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[U] Wagner v. Hoffman

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

February 11, 2014



Appeal from the Order of March 5, 2013 In the Court of Common Pleas of Mifflin County Civil Division at No.: CP-44-CV-001249-2012




Gary Wagner appeals the trial court's order of March 5, 2013, granting Brian Hoffman's preliminary objections and dismissing Wagner's first amended complaint. We affirm.

We need not delve deeply into the factual or procedural history of this case, because Wagner's procedural errors preclude review of the merits of his appeal. Stated briefly, Wagner commenced this litigation by a complaint filed before a magisterial district justice ("MDJ") in the name of "'FACT' Fight Against Corrupted Cop Tactics." Therein he purported to seek criminal prosecution of Brian Hoffman, a former Mifflin County police officer who allegedly dragged Wagner out of a private residence and beat and pepper sprayed Wagner without cause. The MDJ dismissed Wagner's claim.

Thereafter, Wagner filed a notice of appeal in the Mifflin County Court of Common Pleas. In the trial court, Wagner filed a complaint, [1] to which Hoffman filed preliminary objections. The Mifflin County Court of Common Pleas granted Hoffman's preliminary objections to Wagner's first complaint and directed Wagner to file an amended complaint. Wagner then filed an amended complaint.

Wagner's amended complaint is a far more rambling affair than his first complaint. While the first complaint principally set forth allegations against Hoffman, his amended complaint additionally accuses virtually every public agency in Mifflin County of rank misconduct and corruption. See, e.g., Amended Complaint, 12/20/2012, at 2 ¶3 ("Mifflin County Justice System was the one to do things illegally. Mifflin County is a joke."), 2 ¶8 ("It is a proven fact that Mifflin County is the ONLY place to commit a murder and get away with it."), 4 ¶20 ("Mifflin County is a circus court, it's a joke. It thinks it is doing legal justice, but it's not."), 4 ¶21 ("Most of the cops are child molesters, murders, rapist, criminals, dealing drugs, and thieving off anybody they can. They are just legalized thugs. . . . These are your corrupt cops on the streets in Mifflin County.") (all quotations verbatim). Indeed, so scandalous were Wagner's allegations regarding various Mifflin County entities, including the Mifflin County Court of Common Pleas itself, that the entire court recused from the case. Consequently, the case was reassigned to the Honorable Frederic J. Ammerman, President Judge of the Clearfield County Court of Common Pleas.

The Clearfield County Court of Common Pleas granted Hoffman's preliminary objections to the amended complaint on the following bases:

9. From a review of the Amended Complaint, and being legally required to consider as true all well-pleaded material facts therein as well as all reasonable inferences therefrom, it is clear that the document is fatally insufficient and fails to state a legal or cognizable claim.
10. [Hoffman's] Preliminary Objections are GRANTED to the following extent:
a. Plaintiff's claim of criminal offenses fails to state a cognizable claim under [Pa.R.C.P.] 1028(a)(4)[(providing for preliminary objections alleging "insufficient specificity in a pleading")].
b. Gary Wagner must be stricken as a Plaintiff, as he was not included as such in the action filed with the Magisterial District Judge. This Court further notes that it appears the applicable statute of limitations for a civil action by Gary Wagner has expired.
c. The claim of "FACT", as a Plaintiff, is legally insufficient under Rule 1028(a)(4) as "FACT" was not in existence on the date of the alleged incident and because a corporate entity cannot be assaulted.[2]
d. The twenty-one (21) paragraphs listed in the Amended Complaint under "A Few Facts" will be stricken as impertinent under Rule 1028(a)(2).
11. From review of the record, it is obvious to the Court that permitting further Amendment to the Amended Complaint would be futile. A civil cause of action cannot seek criminal conviction and punishment, and no additional material averments could be added to support the Plaintiff's claims.
12. Accordingly, it is the ORDER of this Court that the Plaintiff's Amended Complaint be and is hereby DISMISSED, with prejudice.

Order, 3/5/2013, at 2-3.

