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Taft v. Morris

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 7, 2017

RAYMOND E. TAFT, Plaintiff
NANCY A. MORRIS, et al., Defendants.


          SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER United States Magistrate Judge


         A. Relevant Procedural and Factual History

         On December 4, 2015, Plaintiff Raymond E. Taft, an inmate incarcerated at the State Correctional Institution at Forest in Marienville, Pennsylvania, initiated this action by filing a pro se civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the following named Defendants: Nancy A. Morris ("Morris") and Carl McKee ("McKee"), probation officers with the Warren County Department of Parole and Probation; and attorneys John Parroccini, Esquire ("Parroccini"), Joan Fairchild, Esquire ("Fairchild"), and Alan M. Conn, Esquire ("Conn").

         Plaintiff alleges that each of the Defendants violated his constitutional right to due process and committed defamation by allegedly misrepresenting to the Court of Common Pleas of Warren County, Pennsylvania, that Plaintiff was a repeat sex offender. In particular, Plaintiff alleges that, on February 23, 2015, he discovered new evidence that Defendant Conn "was ineffective for instructing Plaintiff to enter a guilty plea to an illegal sentence" for failing to register as a sex offender. (ECF No. 5, Complaint, at p. 5, ¶ 1). On March 9, 2015, Defendant Fairchild was appointed to file an amended PCRA petition on behalf of Plaintiff and to represent him at the PCRA hearing. (Id. at ¶ 2). On May 18, 2015, Plaintiff received documentation from the State of Michigan allegedly showing that he did not have a second victim under the age of 13, thus allegedly showing that he was improperly sentenced as a repeat sex offender based upon false information. (Id. at ¶ 5). Plaintiff alleges that this "newly discovered evidence" was provided to Defendant Fairchild on May 19, 2015, but she filed a motion to withdraw as his counsel, instead of investigating the matter. (Id. at ¶ 6). On May 20, 2017, Plaintiff allegedly informed Defendants Parroccini and Conn of the newly discovered evidence, but neither one did anything to investigate or to have his name removed from the sex offender registration. (Id. at ¶ 7). Then, on May 21, 2015, Plaintiff wrote both Defendants Morris and McKee to inform them of the newly discovered evidence, but neither did anything to "support his innocence." (Id. at ¶ 8). As relief for his claims, Plaintiff seeks compensatory and punitive damages from each Defendant.

         On June 27, 2016, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss [ECF No. 13], arguing, inter alia, that Plaintiff's due process claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and/or the Younger abstention doctrine, or, alternatively, that: (1) Plaintiff's due process claims against Defendants Parroccini and Conn must be dismissed because neither is considered a state actor under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (2) Defendants Morris and McKee are entitled to quasi-judicial immunity. In addition, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's state law defamation claims are barred by the one-year statute of limitations and fail to state claims upon which relief may be granted in any event. Plaintiff has since filed a response and brief in opposition to Defendants' motion essentially restating his claims. [ECF Nos. 24, 25]. This matter is now ripe for consideration.

         B. Standards of Review

         1. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1)

         A defendant's motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) may be treated as either a facial or factual challenge to the court's subject matter jurisdiction. Gould Elecs. Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000) citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n., 549 F.3d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). Since Defendants in this case are challenging this Court's subject matter jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman, they are invoking a factual challenge. See McCurdy v. Esmonde, 2003 WL 223412, at *4 (E.D.Pa. Jan. 30, 2003) (finding that since “Rooker-Feldman turns on whether the issues were or could have been raised in the state court … or whether [they] are inextricably intertwined with the state court judgment, ” the issues raised by the 12(b)(1) motion were fact-based.)

         When a 12(b)(1) motion attacks the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, “we are not confined to the allegations in the complaint and can look beyond the pleadings to decide factual matters relating to jurisdiction.” Cestonaro v. United States, 211 F.3d 749, 754 (3d Cir. 2000). Thus, in reviewing a factual attack, “the Court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself whether it has power to hear the case ... [N]o presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations.” Carpet Group Int'l. v. Oriental Rug Importers Ass'n., 227 F.3d 62, 69 (3d Cir. 2000) citing Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891. The party asserting subject matter jurisdiction bears the burden of proving that it exists. Id.; cf. Ballentine v. U.S., 486 F.3d 806, 810 (3d Cir. 2007) (“On a motion to dismiss for lack of standing, the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the elements of standing, and each element must be supported in the same way as any other matter on which the plaintiff bears the burden of proof, i.e., with the manner and degree of evidence required at the successive stages of the litigation.”).

         2. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

         A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) 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. 544, 570 (2007). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (May 18, 2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act).

         The Court need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). See also McTernan v. City of York, Pennsylvania, 577 F.3d 521, 531 (3d Cir. 2009) (“The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions”). A Plaintiff's factual allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, citing 5 C.Wright & A. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, pp. 235-36 (3d ed. 2004). Although the United States Supreme Court does “not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Id. at 570.

         In other words, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff is “required to make a ‘showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief.” Smith v. Sullivan, 2008 WL 482469, at *1 (D.Del. February 19, 2008) quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). “This ‘does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ' but instead ‘simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that ...

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