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Brobst v. Brobst

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

June 19, 2018

WILLIAM F. BROBST, JR., ROXANNE BROBST, h/w, and KESHIA BROBST, Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM F. BROBST, SR., DAVID W. CROSSETT, ESQUIRE, SMITH LAW GROUP, LLC, and JAMES M. SMITH, ESQUIRE, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          Henry S. Perkin, M.J.

         Presently before the Court are multiple pending dispositive motions filed by all of the parties. After review of these motions, the Court is prepared to issue the following decision.

         I. JURISDICTION.

         The Court has jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' federal claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and jurisdiction over the state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

         II. FACTS.

         Brobst Sr., by and through his attorney David W. Crossett, Esquire (“Attorney Crossett”) filed a complaint in ejectment in the Berks County Court of Common Pleas in June of 2015, seeking to eject his son, William F. Brobst, Jr. (“Brobst Jr.”), his daughter-in-law, Roxanne Brobst and his granddaughter, Keshia Brobst (collectively “Plaintiffs”) from a parcel of property Brobst Sr. owns on Kemp Road in Kutztown, Pennsylvania (“the Real Property”).[1]Plaintiffs resided in a trailer that had been placed on the Real Property. Brobst Sr. also sought a right of possession as surviving tenant by the entireties. The Plaintiffs, who were the defendants in the Berks County action, sought reformation of the 1971 deed of The Real Property or, in the alternative, the grant of a constructive trust in the property for an undetermined amount of money and services. The Honorable James M. Lillis of that court granted summary judgment to Brobst Sr. and a judgment for possession which granted him sole ownership and the sole right to possession of the Real Property by Order signed on June 22, 2016. The Order was filed in the Prothonotary's Office of Berks County on June 23, 2016. On July 11, 2016, Brobst Sr., represented by Attorney Crossett, filed a Writ of Possession with the Berks County Prothonotary pursuant to Pa. R.C.P. 3160, et seq. On July 12, 2016, the Prothonotary issued a Writ of Possession to the Berks County Sheriff's Department.[2]

         On July 19, 2016, at approximately 1:30 p.m., the Sheriff's Department executed at the Real Property on the Writ of Possession. Brobst Jr. emerged from his trailer home onto the porch and was yelled at by one of the Sheriff's deputies that he had fifteen minutes to vacate the Real Property, and the deputy came up to the door. Two sheriffs followed Brobst Jr. into the house and one followed him to the bathroom. Brobst Jr. knocked on the door and then opened the door to tell Keshia, who is approximately twenty-five years old, that they had to go. The Sheriff with Brobst Jr. pushed open the bathroom door revealing a naked Keshia Brobst getting out of the shower. Another Sheriff asked for and was given the keys to the trailer where Ruth and Neil had lived, which Brobst Jr. told him was used for storage. Brobst Jr. called his wife, Roxanne Brobst, at work and she drove home. Brobst Jr. moved some of the family's vehicles onto the neighbor's land and the Plaintiffs were permitted to gather any personal property needed such as clothing, medications, guns and their seven cats and left the Real Property at approximately 2:15-2:30p.m. on that date. The Sheriffs did not change the locks on the trailer.

         That same day, July 19, 2016, counsel for the Plaintiffs filed an Emergency Petition to Strike the Writ of Possession and Judge Lillis entered an order striking the Writ of Possession. Plaintiffs returned to the Real Property that day at approximately 6:30 p.m., finding nothing damaged or destroyed in their absence. On July 20, 2016, Plaintiffs appealed the June 22, 2016 judgment for possession which granted Brobst Sr. sole ownership and the sole right to possession of the Real Property. Plaintiffs continued to reside on the Real Property until January, 2017, and they removed their trailer from the Real Property in February, 2017. On February 21, 2017, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed Judge Lillis' grant of possession of the Real Property to Brobst Sr.