Wagner filed the instant appeal. The trial court directed Wagner to file a concise statement of errors complained of on appeal pursuant to Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b). Wagner timely complied, filing a rambling, incoherent statement that once again implicated Mifflin County officials in pervasive wrong-doing, and added allegations that Clearfield County, too, was corrupt, and that Judge Ammerman had been duped into presiding over the case by the assertedly corrupt Mifflin County Court of Common Pleas. In response to Wagner's concise statement, the trial court provided this Court with a letter in lieu of opinion that reads as follows:

The [c]oncise statement is completely illogical and does not frame any legitimate issue on which the Court can issue an opinion; therefore, I must advise that I will be submitting no further opinion in this case.

Letter, 5/2/2013, at 1.[3]

Rule 1925 provides, in relevant part, as follows:

(b) Direction to file statement of errors complained of on appeal; instructions to the appellant and the trial court.—If the judge entering the order giving rise to the notice of appeal ("judge") desires clarification of the errors complained of on appeal, the judge may enter an order directing the appellant to file of record in the trial court and serve on the judge a concise statement of the errors complained of on appeal ("Statement").
* * * *
(4) Requirements; waiver.
(i) The Statement shall set forth only those rulings or errors that the appellant intends to challenge.
(ii) The Statement shall concisely identify each ruling
or error that the appellant intends to challenge with sufficient detail to identify all pertinent issues for the judge.
* * * *
(iv) The Statement shall not be redundant or provide lengthy explanations as to any error.
* * * *
(vii) Issues not included in the Statement and/or not raised in accordance with the provisions of this paragraph (b)(4) are waived.

Pa.R.A.P. 1925.

Our Supreme Court has held that the purpose of Rule 1925(b) "is to aid appellate review by providing a trial court the opportunity to focus its opinion upon only those issues that the appellant plans to raise on appeal, and guarantees predictable consequences for failure to comply with the rule, " i.e., waiver of all issues on appeal. Commonwealth v. Castillo, 888 A.2d 775, 778 (Pa. 2005). In Tucker v. R.M. Tours, 939 A.2d 343 (Pa.Super. 2008), we deemed all issues waived for appeal. Therein, we observed that "[o]ur law makes it clear that [Rule 1925(b)] is not satisfied by simply filing any statement. Rather, the statement must be 'concise' and coherent as to permit the trial court to understand the specific issues being raised on appeal." Id. at 346.

In Jones v. Jones, 878 A.2d 86 (Pa.Super. 2005), we offered the following analysis of the governing principles, and applied those principles to a Rule 1925(b) statement with defects similar to those found in the statement that Wagner filed in this case:

"When a court has to guess what issues an appellant is appealing, that is not enough for meaningful review." Commonwealth v. Thompson, 778 A.2d 1215, 1223 (Pa.Super. 2001) ([citation] and quotation marks omitted). "When an appellant fails adequately to identify in a concise manner the issues sought to be pursued on appeal, the trial court is impeded in its preparation of a legal analysis which is pertinent to those issues." In re Estate of Daubert, 757 A.2d 962, 963 (Pa.Super. 2000).
Here, Wife filed a seven-page 1925(b) statement that included approximately twenty-nine issues. Further, the statement was written in narrative form and reads like a preview of Wife's Statement of the Case. It is impossible to discern from the 1925(b) statement which of the twenty-nine paragraphs were actually identifying the issues sought to be reviewed and which were providing unnecessary background information.
In Kanter v. Epstein, 866 A.2d 394 (Pa.Super. 2004), this Court held that when an Appellant raises an "outrageous" number of issues in the 1925(b) statement, the Appellant has "deliberately circumvented the meaning and purpose of Rule 1925(b) and ha[s] thereby effectively precluded appellate review of the issues [she] now seeks to raise." Id. at 401. We further noted that such "voluminous" statements do not identify the issues that Appellant actually intends to raise on appeal because the briefing limitations contained in Pa.R.A.P. 2116(a) makes the raising of so many issues impossible. Id.
Further, this type of extravagant 1925(b) statement makes it all but impossible for the trial court to provide a comprehensive analysis of the issues. Through no fault of its own, the trial court here issued an opinion that recited the facts underlying the dispute and, in a general manner, identified those portions of the record which it believed supported its decision. Trial Court Opinion 12/15/04. The trial court did not cite to any applicable law. The combination of a vague and excessive 1925(b) statement and a necessarily cursory trial court opinion has impeded our ability to undertake a meaningful review of the much more specific issues raised by Wife in her brief. Id.
Here, as in Kanter, we find that Wife engaged in misconduct when she "attempted to overwhelm the trial court by filing [a] Rule 1925(b) Statement [ ] that contained a multitude of issues that [Wife] did not intend to raise and/or could not raise before this Court." Id. at 402. We agree with the Kanter Court that this conduct on the part of Wife breaches her duty of good faith and fair dealing with the Court and constitutes a course of misconduct which is designed to "undermine the Rules of Appellate Procedure." Id. Accordingly, for the reasons discussed above, we find that Wife's issues on appeal are waived. See Commonwealth v. Dowling, 778 A.2d 683, 686-87 (Pa.Super. 2001) (issues on appeal are deemed waived when the 1925(b) statement is too vague for the trial court to identify and address the issues raised on appeal).

