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Phillips v. James

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 23, 2014

RICHARD JAMES, et al., Defendants.


JOY FLOWERS CONTI, Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

Presently pending before the court are two motions to dismiss the amended complaint (ECF No. 28) filed, pro se, by Joseph D. Phillips, Jr. ("Phillips" or "Plaintiff"). The first motion to dismiss, (ECF No. 31), was filed by the defendants, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (the "Commonwealth"), and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (the "PHRC, " and together with the Commonwealth, the "Commonwealth Defendants"). The second motion to dismiss, (ECF No. 40), was filed by defendant Richard James ("James"). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to both motions. (ECF Nos. 34, 42). Also pending are two motions filed by Plaintiff, a document styled "Motion for Summary Judgment under Rule 56, Mot[i]on to Cease and Decese ( sic ), and Motion to Recuse Judge Flowers Conti, " (ECF No. 43), [1] and a motion for permissive joinder of parties, (ECF No. 44). Defendants filed responses to Plaintiff's motion for permissive joinder of parties. (ECF Nos. 45, 46).

II. Factual and Procedural Background

Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed his original complaint on October 3, 2013, on behalf of the "Phillips Family, " against James, the Commonwealth Defendants, and the "United States Government." (ECF No. 9). On November 4, 2013, this court issued an Order to Show Cause, requiring Phillips to show cause why his complaint should not be dismissed for lack of standing, and granting him leave to amend the complaint to correct the party designation. (ECF No. 22). Thereafter, Plaintiff filed the instant amended complaint, in which he is the named plaintiff. See (ECF No. 28).[2]

Although Plaintiff's amended complaint is disjointed and at times unintelligible, he appears to complain about events surrounding a purchase agreement he entered into on October 3, 2006, for the purchase of a home owned by James. (ECF No. 28 at 4, ECF No. 28-1 at 54).[3] Plaintiff alleges that despite never missing a payment, James refused to convey the deed to him. (ECF No. 28 at 5). Plaintiff contends that James' actions with respect to this transaction violated the Fair Housing Act (the "Fair Housing Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. Id. at 6. As a result, Plaintiff alleges that he filed a "verified housing complaint" with the United States Housing and Urban Development Office, which referred his complaint to the PHRC. Id., see (ECF No. 28-1 at 46-50). Plaintiff avers that following a "meeting" with employees of the PHRC and James, Plaintiff "signed a letter" stating that "the Common Pleas Judges" would make a determination in his case. (ECF No. 28 at 5). Plaintiff alleges that after this "meeting, " James filed terroristic threat charges against him on July 10, 2009 at Docket No. CR-0000365-09 that were dismissed. (ECF No. 28 at 5-6). Plaintiff contends that James "provoked" him "every day[, ]" and the charges against him "gave [James] permission to kill plaintiff." Id. at 5.

Plaintiff asserts that in 2008, James filed "charges for slander" against him after Plaintiff had paid him $11, 500.00 for the home. (ECF No. 28 at 6). This dispute was heard by an arbitration board that found in Plaintiff's favor, and James appealed the matter to the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County at Docket No. AR 08-12191. Id., see (ECF No. 28-1 at 2). Plaintiff contends that Judge Strassburger violated his due process rights and rights under the Americans with DisabilityAct, 42 U.S.C. § 12132 et seq. (the "ADA"), by denying his request for a continuance. (ECF No. 28 at 6-7). Plaintiff avers that the case was heard by Judge Lutty, who allegedly violated Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights when he changed his jury trial demand to a non-jury trial, and withheld judgment "so that plaintiff could not file [an] appeal." Id. at 7.

Plaintiff's amended complaint references proceedings at Docket No. GD-09-2758, Phillips v. James, in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. (ECF No. 28 at 8, ECF No. 28-1 at 57). This matter was heard by Judge O'Reilly, and resulted in a non-jury verdict in favor of James. (ECF No. 28-1 at 57). Plaintiff alleges that Judge O'Reilly violated, inter alia, the Fair Housing Act and the ADA. (ECF No. 28 at 8). Plaintiff alleges that Judge O'Reilly's actions "violated the 13th amendment of the Constitution put the plaintiff in involuntary servitude." ( sic ) Id. at 9. Plaintiff asserts that Judge Strassburger denied his request for a continuance in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Id. at 8.

Plaintiff avers that on September 5, 2009, he filed a federal lawsuit at C.A. No. 09-1474, Phillips v. James et al., in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, (" Phillips I "), wherein he asserted various constitutional torts or statutory violations against James and Judges Lutty and Strassburger. (ECF No. 28 at 9). This lawsuit contained the same allegations as the instant lawsuit, and on July 8, 2010, this court dismissed the case, finding, inter alia, that it was barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Phillips v. James, Civil Action No. 09-1474, 2010 WL 2723212 (W.D.Pa. July 8, 2010). On December 13, 2010, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit affirmed the decision. Phillips v. James, 403 F.Appx. 641 (3d Cir. 2010). Plaintiff alleges that the undersigned erred in dismissing his case, and that the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit erred in affirming the decision, denying him "the right of access to the court." (ECF No. 28 at 10-11).

On October 3, 2011, the United States Supreme Court denied Plaintiff's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, and Plaintiff was allowed until October 24, 2011, to pay the docketing fee. Phillips v. James, 132 S.Ct. 89 (2011); see (ECF No. 28 at 12, ECF No. 28-1 at 10). Plaintiff alleges that he "could not pay for the case to be heard." (ECF No. 28 at 12). Because Plaintiff did not pay the docket fee within the time allowed, his case was closed by the United States Supreme Court on December 1, 2011.[4]

Plaintiff alleges that James' actions violated the Fair Housing Act, and he purports to raise a claim under Bivens v. Six Unknown Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). (ECF No. 28 at 6, 13). Plaintiff alleges that he "brings this suit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for the wrongful death of Peggy Phillips and Stephanon Smith both lost there lives because plaintiff had to fight these court cases, and for violation of the R.I.C.O. Act[.]" ( sic ) Id. at 13. Finally, Plaintiff alleges that "the omission of P.H.R.C." and "breach of duty gives rise to [t]his Bivens action." Id. at 5. The Commonwealth Defendants and James moved for dismissal of all claims asserted by Plaintiff.

III. Standards of Review

Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a court must dismiss a matter if it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the complaint. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1). Challenges to subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) may be facial or factual in form. Gould Elec. Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000); Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). A facial challenge attacks the complaint on its face and requires the court to consider only the complaint's allegations and to do so in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891. A factual challenge contests the existence of subject-matter jurisdiction, apart from any pleadings. Id. In reviewing a factual challenge, the court "is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case, " even where disputed material facts exist. Id. In a factual challenge, the plaintiff has the burden of persuasion to show that jurisdiction exists. Id .; Gould, 220 F.3d at 178.

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In deciding a motion to dismiss, the court is not opining on whether the plaintiff will be likely to prevail on the merits; rather, when considering a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all well-pled factual allegations in the complaint and views them in a light most favorable to the plaintiff. U.S. Express Lines Ltd. V. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002). While a complaint does not need detailed factual allegations to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint must provide more than labels and conclusions. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A "formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level" and "sufficient to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Id. "A claim has facial ...

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