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Haagensen v. Wherry

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 8, 2014



ROBERT C. MITCHELL, Magistrate Judge.


On April 16, 2014, pro se Plaintiff, Janice S. Haagensen filed a complaint against Defendants Michael J. Wherry, sitting as Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, Betty May Reed, Edward Abersold, Annie and Rufus K. Hersberger, Richard Rapone, Tax Collector of Lawrence County, J.R. Hardsetter, Director of Assessments of Lawrence County, and Karen Magnone, Property Tax Collector of North Beaver Township generally arising from a boundary line dispute between adjoining property owners. Each Defendant filed separate motions to dismiss the complaint against them. See generally Defs.'s Motions to Dismiss [ECF Nos. 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20]. Plaintiff filed separate responses to each motion. Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.'s Mot. to Dismiss [ECF Nos. 27, 28, 29].

After careful review of Plaintiff's complaint, Defendants' motions to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint, their briefs in support and Plaintiff's responses, it is respectfully recommended that Defendants' motions to dismiss be granted in their entirety and the complaint be dismissed.


a. Background

Plaintiff, Janice Haasgensen, an attorney proceeding pro se, brought this action alleging multiple constitutional violations in connection with a previous state court proceeding she brought against a number of the present defendants. In the instant case, Plaintiff, as personal representative of the Estate of Myrtle Shelburne Haagensen, [1] brings a declaratory judgment action against Defendants Honorable Michael J. Wherry, a Lawrence County Court of Common Pleas Judge, in his official and individual capacity ("Judge Wherry"); Betty May Reed, Edward Abersold, Anne and Rufus K. Hershberger, Plaintiff's neighbors ("Neighbor Defendants"); and Richard Rapone, J.R. Hardester, and Karen Magnone, Lawrence County Tax officials ("Tax Defendants") alleging multiple violations of her federal constitutional rights.

Before Plaintiff brought the instant action, she filed a quiet title action in the Court of Common Pleas of Lawrence County, Pennsylvania in June of 2006 against the Neighbor Defendants regarding a the ownership of a driveway, allegedly located within Plaintiff's parcel of property, that the Neighbor Defendants used to gain access to their respective properties. See Compl. at ¶ 39; State Court Opinion [ECF No. 16-3] at 1.[2]

A bench trial as to the owner of this property was held before Judge Wherry on February 7 and February 8, 2011. The facts of the underlying action were recounted by the state court as follows:

Rufus J. Hershberger and Annie K. Hershberger purchased a parcel of property (hereinafter "the Reed Farm") from Berry Reed on September 17, 2007.... Since this lawsuit was initiated prior to the property being sold, an Amendment to the Agreement of Sale was also entered into, whereby Betty Reed agreed to indemnify the Hershbergers against costs associated with defending this action.
On February 13, 2008, the Hershbergers filed a Petition to Intervene, after Plaintiff filed a request with this Court to bar the Hershbergers from using the driveway. Pursuant to Pa.R.C.P., Rule 2327, this Court granted the Hershberger's Petition[]... based on the fact that they had purchased the Reed Farm from Mrs. Reed subsequently to this action being initiated. As a result of that purchase, the Hershbergers are in a position where they may be adversely affected by these proceedings and, as such, must be afforded the opportunity to defend any right or interest they may have in regards to the property in question.
The sole issue before the Court for determination is based on a dispute between the parties regarding access to [a] driveway stemming off of New Road in the direct vicinity of the boundary line between North Beaver Township and Little Beaver Township, all of which is located within Lawrence County.
Defendants, Mr. Abersold and the Hershbergers, own property bordered on the north by Plaintiffs. New Road runs along the entire western border of the parcel of Mr. Abersold's property... until it makes a sharp turn to the east, thereby dividing Mr. Abersold's property from the Plaintiff. New Road then makes another sharp turn to the north continuing along the western edge of Plaintiff's property. These two sharp turns have been commonly referred to as the "dog's leg" throughout the hearings. At the point where New Road makes a second sharp turn to the north, a driveway begins. This driveway runs east and divides the north-eastern corner of Mr. Abersold's property and the Plaintiff's property. The driveway continues east, thereby dividing the north-west corner of the Reed Farm from the Plaintiff's property until it turns south to the Hershberger's farm house. The driveway and surrounding undeveloped property is the subject of this Action in Ejectment, as both the Plaintiff and the Defendants claim title to the driveway.

It is clear from a literal interpretation of the parties' respective deeds that the lots were situated in such a way as to form a "T" where the three properties meet. From all of the exhibits offered into evidence, the Court determines that the driveway was located along the top of the "T" and followed the municipality line, until it turned south towards the Hirshberger's [sic] farm house. The real issue is whether or not the driveway in question ran north or south of the North Beaver-Little Beaver municipal boundary.

The parties' respective positions can be summarized as follows: Plaintiff asserts title to the driveway and the surrounding area of ground measuring 48' × 700' × 720', and the right to immediate possession thereof. Plaintiff's claim is based on the contention that the dog's leg in New Road lies solely within North Beaver Township, as portrayed in the North Beaver Township Road Map, ... which was prepared by the Lawrence County Planning Department, and the Lawrence County Tax Assessment Map.... Plaintiff additionally refers to... an actual aerial photograph, which seems to be relied on in creating the Tax Assessment Map.

The Defendants on the other hand, also claim title to the driveway and the surrounding land. They base their arguments on the descriptions of their respective properties as set forth in the accompanying deeds. Defendants also argue, in the alternative, that even if Plaintiff does hold title to the driveway and surrounding property, the Defendants have acquired title to the same through adverse possession.

Id. at 32-35.

Both parties were given the opportunity and did present evidence and expert witnesses at the bench trial. Id. Judge Wherry ultimately dismissed Plaintiff's quiet title action, finding in favor of the Neighbor Defendants. Id. at 35. The attendant Order stated:

Edward Abersold and Rufus and Annie Hershberger are hereby granted exclusive right, title and interest to the ...

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