Jones v. Jones, 878 A.2d 86, 89-90 (Pa.Super. 2005) (citations modified). While not quite as lengthy as the statement at issue in Jones, Wagner's Rule 1925(b) statement is long, convoluted, infested with scandalous matter presented in a rambling narrative, and utterly devoid of a clear statement specifying any alleged legal error in the appealed-from trial court order. After spending an entire single-spaced page essentially restating the allegations of misconduct that dominated his amended complaint, Wagner moves on to the substance of his putative Rule 1925(b) statement, which he introduces as follows (verbatim):

According to Rule 1925(b) it is to explain ALL YOUR Errors in a TRIAL court. (There was NO TRIAL COURT), you decided in your back room with your Mifflin County buddies. Here is the errors of your ways. By the way, I do not even have to respond to this order according to 1925(b). This is already evidence that was given in the past 3 years. I'm being considerate.

Rule 1925(b) Statement. 4/8/2013, at 2 (unpaginated).

The closest thing to an allegation of error in the ensuing two and one-half single-spaced pages is the following (verbatim):

A JURY TRIAL was DEMANDED. No Jury Trial took place. NOT even a Court Trial. ALL WAS HANDLED BEHIND CLOSED DOORS. Mifflin County lured you in hook line and sinker like a fish to deal with something they knew was illegal. This was a corrupt deal from day 1. They didn't want to deal with it. You was there patsy. They knew what they were doing. Ya, your buddies. What do you think of Mifflin County now? I hope you know now that Mifflin County will sacrifice a Clearfield Judge to get away from any illegal judgment on their own. Also a Mifflin County way. It's ALL on you now. That was your biggest error, trusting Mifflin County. Now it's going to the Pa. Supreme Court, with your name on it. Not the Mifflin County Jokesters names. I fell for you but I can't reach you. You messed up. You DISMISSED this case (by your buddies advise), and I am taking it to higher court. It's my tax paying and USA citizen rights. You DISMISSED this Criminal case, so your out of it now. Don't send me any more court ORDERS, unless it tells me I am granted to get my teeth fixed and my eyes fixed, and justice was served with at least 2 years probation to the criminal.

Rule 1925(b) Statement at 2, ¶8 (unpaginated).

The trial court made only one dispositive ruling, albeit premised upon several bases, each of which would suffice by itself to justify granting Hoffman's preliminary objections. While Wagner goes to great lengths to reiterate the grounds upon which he seeks legal relief, he does not, in any way, identify why he believes the trial court's ruling was legally erroneous as a measure of the manner in which Wagner sought to press his claims. His statement reads like a paranoid and irate ramble; it emphatically does not read like a proper court filing.

Confronted with such a vexing statement, the trial court acted appropriately in declining to engage that statement and in deeming waived any issues Wagner might have intended to raise therein. We agree fully with the trial court's assessment of Wagner's Rule 1925(b) statement. Consequently, we find that Wagner has waived all issues on appeal.

Order affirmed.

Judgment Entered.

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