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Coulter v. Ramsden

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

June 20, 2014

JEAN COULTER, Appellant
v.
MARY SUZANNE RAMSDEN, STEPHANIE ANDERSON, RAPHAEL RAMSDEN & BEHERS, DENNIS McCURDY, SUSAN LOPE, ELIZABETH SMITH, ROCHELLE GRAHAM, BUTLER COUNTY CHILDREN AND YOUTH SERVICES AND THOMAS DOERR, Appellees

Argued, March 4, 2014

Page 1081

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas, Allegheny County, Civil Division, No. G.D. 13-774. Before O'REILLY, J.

Jean Coulter, Cherry Hill, NJ, pro se.

Marie M. Jones, Pittsburgh, for Butler County CYS, appellee.

Caroline P. Liebenguth, Pittsburgh, for Doerr, appellee.

Amy J. Coco, Pittsburgh, for Raphael Ramsden & Behers and McCurdy, appellee.

BEFORE: SHOGAN, OLSON and WECHT, JJ.

OPINION

Page 1082

SHOGAN, J.

Appellant, Jean Coulter (" Coulter" ), appeals pro se from the order granting the motion to dismiss filed in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in this matter brought against Mary Suzanne Ramsden, Stephanie Anderson, Raphael Ramsden & Behers, Dennis McCurdy, Susan Lope, Elizabeth Smith, Rochelle Graham, Butler County Children and Youth Services, and the Honorable Thomas Doerr (collectively " Appellees" ). On appeal, Coulter challenges, inter alia, the trial court's reliance on Pa.R.C.P 233.1 in dismissing her case. For the reasons that follow, we affirm. As an ancillary matter, we also address whether a party has a right to oral argument before our Court. We hold that oral argument is not a matter of right and that the Court may deny, or limit the time allocated for, oral argument in its sole discretion.

We summarize the protracted history of this case as follows.[1] This matter stems from Coulter's 2007 plea of " no contest" and imprisonment for the crime of aggravated assault against her minor daughter in the Butler County Court of Common Pleas. Butler County Children and Youth Services became involved, and court proceedings related to the minor child were initiated.[2] These resulted in the termination

Page 1083

of Coulter's parental rights on January 12, 2011.

Prior and subsequent to filing the instant matter, Coulter filed multiple complaints in Allegheny County against persons and entities involved in the Butler County proceedings. Coulter has also filed numerous and duplicative appeals with this Court over the past several years. (See, e.g., In the Interest of A.C., 47 A.3d 1242, (Pa. Super. filed 2012); Wilder & Mahood, P.C. v. Coulter, 46 A.3d 824, (Pa. Super. filed 2012); In re Adoption of A.S.C., 38 A.3d 927, (Pa. Super. 2011) (unpublished memorandum); In re Adoption of A.C., 23 A.3d 584 (Pa. Super. 2010) (unpublished memorandum); In re A.C., 23 A.3d 576 (Pa. Super. 2010) (unpublished memorandum)). Coulter claims that the termination proceedings in Butler County were unjust, that various persons conspired to deprive her of her rights, and that she is entitled to monetary relief in excess of $200,000,000.00. She has also claimed civil rights violations.

In addition, Coulter initiated multiple actions in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania prior to filing this matter in state court. These actions arose out of the same Butler County proceedings. The federal court defendants were sued due to their participation in the proceedings and Coulter's alleged injuries resulting from her dissatisfaction with the results of those proceedings. All of Coulter's federal complaints were dismissed with prejudice by the United States District Court. The United States District Court found Coulter to be a vexatious litigant and prohibited her from filing additional civil actions relating to or arising from the state court proceedings involving her criminal conviction and the subsequent termination of her parental rights. See Coulter v. Ramsden, et al., 2012 WL 6592597 (W.D.Pa. 2012).

Cognizant of this history, the trial court dismissed Coulter's complaint pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 233.1 after oral argument on February 8, 2013. Argument was not recorded. Coulter filed a petition for reconsideration, which the trial court denied. This appeal followed.

