United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
OPINION AND ORDER Re: ECF Nos. 16 and 19
MAUREEN P. KELLY, CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Plaintiff Tara Thomforde Wood (“Plaintiff”)
initiated this action against Defendants David Wood
(“Wood”), Wilbert A. Stinespring
(“Stinespring”), and The West Virginia Conference
of the United Methodist Church (“the Conference”)
(collectively, “Defendants”), alleging that
Defendants unlawfully and fraudulently conspired to have
Plaintiff enter into a fraudulent and void marriage in order
to obtain money, property and sex from her.
before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss filed on behalf of
Defendant Wood and a Motion to Dismiss submitted on behalf of
Defendants Stinespring and the Conference. ECF Nos. 16, 19,
respectively. For the reasons that follow, both Motions will
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
to the Complaint, sometime prior to July of 2008, Plaintiff,
who lived in Canonsburg, Washington County, Pennsylvania, and
Wood, who resided in West Virginia, met on the internet and
decided to get married. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 7.A, 7.C.
Plaintiff and Wood filled out a marriage license application
in the Register of Wills Office of Washington County,
Pennsylvania, on July 14, 2008. Id. ¶ 7.E; ECF
No. 1-5 at 1. According to the license application, which was
executed by both Plaintiff and Wood, the couple was to be
married on July 19, 2008, at Plaintiff's home in
Canonsburg, Pennsylvania. Id. Plaintiff alleges,
however, that Wood insisted that they be married by his
family's minister, Defendant Stinespring, and that the
ceremony actually took place in Stinespring's home in
Parkersburg, West Virginia. ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 7.F, 7.G.
Plaintiff claims that Defendants knew, and concealed from
Plaintiff, that the marriage license issued in Pennsylvania
was not valid in West Virginia and lulled Plaintiff into
believing that she had entered into a valid marriage.
Id. ¶¶ 7.H, 7.I, 7.J, 9. Plaintiff
contends that Defendants fraudulently and knowingly conspired
to induce Plaintiff to “cross state lines . . . to
participate in a sham and void marriage” in order to
“obtain money, property, sex and other items from
[Plaintiff.]” Id. ¶¶ 7.I, 8.A.v.
further alleges that Wood “used his position as
[Plaintiff's] ‘husband' to intimidate and
coerce her into cutting contacts with her friends;”
that Wood unlawfully opened Plaintiff's mail addressed to
her chiropractic offices; concealed mail from Plaintiff;
monitored her phone calls; bullied her; and would abandon her
while he made secretive trips. Id. ¶ 11.
Plaintiff also alleges that Wood, who had worked as an
automotive body technician and appraiser, induced Plaintiff
to pay in excess of $10, 000.00 for an “SCA
franchise” and thousands of dollars to train Wood at
the SCA franchise in Berkley, California; that Wood embezzled
money from Plaintiff's chiropractic practice; coerced and
defrauded Plaintiff into spending money on a house and garage
Wood claimed to own in West Virginia and to pay for
renovating Wood's home in West Virginia; and that Wood
was verbally and mentally abusive to Plaintiff which included
an incident where Wood allegedly flashed a “secretly
purchased” handgun at Plaintiff in an attempt to
intimidate and coerce her into allowing Wood to spend
Plaintiff's earnings for his own purposes. Id.
filed a Divorce Complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of
Washington County, Pennsylvania, on May 16, 2013, which she
contends she would not have done if she had known that her
marriage to Wood was void. Id. ¶¶ 17,
Wood, who was and/or is unemployed, subsequently filed for
spousal support, which Plaintiff alleges was an act in
furtherance of Defendants' illegal acts, and which
ultimately resulted in Plaintiff being ordered to pay Wood
$2, 496.11 a month, and arrears at $200.00 a month. In
addition, Plaintiff claims that a lien in an amount in excess
of $22, 000.00 was placed on her for arrears and that she was
also ordered to pay Wood's health insurance. Id.
¶ 20. Consequently, Plaintiff claims, she has been
denied credit and business opportunities which Defendants
knew would occur and cause Plaintiff economic harm.
Id. ¶¶ 21, 21.B.
alleges that she did not learn that her marriage to Wood was
void until December of 2015, when she met with Attorneys
Brzustowicz and Marotta who, although no longer representing
Plaintiff, filed a stipulation on her behalf on July 7, 2015,
relative to the support proceedings in state court, and
initiated the instant action on Plaintiff's behalf.
Id. ¶ 17.D; ECF No. 16-8; ECF No. 1 at 53.
filed the instant Complaint on July 1, 2016, bringing federal
claims against all three Defendants for violations of the
federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act
(“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-1968 (Count
I); the Mann Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 2421, et
seq. (Count II); and the Thirteenth Amendment to the
United States Constitution (Count VIII). Plaintiff has also
brought state law claims against all three Defendants for
fraud (Count IV); negligent misrepresentation (Count V); and
common law conspiracy (Count VI), as well as a state law
claim for negligence against the Conference alone (Count
III). In addition, at Count VIII of the Complaint, Plaintiff
sets forth a Motion to Stay the on-going state court divorce
and support proceedings pending resolution of this lawsuit.
Wood filed a Motion to Dismiss and brief in support on
September 26, 2016, ECF Nos. 16, 17, and Defendants
Stinespring and the Conference filed a Joint Motion to
Dismiss and accompanying brief on that same date. ECF Nos.
19, 20. Plaintiff filed a Brief in Opposition to
Defendants' Motions to Dismiss on November 18, 2016,
addressing both Motions. ECF No. 32. As such, both Motions
are ripe for review.
assessing the sufficiency of the complaint pursuant to a
motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6), the Court must accept as true all material
allegations in the complaint and all reasonable factual
inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff. Odd v. Malone, 538 F.3d 202, 205 (3d Cir.
2008). The Court, however, need not accept bald assertions or
inferences drawn by the plaintiff if they are unsupported by
the facts set forth in the complaint. See California Pub.
Empl. Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143
(3d Cir. 2004), citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch.
Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the
Court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual
allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Rather, “[f]actual allegations
must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” Id., citing Papasan v.
Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). Indeed, the United
States Supreme Court has held that a complaint is properly
dismissed under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) where it does not
allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face, ” id. at 570, or where
the factual content does not allow the court "to draw
the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the
misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009). See Phillips v. Cty. of
Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (finding
that, under Twombly, “labels, conclusions, and
a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action” do not suffice but, rather, the complaint
“must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed]
conduct” and that are sufficient “to raise a
reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of
the necessary element[s] of his claim”).
Plaintiff's RICO Claims (Count I)
purports to bring RICO claims under 18 U.S.C. §§
1962(b), (c) and (d), which provide:
(b) It shall be unlawful for any person through a pattern of
racketeering activity or through collection of an unlawful
debt to acquire or maintain, directly or indirectly, any
interest in or control of any enterprise which is engaged in,
or the activities of which affect, interstate or foreign
(c) It shall be unlawful for any person employed by or
associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities
of which affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct
or participate, directly or indirectly, in the conduct of
such enterprise's affairs through a pattern of
racketeering activity or collection of unlawful debt.
(d) It shall be unlawful for any person to conspire to
violate any of the provisions of subsection (a), (b), or ...