United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Stewart Cercone Senior United States District Judge
Addlespurger ("plaintiff") commenced this civil
rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985
and 1986 seeking redress for the alleged violation of his
First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Plaintiff's
claims arise from "a very long and contentious family
court case" administered in the Family Division of the
Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. Verified Amended
Complaint (Doc. No. 21) at ¶ 26. Named as defendants
here are the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, several of its
courts, numerous judges who entered orders in or related to
plaintiff's family court case, appellate judges who
reviewed some of those orders and court administrators.
Id. at ¶¶ 3-15. Presently before the court
is defendants' motion to dismiss. For the reasons set
forth below, the motion will be granted.
well-settled that in reviewing a motion to dismiss under
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) "[t]he
applicable standard of review requires the court to accept as
true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable
inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the
light most favorable to the non-moving party." Rocks
v. City of Philadelphia, 868 F.2d 644, 645 (3d Cir.
1989). Under the Supreme Court's decision in Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 561 (2007),
dismissal of a complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is proper
only where the averments of the complaint plausibly fail to
raise directly or inferentially the material elements
necessary to obtain relief under a viable legal theory of
recovery. Id. at 544. In other words, the
allegations of the complaint must be grounded in enough of a
factual basis to move the claim from the realm of mere
possibility to one that shows entitlement by presenting
"a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged." Id. In contrast, pleading facts that
only offer "'labels or conclusions' or 'a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not do, '" nor will advancing only factual
allegations that are "'merely consistent with' a
defendant's liability." Id. Similarly,
tendering only "naked assertions" that are devoid
of "further factual enhancement" falls short of
presenting sufficient factual content to permit an inference
that what has been presented is more than a mere possibility
of misconduct. Id. at 1949-50; see also
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 563 n. 8 (A complaint states a
claim where its factual averments sufficiently raise a
"'reasonably founded hope that the [discovery]
process will reveal relevant evidence' to support the
claim.") (quoting Dura Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v.
Broudo, 544 U.S. 336, 347 (2005) & Blue Chip
Stamps v. Manor Drug Stores, 421 U.S. 723, 741 (1975));
accord Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d
902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (a court need not credit "bald
assertions" or "legal conclusions" in
assessing a motion to dismiss) (citing with approval Charles
Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and
Procedure § 1357 (2d ed. 1997) ("courts, when
examining 12(b)(6) motions, have rejected 'legal
conclusions, ' 'unsupported conclusions, '
'unwarranted inferences, ' 'unwarranted
deductions, ' 'footless conclusions of law, ' or
'sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual
not to be understood as imposing a probability standard at
the pleading stage. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678
("'The plausibility standard is not akin to a
'probability requirement, ' but it asks for more than
a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted
unlawfully.'"); Phillips v. County of
Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 235 (3d Cir. 2008) (same).
Instead, "[t]he Supreme Court's Twombly
formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus:
'stating ... a claim requires a complaint with enough
factual matter (taken as true) to suggest the required
element ... [and provides] enough facts to raise a reasonable
expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the
necessary element.'" Phillips, 515 F.3d at
235; see also Wilkerson v. New Media Technology Charter
School Inc., 522 F.3d 315, 321 (3d Cir. 2008)
("'The complaint must state 'enough facts to
raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal
evidence of the necessary element.'") (quoting
Phillips, 515 F.3d at 235) (citations omitted).
"Once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be
supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the
allegations in the complaint." Twombly, 550
U.S. at 563.
is well settled that pleadings filed by pro se
litigants are to be construed liberally. McNeil v. United
States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993); Higgins v.
Beyer, 293 F.3d 683, 688 (3d Cir. 2002). And in such
circumstances the court has an obligation to "apply the
applicable law, irrespective of whether a pro se
litigant has mentioned it by name." Higgins,
293 F.3d at 688 (quoting Holley v. Dept. of Veterans
Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 247-48 (3d Cir. 1999)).
above-referenced standards are not to be read as a license to
excuse or overlook procedural shortcomings in pleadings
submitted by those who choose to represent themselves.
McNeil, 508 U.S. at 113 ("we have never
suggested that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation
should be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who
proceed without counsel"). Thus, a complaint drafted
without the benefit of counsel nevertheless must comply with
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). And, while Fed.R.Civ.P.
8(a)(2) requires only a "short and plain statement of
the claims showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,
" Rule 12(b)(6) is not without meaning. Krantz v.
Prudential Investments Fund Management, 305 F.3d 140,
142 (3d Cir. 2002). It follows that in order to comply with
the applicable pleading standards "more detail is often
required than the bald statement by plaintiff that he has a
valid claim of some type against defendant."
