United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
who has ongoing related bankruptcy proceedings, also was
delinquent in money owed to her Condominium Association. As a
result, Defendants took issue with Plaintiff's use of the
shared pool facility, which led to altercations and calls to
the police. The Court will dismiss some of the counts and
refer the remaining claim, regarding violation of the
bankruptcy stay, to the bankruptcy court.
case originated as an adversary action in bankruptcy court.
Defendants filed a motion to withdraw the reference and
transfer the case to this Court. Plaintiff did not oppose the
motion, and this Court granted it. After some issues with
failure to file the withdrawal motion before the bankruptcy
court and associated delays in responding to the complaint,
this Court held a Rule 16 pretrial conference. At the
conference, counsel and the Court discussed the possibility
of sending the case back to the bankruptcy court; Plaintiff
planned to file a motion to that effect, and Defendants would
determine whether or not they opposed the motion. In the
meantime, the Court would not issue an order scheduling
discovery or further proceedings in this matter.
indeed filed a motion to refer the case back to the
bankruptcy court. Rather than simply opposing or agreeing,
Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings as to
counts two and three, claims for invasion of privacy and
civil rights violations, but otherwise did not oppose
referral to bankruptcy of the remaining claim, for violation
of the bankruptcy stay. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a
letter requesting a Rule 16 conference. As noted, the Court
already held a conference and delayed entering a scheduling
order pending the possible return to bankruptcy court, but
Plaintiff's desire to move the case forward is
understandable. The Court herein addresses both
Plaintiff's motion to refer the matter to bankruptcy and
Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings as to
to the complaint, Plaintiff filed a bankruptcy petition on
May 25, 2015, and the automatic stay of debt collection under
11 U.S.C. § 362(a) took effect the same day. Plaintiff
apparently resides in a condo unit under the purview of
Defendant Gwynedd Club Condominium Association, which was
listed as a secured creditor in the petition based on a
foreclosure action. Plaintiff alleges that all Defendants
were effectively aware of the bankruptcy filing.
31, 2015, Plaintiff was in the condo community swimming pool
area. Defendant Carol Paote, the condo board president, told
Plaintiff, in front of other condo residents, that she was
not allowed in the pool area because she owed the condo
association money. Paote threatened to fine Plaintiff, who
responded that she had filed for bankruptcy. A short while
later, allegedly responding to a call from Paote, two local
police officers arrived and asserted that Plaintiff was
trespassing. After talking with her lawyer, Plaintiff asked
the police what they would do if she did not leave the pool
area; the police answered, “nothing, ” and left.
7, 2015, Defendants Paote and John Bitner, the condo board
secretary, blocked Plaintiff from entering the pool area.
Again in front of neighbors, these Defendants announced that
Plaintiff could not use the pool because she owed the
association $14, 000. Plaintiff again contacted her attorney,
who advised that this time Plaintiff should call the
police. After the attorney notified the police of the
bankruptcy, two officers arrived and enabled Plaintiff to
enter the pool area.
also sent Plaintiff a letter dated June 4, 2015, noting that
Plaintiff and guests had used the pool on several occasions
and stating that because her account was delinquent,
Plaintiff could not use the communal facilities or enjoy
several other benefits of condo association membership.
Further, Defendants sent Plaintiff five monthly account
statements allegedly requesting payment of debts and late
on these facts, Plaintiff brings three claims. Count I
alleges violations of the automatic stay, arguing that the
letter, account statements, and attempts to prevent Plaintiff
from using the pool without paying off her delinquent account
constitute prohibited attempts to collect debts. Count II
asserts a cause of action for invasion of privacy based on
the statements about Plaintiff's debts in front of her
condo neighbors. Count III claims a civil rights violation,
apparently based on Defendants' involvement of the police
in blocking her rightful access to the pool area. Plaintiff
has filed a motion to refer all counts to bankruptcy court.
