United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
civil action, plaintiff Antoinette Richardson challenges the
termination of her parental rights in 2014 by a state judge.
For the following reasons, the Court will grant Ms.
Richardson leave to proceed in forma pauperis and
dismiss her complaint.
Richardson alleges that her parental rights were illegally
terminated in Family Court by Judge Joseph L. Fernandes on
September 3, 2014. Ms. Richardson alleges that she did not
learn that her rights were subject to termination until she
appeared for court on that date because Barbara Forest, an
employee of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services,
failed to provide proper notice. Ms. Richardson also alleges
that the judgment terminating her rights is improper and/or
illegal in various respects. In particular, she alleges that
the judge was biased, that the judgment relied on hearsay
evidence, and that she was not given a "fair
on those allegations, Ms. Richardson appears to be raising
constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and
state tort claims against Judge Fernandes and Ms. Forest. She
asks this Court to vacate the "false judgment and
order" and return her child to her. She also seeks
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Court will grant Ms. Richardson leave to proceed in forma
pauperis because it appears that she is incapable of
paying the fees to commence this civil action. As Ms.
Richardson is proceeding in forma pauperis, 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies, which requires the
Court to dismiss the complaint if it fails to state a claim.
To survive dismissal, a complaint must contain
"sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face."
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)
(quotations omitted). Additionally, the Court may dismiss
claims based on an affirmative defense if the affirmative
defense is obvious from the face of the complaint. See
Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 459 (3d Cir. 2013),
abrogated on other grounds, Coleman v. Tollefson,
135 S.Ct. 1759 (2015). As Ms. Richardson is proceeding
pro se, the Court construes her allegations
liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen, 655 F.3d 333, 339
(3d Cir. 2011). Furthermore, "[i]f the court determines
at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the
court must dismiss the action." Fed. R. Civ. P.
to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal district
courts lack jurisdiction over "cases brought by
state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by
state-court judgments rendered before the district court
proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and
rejection of those judgments." Great W. Mining &
Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild, LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 166
(3d Cir. 2010) (quotations omitted). Here, Ms. Richardson,
who lost in state court, filed this action seeking reversal
of the state court's judgment because the state
court's ruling allegedly violated her constitutional
rights. Accordingly, Ms. Richardson's claims fall within
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and will be dismissed
for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
event any of Ms. Richardson's claims do not fall within
Rooker-Feldman, they fail for other reasons. The
statute of limitations governing Ms. Richardson's state
and federal claims is two years. See 42 Pa. Cons.
Stat. § 5524; Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384,
387 (2007). The limitations period began running when Ms.
Richardson "knew or should have known of the injury upon
which [her] action is based." Sameric Corp. v. City
of Phila., 142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998). Here, it is
apparent that Ms. Richardson knew of the injuries giving rise
to her claims on September 3, 2014, when her parental rights
were terminated. However, she did not file this action until
January 20, 2017, more than two years after her claims
accrued. Accordingly, it is apparent that her claims are
time-barred. Furthermore, Judge Fernandes is absolutely
immune from Ms. Richardson's claims, all of which are
based on Judge Fernandes's judicial acts. See Gallas
v. Supreme Court of Pa., 211 F.3d 760, 768 (3d Cir.
2000); Langella v. Cercone, 34 A.3d 835, 838 (Pa.
Super. Ct. 2011).
foregoing reasons, the Court will dismiss the complaint. Ms.
Richardson will not be given leave to file an amended
complaint because amendment would be futile, as she cannot
cure the defects in her claims. The motion to recuse that Ms.
Richardson filed with her complaint, which asks Judge
Fernandes to recuse himself from her case, is denied. An
appropriate order follows.