Id. at 142 - 43 (quoting Charles A. Wright and
Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice And Procedure, § 1357
at 318 (2d ed. 1990)). This principle appears to be even more
well-grounded after Twombly.
although the focus in assessing a motion to dismiss is on the
allegations set forth in the pleadings, "matters of
public record, orders [and] exhibits attached to the
complaint" also may be considered. Oshiver v. Levin,
Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2
(3d Cir. 1994) (citing 5A Wright & Miller, Federal
Practice and Procedure § 1357); Pension Benefit
Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Industries, Inc., 998 F.2d
1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (In ruling on a motion to dismiss,
a district court can consider the complaint, attached
exhibits, and matters of public record.). Matters of public
record include judicial proceedings and a court may take
judicial notice of another court's opinions and orders.
Southern Cross Overseas Agencies v. Wah Kwong Shipping
Group Ltd., 181 F.3d 410, 426 (3d Cir. 1999). Finally,
in applying the plausibility standard a reviewing court must
make a context-specific inquiry, drawing on its judicial
experience and common sense. Fowler v. UPMC
Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009).
family court case began in July of 2004 when plaintiff's
ex-spouse, Julie McVay Addlespurger, initiated a proceeding
for support. The case continued until August 1, 2014, when
plaintiff's youngest child was emancipated. Id.
at ¶¶ 24, 93. This contentious ten-year case
generated 527 docket entries. Id. at ¶ at 26. A
divorce decree was entered in July of 2009, but the court
continued to assert its jurisdiction over plaintiff on the
theory that a final order had not been entered. Id.
at ¶ 25.
David Wecht was a judge in the Family Division and became
assigned to the case on or about September 27, 2004, and
continued to preside over and entered orders in it until July
10, 2009. Id. at ¶¶ 3,
45-65. During this time Justice Wecht entered
orders regarding equitable distribution, child support and
the payment of attorney's fees to McVay's attorney,
Charles Voelker. Id. at ¶ 27. "Many of
these orders either combined child support with attorney
fees, ordered both in a lump sum, ordered attorney fees and
child support to be deducted from equitable distribution
and/or authorized attorney fees to be paid into and out of
child support." Id. at ¶ 28. "The
co-mingling of child support, equitable distribution, and
attorney fees, as well as the often illegible orders, led to
an unable to decipher numeric nightmare." Id.
at ¶ 29.
combination of illegible orders and the co-mingling of
obligations led to several instances where plaintiff paid
money toward his child support obligation and it
inappropriately was used to pay attorney fees to Voelker.
Id. at ¶¶ 30-31. The use of funds in this
manner was ordered by Justice Wecht "prematurely and in
violation of all rules, statutes and case law."
Id. at ¶ 35. As a practical matter, when
plaintiff paid funds for his past due support obligations and
it was instead used to pay Voelker, plaintiff would
immediately be placed back into being in arrears on his
support obligation and then would have to pay more money or
face being incarcerated for being in arrears. Id. at
were entered in the case that led to plaintiff's
incarceration on 11 occasions. Id. at ¶ 34.
These periods of incarceration ranged from 60 to
approximately 200 days. Id. at ¶ 33. All of
these stints of incarceration were the result of orders
entered by Justice Wecht. Id. at ¶ 34.
Plaintiff protested the way the funds were allocated and paid
to Voelker, but his protests were in vein. Id. at
¶ 37. The orders granting fees to Voelker were often
entered sua sponte and the amounts awarded were
"pulled out of the air." Id. at ¶ 46.
unjustified and excessive orders were entered by Justice
Wecht in retaliation for plaintiff making allegations of
corruption about the Allegheny County Family Division and
Justice Wecht. Id. at ¶ 47. Among other things,
plaintiff publicly disseminated information about the illegal
orders, the contributions from Voelker's firm to Justice
Wecht's campaign, and plaintiff's illegal
incarceration. Id. at ¶ 49. Plaintiff found
himself in a circular state of affairs where he was unable to
stay current on his support obligations, which in turn
resulted in plaintiff being incarcerated on eleven different
occasions over the course of four years. Id. at
the course of plaintiff's family court case he
"repeatedly requested documentation of what was
considered to be equitable distribution, child support and
attorney fees." Id. at ¶ 72. Plaintiff
repeatedly was "denied any such documentation or
clarification even though various amounts of money were
co-mingled." Id. at ¶ 73.
filed an appeal on December 14, 2012. By this time Justice
Wecht had become a judge on the Superior Court of
Pennsylvania. Id. at ¶ 74. Justice Wecht was
assigned to the panel tasked with hearing plaintiff's
appeal. Id. at ¶ 75. Justice Wecht did not
recuse himself. Id. at ¶ 76.
number of other judges failed to "intercede" and
stop the egregious violation of plaintiff's rights.
Judges Elliott and Ott also were assigned to the panel.
Id. at ¶ 80. They did not take any action to
have Justice Wecht recused from the case. Id. at
¶¶ 81, 135, 141. Judge Strassburger, who did recuse
from the panel, failed to take action to have Judge Wecht
recuse himself. Id. at ¶ 79. Judges Steven,
Bender and Gantman, who were all president judges at some