United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
JOHN R. PAYLOR, Plaintiff,
ALLEGHENY COUNTY, FAMILY DIVISION/ADULT SECTION DOMESTIC RELATIONS TITLE IV AGENCY, Defendant.
DAVID STEWART CERCONE, District Judge.
Proceeding pro se, John R. Paylor ("plaintiff") commenced this action against "Allegheny County, Family Division/Adult Section Domestic Relations Title IV Agency" ("defendant") by filing a motion to proceed in forma pauperis and attaching to it a "complaint" seeking relief for defendant's alleged violations of (1) his civil rights and (2) federal statutes. These violations stem from orders freezing and seizing funds from his bank account and holding him in contempt as part of the process of enforcing an order of child support. Compl. at ¶ 4-22. Plaintiff contends that these orders are unlawful because his only source of income is a veterans' pension, which he alleges is exempt from all legal process and cannot be used to satisfy his child support obligations. Compl. at ¶ 13. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion will be granted and the complaint will be dismissed.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has instructed the district courts to utilize a two-step analysis to determine whether to direct service of a complaint where the plaintiff seeks to proceed in forma pauperis . First, the court must determine whether the litigant is indigent within the meaning of 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Second, the court must determine whether the complaint is frivolous or malicious under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d). Roman v. Jeffes, 904 F.2d 192, 194 n.1 (3d Cir. 1990). The court finds the plaintiff to be without sufficient funds to pay the required filing fee. Thus, he will be granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis .
In Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989), the Supreme Court identified two types of legally frivolous complaints: (1) those based upon indisputably meritless legal theory, and (2) those with factual contentions which clearly are baseless. Id. at 327. An example of the first is where a defendant enjoys immunity from suit, and an example of the second is a claim describing a factual scenario which is fanciful or delusional. Id. In addition, Congress has expanded the scope of § 1915 to require that the court be satisfied that the complaint states a claim upon which relief can be granted before it directs service; if it does not, the action shall be dismissed. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).
A review of plaintiff's "complaint" reveals that it is subject to dismissal for a number of reasons. First, plaintiff's allegations against defendant and the individuals identified in the body of the complaint fail to state a claim and/or are predicated on indisputably meritless legal theory.
It is well-settled that in reviewing a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) "[t]he applicable standard of review requires the court to accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the non-moving party." Rocks v. City of Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir. 1989). Under the Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561 (2007), dismissal of a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is proper only where the averments of the complaint plausibly fail to raise directly or inferentially the material elements necessary to obtain relief under a viable legal theory of recovery. Id. at 544. In other words, the allegations of the complaint must be grounded in enough of a factual basis to move the claim from the realm of mere possibility to one that shows entitlement by presenting "a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
"A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. In contrast, pleading facts that only offer "labels or conclusions' or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do, '" nor will advancing only factual allegations that are "merely consistent with' a defendant's liability." Id. Similarly, tendering only "naked assertions" that are devoid of "further factual enhancement" falls short of presenting sufficient factual content to permit an inference that what has been presented is more than a mere possibility of misconduct. Id. at 1949-50; see also Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n. 8 (A complaint states a claim where its factual averments sufficiently raise a "reasonably founded hope that the [discovery] process will reveal relevant evidence' to support the claim.") (quoting Dura Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005) & Blue Chip Stamps v. Manor Drug Stores, 421 U.S. 723, 741 (1975)); accord Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (a court need not credit "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" in assessing a motion to dismiss) (citing with approval Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1357 (2d ed. 1997) ("courts, when examining 12(b)(6) motions, have rejected legal conclusions, ' unsupported conclusions, ' unwarranted inferences, ' unwarranted deductions, ' footless conclusions of law, ' or sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations.'").
This is not to be understood as imposing a probability standard at the pleading stage. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 ("The plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.'"); Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 235 (3d Cir. 2008) (same). Instead, "[t]he Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: stating... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest the required element... [and provides] enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.'" Phillips, 515 F.3d at 235; see also Wilkerson v. New Media Technology Charter School Inc., 522 F.3d 315, 321 (3d Cir. 2008) ("The complaint must state enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element.'") (quoting Phillips, 515 F.3d at 235) (citations omitted). "Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563.
It also is well settled that pleadings filed by pro se litigants are to be construed liberally. McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993); Higgins v. Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002). And in such circumstances the court has an obligation to "apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether a pro se litigant has mentioned it by name." Higgins, 293 F.3d at 688 (quoting Holley v. Dept. of Veterans Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999)).
Plaintiff's allegations stem from prior proceedings in state court that led to an order of child support. He was then held in contempt for failure to pay the support and his pension funds for partial disability were seized from his bank account. Plaintiff explicitly has named the Family Law Division of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas as the only defendant. Specific individuals identified as being involved in the referenced process are assistant at the Allegheny County Law Department Daniel Butler, Domestic Relations Officer Weber, Domestic Relations Officer Mary Ann Bach, Judge Alexander Bicket of the Family Law Division of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, Judge Paul Cozza of the Family Law Division of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and court-appointed attorney Gary Ludin, Esquire.
Plaintiff asserts that this court has jurisdiction over the matter because the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas exceeded its authority by incarcerating him and seizing funds from his bank account, which contained his veterans' benefits. In doing so, "defendant" purportedly violated the Supremacy Clause and plaintiff's Fourth Amendment, Eighth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. Compl. at ¶ 3. Plaintiff also demands damages for false imprisonment, interruption of the parent and child relationship, and malicious prosecution. Id. at ¶ 22. Plaintiff also requests a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction preventing the "defendant" from subjecting his veterans' pension to legal process. Amended Mot. for TRO. and Prelim. Inj. (Doc. 4) at 11.
Even reading plaintiff's allegations in the light most favorable to him, the "complaint" against the named defendant is meritless. Proceeding against this entity clearly is predicated on indisputably meritless legal theory.
Suits against the state are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 781-82 (1978). Eleventh Amendment immunity applies to suits against the state regardless of the relief sought. In re Kish, 212 B.R. 808, 814 (Bkrtcy D. N.J. 1997) ("the 'jurisdictional bar [of the Eleventh Amendment] applies regardless of the relief sought'") (citing Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100-01 (1984)); see also Cory v. White, 457 U.S. 85, 90 (1982) ("It would be a novel proposition indeed that the Eleventh Amendment does not bar a suit to enjoin the state itself simply because no money judgment is sought.").
Suits against a state agency or a state department are considered to be suits against a state which are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. In re Kish, 221 B.R. 118, 124-25 (Bkrtcy. D. N.J. 1998) (quoting Geis v. Board of Educ. of Parsippany-Troy Hills, Morris Cnty., 774 F.2d 575, 580 (3d Cir.1985)); accord Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991); Haybarger v. Lawrence County Adult Probation And Parole, 551 F.3d 193, 198 ("the Eleventh Amendment applies to suits against subunits of the State") (citing Pennhurst, 465 U.S. at 100)). And ...