United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
HARRY L. BIERLEY, Plaintiff,
ROBERT SAMBROAK, Defendant.
NORA BARRY FISCHER, District Judge.
Presently pending before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) (Docket No. 5) and Plaintiff's motion to strike the Defendant's motion (Docket No. 8). For the reasons that follow, the complaint will be dismissed due to the Court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction over the instant civil action, and Plaintiff's motion to strike will be denied as moot.
I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
This civil action was commenced on October 28, 2013, when the Clerk of Court received Plaintiff Harry L. Bierley's pro se complaint (styled "Complaint About Election Fraud") against Defendant Robert Sambroak. Sambroak was formerly the First Assistant District Attorney of Erie County before being elected Judge of the Erie County Court of Common Pleas on November 5, 2013.
In his complaint, which was filed of record seven days before the general election (Docket No. 3), Bierley alleges that Sambroak "fraudulently claims to be a suitable judicial candidate, but he is not." (Compl. [Docket No. 3] at ¶5.) Specifically, Bierley avers that Sambroak "is guilty of treason and misprision of treason" by virtue of his "participation and observation of treason" allegedly perpetrated by the Honorable Ernest J. Disantis in connection with Bierley's prosecution for disorderly conduct at Case No. 1133 of 2003 of the Erie County Court of Common Pleas. (Id.) According to Bierley, Judge Disantis committed "treason" by wrongly exercising jurisdiction over Bierley's criminal case and conducting a "rigged" jury trial, which resulted in a "fraud[ulent]" conviction and "illegal imprisonment." (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 11.) Bierley theorizes that Judge Disantis lacked jurisdiction over his criminal case because of the fact that the prosecution was predicated upon conduct which occurred inside the Erie County courthouse - a location which, Bierley claims, is not a "public place" and therefore cannot support a conviction for disorderly conduct. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-10.)
Bierley complains that Sambroak "did observe the prosecution and illegally facilitate it" and is thereby himself "guilty of treason and misprision of treason." (Compl. ¶¶ 11-12.) As a result, Bierley avers, Sambroak "has no right to hold public office." (Id. at ¶ 12.)
Appended to the complaint is a document dated May 20, 2013 which Bierley refers to as an "affidavit, " although it too is styled "Complaint About Election Fraud." (Compl. at p. 6.) Bierley alleges that he submitted this document to Sambroak and "the election office supervisor, " to no effect. (Compl. at ¶ 13.) Like his federal complaint, Bierley's affidavit/complaint accuses Sambroak of "concealing crimes of treason, official oppression, criminal fraud and more" in connection with Bierley's criminal prosecution at Docket No. 1133 of 2003 as well as his prosecution for assault with a deadly weapon at a separate criminal docket, No. 38 of 1990. (Id. at p. 6.) According to Bierley's affidavit, Sambroak knew, but failed to expose, the "fact" that Bierley was illegally prosecuted and imprisoned in both criminal cases by judges who lacked jurisdiction over him. (Id.) Bierley complains that, notwithstanding the foregoing, "Mr. Sambroak has not removed himself from the list of judicial candidates and neither has the election office." (Compl. ¶ 14.) Accordingly, Bierley seeks intervention by this Court so as to prevent Sambroak "from becoming yet another criminally corrupt judge in Erie [County], PA." (Id. at ¶ 15.)
Bierley's federal complaint was served on November 7, 2013, two days after Sambroak's election to the Court of Common Pleas. ( See Return of Service [Docket No. 4].) On November 27, 2013, Sambroak filed the pending motion to dismiss the complaint. (Docket No. 5.) In his supporting brief, Sambroak argues for dismissal of the lawsuit on the grounds that: (a) Bierley has failed to plead any facts or attach evidence in support of his claim that Sambroak is guilty of treason, "misprision of treason, " or any other crime that would render him ineligible to serve as judge; (b) Sambroak has absolute immunity from any damages claim insofar as it relates to his role as a prosecutor; and (c) Bierley's complaint was not served until after the election, making his request for injunctive relief moot. ( See Br. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss [Docket No. 6] at 2-4.)
On December 11, 2013, Bierley responded to Sambroak's motion by filing the pending motion to strike (Docket No. 8). Bierley asserts that the motion to dismiss should be stricken because it is "a blatant, flagrant, and facetious insult to the honor and integrity of the Court" and is "riddled with prevarications, half truths, and misrepresentations." (Mot. to Strike at p. 1.) Sambroak filed his response in opposition to the motion to strike on December 31, 2013 (Docket No. 10). Thereafter, Bierley filed a motion seeking allowance to file a reply brief out of time (Docket No. 11), which the Court granted on January 15, 2014 (Docket No. 13).
On January 23, 2014, the Court held a telephonic argument, at which time both parties were heard relative to the pending motions. The issues have thus been adequately joined and are ripe for disposition.
"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and may only assert jurisdiction over certain matters, such as where there is diversity of citizenship between the parties or where a question is presented under federal law." Gray v. Peruto, 481 F.Appx. 716, 717 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing generally 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331-1334). Because a lack of subject matter jurisdiction concerns the court's very authority to consider the case before it, jurisdictional challenges must be considered first. See Lepre v. Lukus, No. 3:13-CV-796, 2014 WL 198811 at *16 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 15, 2014) ("When a motion under Rule 12 is based on more than one ground, the court should consider the 12(b)(1) challenge first because if it must dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, all other defenses and objections become moot.") (citation omitted). Moreover, federal courts are obligated to address jurisdictional deficiencies on a sua sponte basis, even when they are not raised by the parties. See Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006) (noting that federal courts "have an independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction exits, even in the absence of a challenge from any party"); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3) ("If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.").
In this case, Sambroak has moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. He argues, in part, that the complaint fails to allege facts showing that he is guilty of treason or any other offense which would render him unsuitable for public office. He also argues that the complaint for injunctive relief is moot inasmuch as he has already been elected judge of the Erie County Court of Common Pleas. Because these arguments bear on the Court's subject matter jurisdiction, and because the Court independently perceives ...