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Coulter v. Paul Laurence Dunbar Community Center

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

July 12, 2017

JEAN COULTER, Plaintiff,


          Arthur J. Schwab, United States District Judge

         I. Introduction and Procedural History

         During this litigation, pro se Plaintiff Jean Coulter (“Plaintiff” or “Coulter”) has spent considerable time and effort complaining about the Court's case management practices. See e.g. Doc. No. 25 (Motion for Recusal), Doc. No. 35 (Renewed Motion for Recusal). Instead of focusing on the well-founded arguments within the Defendants' Motions to Dismiss her Amended Complaint, (doc. no. 57 and doc. no. 59), Plaintiff spends the first three (3) pages of her fourteen (14) page response to both Motions complaining that she was not given sufficient time to respond to Defendants' Motions, despite never seeking an extension of time to file from the Court. Doc. No. 66, pp. 1-4.

         Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a Complaint against Defendants on February 1, 2016. Doc. No. 1. After Defendants filed Motions to Dismiss (doc. nos. 10 and 17), Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint alleging that Defendants (1) breached a contract or an implied contract to repay a $50, 000.00 loan Plaintiff made to Defendant Paul Laurence Dunbar Community Center (the “Dunbar Center”) in July 2013; (2) were negligent in the management of the Dunbar Center; (3) fraudulently induced Plaintiff into providing the loan; and (4) engaged in fraud and a civil conspiracy in the failure to repay the loan to Plaintiff. Doc. No. 29 and Doc. No. 50-1 (United States Court of Appeals Opinion finding that a liberal interpretation of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint includes a claim for fraudulent inducement). The Dunbar Center entered a Notice of Offer of Judgment in the amount of “$59, 000.00 inclusive of interest, if any, plus costs accrued to the date of th[e] offer” on February 29, 2016 - - more than the full amount of the loan at issue as stated in the Amended Complaint. Doc. No. 2.

         On March 29, 2016, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint, which the Court granted, dismissing Plaintiff's breach of contract claim without prejudice to refile in a court of competent jurisdiction. Doc. No. 43. Plaintiff appealed the dismissal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which vacated and “remand[ed] for the District Court to consider in the first instance whether [Plaintiff's] claims satisfied the amount in controversy requirement [to establish diversity jurisdiction] as of the filing of her complaint.” Doc. No. 50-1. On May 24, 2017, this Court entered a Text Order, finding that diversity jurisdiction was established by the record and ordering Defendants to respond to the Amended Complaint. Doc. No. 51.

         Defendants Dunbar Center, Grace Youth and Family Foundation, Catherine Donnelly, Heather D. Dovenspike, William M. Halle, John L. Wise, III, Douglas Frost, Leeann Meals, Robert Pater, Matthew Perotti, Clarice Shay, Eric Weimer, Louise Baldauf, Jennifer Linn, Min Offstein, Lorraine J. Didomenico, and Joyce Klara filed a renewed Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint in its entirety, except for the breach of contract claim asserted against the Dunbar Center. Doc. No. 57. Defendant Linn Law Group filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint in its entirety. Doc. No. 59.

         The Court has carefully considered Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, doc. no. 29, the Defendants' Motions, doc. nos. 57 and 59, Defendants' briefs in support, doc. nos. 58 and 60, and Plaintiff's response, doc. no. 61. The Court has also considered the issues raised by the Court of Appeals specifically concerning Plaintiff's fraudulent inducement claim. Doc. No. 51. For the reasons that follow, the Court will GRANT both Motions to Dismiss the Amended Complaint and the case will proceed on Plaintiff's remaining claim for breach of contract against the Dunbar Center.

         II. Legal Standards

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a Complaint must be dismissed for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Detailed factual pleading is not required - Rule 8(a)(2) calls for a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” - but a Complaint must set forth sufficient factual allegations that, taken as true, set forth a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Complaints must be construed so “as to do substantial justice.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(f), and pro se complaints should be construed liberally. Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 234 (3d Cir. 2004).

         The plausibility standard does not require a showing of probability that a claim has merit, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007), but it does require that a pleading show “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Determining the plausibility of an alleged claim is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id. at 679.

         A claim is plausible when the plaintiff alleges facts that allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit instructs that a District Court must undertake three steps to determine whether a complaint sets forth a plausible claim for relief:

First, the court must take note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, the court should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.

Connelly v. Steel Valley Sch. Dist., 706 F.3d 209, 212 (3d Cir. 2013) (citation omitted).

         The third step requires this Court to consider the specific nature of the claims presented and to determine whether the facts pled to substantiate the claims are sufficient to show a “plausible claim for relief.” Covington v. Int'l Ass'n of Approved Basketball Officials, 710 F.3d 114, 118 (3d Cir. 2013); see also Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010).

         When reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, the Court must view all of the allegations and facts in the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and must grant the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can be derived therefrom. Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). However, the Court need not accept inferences or conclusory allegations that are unsupported by the facts set forth in the complaint. See Reuben v. U.S. Airways, Inc., 500 F. App'x 103, 104 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 664.

         The Court may not dismiss a complaint merely because it appears unlikely or improbable that Plaintiff can prove the facts alleged or will ultimately prevail on the merits. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8. Instead, the Court must ask whether the facts alleged raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements. Id. at 556. Generally speaking, a Complaint that provides adequate facts to establish “how, when, and where” will survive a motion to dismiss. Fowler, 578 F.3d at 212. A motion to dismiss should be granted if a party fails to allege facts, which could, if established at trial, entitle him/her to relief. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n.8.

         III. ...

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