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Coulter v. Lindsay

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

April 7, 2017

JEAN COULTER, Appellant
v.
ALEXANDER H. LINDSAY, JR., LINDSAY LAW FIRM, JOSEPH VICTOR CHARLTON AND PATRICIA LINDSAY, Appellees

         Appeal from the Order Entered April 1, 2016 In the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County Civil Division at No(s): Case No. 15-10340

          BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., OLSON and STRASSBURGER, [*] JJ.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         Serial Appellant, Jean Coulter, appeals pro se from the order entered on April 1, 2016. In this case, we hold that Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 233.1 is not void for vagueness under the federal and state constitutions and that our Supreme Court had the authority under the Pennsylvania Constitution to promulgate Rule 233.1. We also hold that Appellant's repeated, frivolous appeals to this Court warrant the awarding of attorney's fees and issuance of a filing injunction. Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's order and remand for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion and the accompanying order.

         The relevant factual background and procedural history of this case are as follows. On May 11, 2007, Appellant pled nolo contendere to aggravated assault[1] for the brutal abuse of her minor daughter. See Commonwealth v. Coulter, CP-10-CR-0000727-2006 (C.C.P. Butler). As a result of the heinous abuse of her daughter, the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County terminated Appellant's parental rights as to her daughter. See In the Interest of A.C., CP-10-DP-0000051-2006 (C.C.P. Butler). Alexander H. Lindsay, Jr., Lindsay Law Firm, Joseph Victor Charlton, and Patricia Lindsay (collectively "Appellees") represented Appellant during both the criminal and termination proceedings.

         Over the ensuring decade, Appellant filed dozens of actions in both the state and federal courts of this Commonwealth. For example, on March 2, 2015, Appellant filed a complaint against Appellees in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. In that complaint, Appellant "allege[d] that [Appellees] conspired with one another to deny her [] due process in those court proceedings." Coulter v. Lindsay, 2015 WL 11117718, *1 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 6, 2015) (hereinafter "Lindsay"). That complaint was dismissed with prejudice. See id.

         On May 4, 2015, Appellant instituted the instant action in the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County. In her complaint, Appellant conceded that she was raising the same exact claims that she raised in Lindsay. On December 22, 2015, Appellant filed a motion seeking the trial court's recusal. Appellant's recusal motion was denied that same day. On February 8, 2016, Appellant filed her fifth amended complaint. On March 11, 2016, Appellees filed preliminary objections. In their preliminary objections, Appellees argued that Appellant's claims were barred by res judicata. Moreover, Appellees argued that, to the extent Appellant's claims were not barred by res judicata, the trial court should dismiss the complaint under Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 233.1 (frivolous actions filed by pro se plaintiffs). Finally, Appellees argued that Appellant failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. On March 28, 2016, Appellant filed preliminary objections to Appellees' preliminary objections.

         The trial court heard argument on Appellant's and Appellees' preliminary objections on April 1, 2016. That same day, the trial court overruled Appellant's preliminary objections, sustained Appellees' preliminary objections, and dismissed Appellant's complaint. This timely appeal followed.[2] The appeal of this case was argued before this Court on January 10, 2017. On January 19, 2017, Appellant filed a motion seeking the recusal of all three members of this panel.

         Appellant presents five issues for our review:

1. [Did the trial court err by denying Appellant's recusal motion?
2. Did the trial court err by concluding that Appellant's claims were barred by res judicata and by dismissing her complaint pursuant to Rule 233.1?
3. Does Rule 233.1 violate the United States and Pennsylvania constitutions?
4. Did the trial court err in concluding that Appellant's claims were barred by the statute of limitations?
5. Did the trial court err in concluding that Appellant failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted?]

Appellant's Brief at 4-5.[3]

         Preliminarily, we must consider Appellant's recusal motion. Appellant argues that all three members of this panel should recuse from this case because the panel was not randomly assigned. She also argues that all three members of this panel are biased against her. This argument is waived. "A party seeking recusal or disqualification is required to raise the objection at the earliest possible moment, or that party will suffer the consequence of being time barred." In re Lokuta, 11 A.3d 427, 437 (Pa. 2011) (internal alterations and citation omitted). In this case, the earliest opportunity to raise the recusal issue was at oral argument. Appellant, however, did not move for recusal until nine days after this case was argued. Accordingly, Appellant waived any argument related to the recusal of the three members of this panel.

         Moreover, even if Appellant preserved her recusal claim, it is frivolous. This case was assigned to this panel pursuant to 210 Pa.Code § 65.5(C)(1)(a). Specifically, a member of this Court originally assigned to hear this case became unavailable to participate in the disposition of this case and the President Judge appointed a replacement.[4] Accordingly, all ...


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