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Johannes v. Borough of Wilkinsburg

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 9, 2017

MICHAEL JOHANNES, Plaintiff,
v.
BOROUGH OF WILKINSBURG, et. al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          DAVID STEWART CERCONE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 38) filed by Defendants Borough of Wilkinsburg (“Wilkinsburg”), Chief of Police Ophelia Coleman (“Chief Coleman”), former Borough Manager Marla Marcinko (“Macinko”), former Borough code enforcement officer Daniel S. Freidson (“Freidson”), and Borough code enforcement employee James Frank (“Frank”). In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff Michael Johannes (“Plaintiff”) seeks relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of his constitutional rights in conjunction with a dispute over a parcel of real property located at 807 Walnut Street in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 17 at ¶ 28). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         II. Factual Background

         In April of 2014, Plaintiff and several associates “took possession of an abandoned structure” located at 807 Walnut Street (“the Property”) with the intent to ultimately obtain ownership of that property. (Doc. No. 17 at ¶¶ 11-17). Plaintiff found the place to be in a state of neglect, “stacked to the brim with junk, old carpets, refuse, etc., ” and with no plumbing, electric, or heat. (Id. at ¶ 13). From April 2014 until June 2014, Plaintiff and his associates cleaned and gutted the property and began to repair and install plumbing and electricity. (Id. at ¶ 15).

         At all times, the title to the Property belonged to the estate of its last occupant, the late Nancy Schillero. (Id. at ¶ 14.) Plaintiff avers that each of Schillero's three children “had wholly refused any interest or dominion over the premises” due to the burdens of unpaid real estate taxes and an old mortgage. (Id. at ¶¶ 12-13.) After obtaining possession of the premises, Plaintiff filed an Action to Quiet Title in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County on April 15, 2014, seeking to compel the heirs to file an action for ejectment or be forever barred from the property. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-18).

         On June 13, 2014, eight Wilkinsburg police officers arrived at the Property and ordered Plaintiff and his associates to leave, threatening to charge them with criminal trespass. (Id. at ¶ 9). Plaintiff contends that he “showed them [he] had gained possession of the property and was entitled to civil process” but was disregarded.[1] (Id.).

         On June 16, 2014, Plaintiff alleges that Friedson, acting in his capacity as a code-enforcement officer, instructed Plaintiff that Wilkinsburg was going to board up the house and that Plaintiff should stay away. (Id. at ¶ 22). Code enforcement employees screwed boards and restraints into the house so that Plaintiff could not enter it, causing damage to the Property and restricting Plaintiff's access. (Id. at ¶ 23). Plaintiff subsequently filed a “Petition for Temporary Restraining Order and Preliminary Injunction” on June 17, 2014, claiming that he had acquired title to the Property and that Wilkinsburg and its employees were violating his constitutional rights by preventing him from accessing the home. (Id. at ¶¶ 29-30; Doc. No. 39-2). Plaintiff contends that Wilkinsburg code enforcement officers then retaliated against him by posting a “Violation Notice” and a “No Entry” sign on another piece of property that he owned. (Id. at ¶ 30).

         On November 18, 2014, Judge Timothy O'Reilly of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas entered an interlocutory Order stating that “Plaintiff has gained possession of the Property at 807 Walnut Street” and “may remain on the Property in conformity with Borough Ordinances.” (Id. at ¶ 31; Doc. No. 39-2 at 14). Judge O'Reilly ordered Plaintiff to raise an estate for Nancy Schillero within 90 days in order to serve the estate with notification of his Action to Quiet Title and cautioned that failure to do so would result in reconsideration of the Order. (Id. at 15).

         Prior to the issuance of Judge O'Reilly's Order, and apparently unbeknownst to Judge O'Reilly, an estate had already been raised for the last owner of the Property, Nancy Schillero, in the Orphans' Court Division of the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. (Doc. No. 39-4).[2] Upon learning of Plaintiff's Action to Quiet Title, the Schillero estate filed a timely “Petition to Intervene, Reconsider Order of Court and Eject Trespasser.” (Doc. No. 39-1; Doc. No. 39-2). On January 15, 2015, Judge O'Reilly ordered that the Action to Quiet Title (and the Petition to Intervene) be transferred to the Orphans' Court and merged with the related estate action for disposition. (Doc. No. 39-1; Doc. No. 39-2; Doc. No. 39-4).

         On March 25, 2015, Judge Kathleen Durkin of the Orphans' Court issued an Order rejecting Plaintiff's claim to the Property “as not valid and as a non-priority claim.” (Doc. No. 39-4 at 60). Judge Durkin ordered that the Property be sold and the proceeds distributed to the pertinent taxing authorities, with any remaining tax obligations discharged. (Id.).

         Plaintiff initiated the instant action on February 3, 2016. (Doc. No. 1). Plaintiff filed his Amended Complaint on April 7, 2016. (Doc. No. 17). Defendants moved to dismiss on May 16, 2016 (Doc. No. 38), and Plaintiff filed responses in opposition on May 16 and 17, 2016 (Doc. Nos. 40, 43). This matter is ripe for review.

         III. Standard of Review

         A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. Kost v. Kozakiewicz,1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). A complaint must be dismissed for failure to state a claim if it does not allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 556 (2007) (rejecting the traditional 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows ...


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