Coulter presents the following issues for our review, which we have renumbered for ease of disposition:

[1]. HAS APPEAL BEEN TIMELY FILED?
[2]. MUST THE TRIAL COURT'S ORDER DISMISSING THE COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO RULE 233.1 BE OVER-TURNED BECAUSE THE TRIAL COURT PROPERLY DETERMINED THAT [42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5103(b)] APPLIES, BUT DISMISSED DESPITE THE FACT THAT THE PREVIOUS DECISION DID NOT RESOLVE OR EVEN CONSIDER " STATE" CLAIMS?
[3]. MUST REMAND TO AN UNBIASED COURT BE ORDERED TO DEVELOP A RECORD, WITHOUT PREJUDICE, IN ORDER TO PERMIT INCLUSION OF COULTER'S POSITION, AS LOCAL RULES, VIOLATION OF LOCAL RULES AND BIAS/DISABILITY OF THE TRIAL COURT, HAVE RESULTED IN A RECORD OF IRRELEVANT AND/OR FORBIDDEN FACTS AND DEVOID OF FACTS RELATED TO PLAINTIFF'S ARGUMENT OF HER POSITION - IN ORDER TO CORRECT A

Page 1084

FUNDAMENTAL INJUSTICE AND ASSURE DUE PROCESS?
[4]. MUST THE DECISIONS OF THE TRIAL COURT BE OVER-TURNED BECAUSE THE TRIAL COURT WAS WITHOUT JURISDICTION, DUE TO ASSIGNMENT OF A SENIOR JUDGE IN VIOLATION OF STATUTE, RULES AND THE PENNSYLVANIA CONSTITUTION?
[5]. DOES RULE 233.1 VIOLATE EQUAL PROTECTION, AS IT HOLDS PRO SE PLAINTIFFS TO A MORE STRINGENT STANDARD THAN PLAINTIFFS REPRESENTED BY LICENSED COUNSEL?

Appellant's Brief at 4 (renumbered for purposes of discussion).

Apparently in response to the trial court's comment that the appeal is untimely in its April 4, 2013 Order, Coulter argues that her appeal in this matter has been timely filed. Appellant's Brief at 25-26. Because the timeliness of an appeal implicates our jurisdiction, we cannot address the merits of the other issues raised by Coulter before determining whether the appeal was timely filed. Krankowski v. O'Neil, 2007 PA Super. 179, 928 A.2d 284, 285 (Pa. Super. 2007).

It is undisputed that a notice of appeal must be filed within thirty days of the disputed order. Pa.R.A.P. 903(a). Specifically, Rule 903(a) provides that " the notice of appeal . . . shall be filed within 30 days after the entry of the order from which the appeal is taken." Pa.R.A.P. 903(a). Our review of the certified record reflects that on March 7, 2013, Coulter filed the instant appeal from the order dated February 8, 2013, which granted the motion to dismiss. Record Entry 17. Accordingly, Coulter satisfied the requirements of Pa.R.A.P. 903(a) requiring the notice of appeal to be filed within thirty days of the February 8, 2013 order. Therefore, because this appeal was timely filed, this Court has jurisdiction to hear this appeal.

Coulter next argues that the trial court's order dismissing the complaint pursuant to Pa.R.C.P. 233.1 must be overturned because, while the trial court properly determined that 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5103(b) applies, the trial court erroneously dismissed Coulter's complaint when the previous decision in federal court did not resolve, or even consider, state claims. Appellant's Brief at 14-19. Coulter insinuates that her case should have been transferred from federal court pursuant to 42 Pa.C.S.A. § 5103(b), because the federal court merely determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the state claims presented. Upon review, we conclude that this issue does not merit relief.

In 42 Pa.C.S.A. ยง 5103, the Pennsylvania Legislature addressed the transfer of matters which have been filed in improper courts. The pertinent ...


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