Defendants have responded by moving for judgment on the
pleadings, asking this Court to dismiss Counts II and III
before referral; Plaintiff has filed no substantive response
to Defendants' arguments, submitting only a one-paragraph
response arguing that Counts II and III should be referred to
bankruptcy court along with Count I and decided there.
sides' positions on whether Counts II and III should be
referred to bankruptcy are rather conclusory. Plaintiff
asserts they are core to the bankruptcy proceedings because
they arise in connection with the bankruptcy filing and
involve the same events as the claims of stay violations
under Count I. Defendants simply state that they are
non-core. Of course, whether the claims are core or non-core
does not fully determine where they may or should be heard.
The bankruptcy court may make final decisions on core claims
but also hear and propose findings on non-core claims, while
both core and non-core claims are ultimately under the
jurisdiction of this Court, which may refer them to
the bankruptcy court. See In re Guild & Gallery Plus,
Inc., 72 F.3d 1171, 1177-78 (3d Cir. 1996). So even if
the claims are core, this Court can rule on Defendants'
motion for judgment on the pleadings before referring the
case to bankruptcy. Further, it is not clear that Counts II
and III actually do “arise only in the context of a
bankruptcy case.” Id. at 1178 (quoting In
re Marcus Hook Dev. Park Inc., 943 F.2d 261, 267 (3d
Cir. 1991)). The invasion of privacy claim involves
Defendants' public statements about Plaintiff's
debts, not the bankruptcy filing, and Defendants likewise
called the police because they believed Plaintiff's
delinquency-which existed without the bankruptcy
filing-barred her from using the pool. Thus Counts II and III
do not depend on the bankruptcy, and this Court will rule on
their dismissal prior to referral.
argue that Count II, the invasion of privacy claim, fails
primarily because Plaintiff's bankruptcy is a matter of
public record. This is a slight mischaracterization of the
situation: as noted just above, the complaint alleges that
Defendants publicized not the bankruptcy filing, but rather
Plaintiff's debt to the condo association. Nevertheless,
as the complaint also notes, the debt to the condo
association is itself listed on the publically available
petition documents. Defendant's argument that
Plaintiff's debt to the association is an issue of
legitimate concern to fellow condo residents is also well
taken. In light of Plaintiff's very thin allegations, the
exceedingly minimal conceivable harm if any, the already
public and truthful nature of the information at issue, the
neighbors' valid interest in the information, and the
lack of substantive response by Plaintiff, the Court credits
Defendants' arguments and will dismiss Count II.
Count III, concerning a civil rights violation, Defendants
argue that Plaintiff has not identified any right of which
she was deprived and that Defendants are not state actors.
But the Court is willing to entertain claims that private
individuals who call in law enforcement to intervene on their
behalf in disputes about private property may be acting under
color of law. See Schmitt v. Farruggio, No. CIV.A.
13-2007, 2014 WL 4055835, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 14, 2014)
(analyzing a similar claim under the framework of Fuentes
v. Shevin, 407 U.S. 67 (1972), and Abbott v.
Latshaw, 164 F.3d 141 (3d Cir. 1998), which prohibit
state actors from aiding one side of a dispute over property
without prior hearing, and Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co.,
Inc., 457 U.S. 922, 941 (1982), which recognizes that
“a private party's joint participation with state
officials in the seizure of disputed property is sufficient
to characterize that party as a ‘state actor' for
purposes of the Fourteenth Amendment”). Further,
intervention by police that prevents a party's rightful
use of property, such as a citation for trespass, constitutes
a seizure of the party's rights in the property.
Id. The real problem in this case is that the police
did not actually do anything to interfere with
Plaintiff's rights. Although they initially stated that
Plaintiff was trespassing, they readily admitted they would
take no action against Plaintiff and then walked away. During
the second incident, the police actually intervened on
Plaintiff's behalf (which was probably not
improper because Plaintiff's attorney provided them with
the bankruptcy information). Therefore, this claim has no
substance and will be dismissed.
that remains is Count I. Neither party opposes referral of
that claim back to bankruptcy court, ...