975, 000 in punitive damages or, in the alternative, to grant default judgment in the state court action.

II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff filed a civil Complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on July 30, 2013, against Defendants alleging violations of his civil rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 & 1985. See Compl. at 1. This case was subsequently assigned to the undersigned. Id. On August 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Recuse Judges Robert Kelly and Legrome Davis from hearing this action. See Pl.’s Mot. to Recuse. On August 22, 2013, Defendant Ford filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s Complaint. See Def. Ford’s Mot. to Dismiss. Four days later, the remaining Defendants, Andrea Naugle and the County of Lehigh, filed a separate Motion to Dismiss. See Def. Naugle and Lehigh County’s Mot. to Dismiss. In response, Plaintiff filed two Motions: a “Request and Demand for Default Judgment from Defendants” on August 28, 2013; and a singular Response to Defendants’ separate Motions to Dismiss. See Doc. 8-10.

We denied Plaintiff’s Motion for Default Judgment on September 20, 2013, because Defendants had filed timely motions to dismiss.[5] See Doc. 12. Further, we denied Plaintiff’s Motion for Recusal on September 24, 2013, on the grounds that Plaintiff neglected to provide any supporting evidence that would permit a reasonable person to harbor doubts concerning my partiality. See Doc. 14.

III. DISCUSSION

The sole remaining Motions before this Court are the separate Motions to Dismiss filed by Defendant William Ford and Defendants Lehigh County and Andrea Naugle. In light of the fact that Defendants premised their Motions on the same grounds and with an eye toward clarity and efficiency, we analyze both Motions contemporaneously in this Memorandum Opinion.

Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss are premised on the following two grounds: (1) this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction thereby mandating dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1); and (2) Plaintiff’s failure to set forth any adequate claims from which relief may be granted requires dismissal pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). See Def. Ford’s Mot. to Dismiss; Def. Naugle and Lehigh County’s Mot. to Dismiss; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), (6). We proceed to analyze Defendants’ arguments.

A. Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)

In separately filed Motions to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), Defendant Ford and Defendants Naugle and Lehigh County, argue that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims. See Def. Ford’s Mot. to Dismiss; Def. Naugle and Lehigh County’s Mot. to Dismiss; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). Before further proceeding, we note that Defendants’ Motions are facial challenges to this Court’s subject matter jurisdiction, and as such, we must consider the allegations of the Complaint as true, and in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. See Goodson v. Maggi, 797 F.Supp.2d 624, 630 (W.D. Pa. 2011) (citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass’n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). When “considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the person asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of showing that the case is properly before the court at all stages of the litigation.” Fed. Realty Inv. Tr. v. Juniper Props. Group, No. 99-3389, 2000 WL 45996, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 21, 2000) (citing Packard v. Provident Nat’l Bank, 994 F.2d 1039, 1045 (3d Cir. 1993)).

Defendants argument for dismissal relies on two decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, Rooker v. Fidelity Tr. Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923) and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). These decisions have coalesced into what is commonly known as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Rooker-Feldman holds that a United States District Court has “‘no authority to review final judgments of a state court in judicial proceedings’ and . . . lacks subject matter jurisdiction insofar as a plaintiff seeks review of a state court’s judgment.” Santos v. Secretary of D.H.S., No. 10-7266, 2012 WL 2997036, at *6 (E.D. Pa. July 23, 2012) (quoting Great Western Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild, LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 166 (3d Cir. 2010)). “The doctrine is implicated when, in order to grant the federal plaintiff the relief sought, the federal court must determine that the state court judgment was erroneously entered or must take action that would render the judgment ineffectual.” In re Madera, 586 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2009). This includes claims alleging the unconstitutionality of state court actions. See Goodson, 797 F.Supp.2d at 632. However, “the court is not precluded from exercising subject matter jurisdiction ‘simply because a party attempts to litigate in federal court a matter previously litigated in state court.’” Gage v. Warren Twp. Comm. & Planning Bd. Members, 463 F. App’x 68, 71 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic ...


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