         III. PROCEDURAL HISTORY.

         On July 27, 2016, Plaintiffs filed the instant matter against Brobst Sr., Attorney Crossett, The Smith Law Group, LLC (Attorney Crossett's law firm), and James M. Smith, Esquire (collectively “The Smith Defendants”), while the state court appeal was ongoing. Following motions to dismiss filed by Brosbst Sr. and the Smith Defendants, Plaintiffs filed the Amended Complaint on September 19, 2016. The Amended Complaint contained sixteen counts, including claims alleging violations of Plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1983 and a claim for attorney fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1988. See Dkt. No. 19. On October 3 and 5, 2016, Brobst Sr. and the Smith Defendants again filed motions to dismiss and Plaintiffs filed a combined response to both motions. On May 31, 2017, the Honorable Lawrence F. Stengel granted in part and denied in part the motions to dismiss, leaving Plaintiffs' remaining claims as: civil rights claims under section 1983 for violations of the Plaintiff's Fourteenth and Fourth Amendment rights (Counts I and II); a claim for attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1988 (Count III); a claim for declaratory relief/judgment that the Defendants' actions were in violation of section 1983 (Count XV) and claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IX), abuse of process (Count XI), trespass (Count XIII) and conversion (Count XIV) pursuant to Pennsylvania law. Upon consent of the parties, Chief Judge Stengel ordered the case transferred for final disposition pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 636(c) on September 1, 2017. On October 20, 2017, a scheduling conference was held pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 16.

         The Smith Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings was filed on December 7, 2017 and Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition and Cross Motion for Partial Summary Judgment was filed on January 2, 2018. The Smith Defendants' Reply Brief in Support of their Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings was filed on January 17, 2018, and their Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Cross Motion for Summary Judgment was filed on January 16, 2018. The Opposition to Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment was filed by Defendant William Brobst, Sr. (“Brobst”) on January 16, 2018. Brobst's Motion for Summary Judgment and Statement of Undisputed Material Facts was filed on February 8, 2018 and the Smith Defendants' First Motion Summary Judgment, Statement of Undisputed Material Facts and Memorandum of Law in Support were filed on February 9, 2018. Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition to the Smith Defendants' First Motion for Summary Judgment and Combined Opposition to Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment, for Judgment on the Pleadings and Renewed Cross-Motion for Partial Summary Judgment and Memorandum in Support were filed on February 22, 2018. On March 22, 2018, the Smith Defendants filed a Motion for Leave to File a Second Motion for Summary Judgment, to which Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition was filed on April 5, 2018, and the Smith Defendants filed a Motion for Leave to File a Reply Brief on April 9, 2018. The Smith Defendants were granted leave to file a second Motion for Summary Judgment and their Reply Brief to Plaintiffs' Opposition was filed on May 15, 2018. Oral argument on the outstanding motions was held on May 16, 2018, and the Smith Defendants filed their Second Motion for Summary Judgment and Plaintiffs' Opposition to the Smith Defendants' Second Motion for Summary Judgment were also filed on May 16, 2018.

         IV. STANDARD OF REVIEW.

         A. Judgment on the Pleadings.

         A motion for judgment on the pleadings under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) is analyzed under the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Sharpe v. Midland Credit Mgmt., 269 F.Supp.3d 648, 652-53 (E.D. Pa. 2017)(citing Shelly v. Johns-Manville Corp., 798 F.2d 93, 97 n 4 (3d Cir. 1986); Regalbuto v. City of Phila., 937 F.Supp.2d 374, 376 (E.D.Pa. 1995), aff'd 91 F.3d 125 (3d Cir. 1996)). In deciding a Rule 12(c) motion, “the court considers the pleadings and attached exhibits, undisputedly authentic documents attached to the motion for judgment on the pleadings if plaintiffs' claims are based on the documents, and matters of public record.” Id. (quoting Atiyeh v. National Fire Ins. Co. of Hartford, 742 F.Supp.2d 591, 595 (E.D. Pa. 2010)). Only if “the plaintiffs would not be entitled to relief under any set of facts that could be proved” will a motion for judgment on the pleadings be granted. Id. (quoting Green v. Fund Asset Mgmt., L.P., 245 F.3d 214, 220 (3d Cir. 2001)). Moreover, the court must view the facts and inferences to be drawn from the pleadings in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Id. (citing Id.)

         To survive a motion for judgment on the pleadings, 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, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A district court first identifies those factual allegations that constitute nothing more than “legal conclusions” or “naked assertions.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557, 127 S.Ct. 1955. Such allegations are “not entitled to the assumption of truth” and must be disregarded. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937. Then the court evaluates all “well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegation[s]” to determine whether the plaintiff has stated a plausible claim for relief. Id.

         B. Summary Judgment.

         Summary judgment is appropriate where the record and evidence, taken in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, show “that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). The essential inquiry is “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to the jury or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 251-252 (1986). The moving party has the initial burden of informing the court of the basis for the motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). An issue is genuine only if there is a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. A factual dispute is material only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under governing law.

Id. at 248.

         To defeat summary judgment, the non-moving party cannot rest on the pleadings, but rather that party must cite “to particular parts of materials in the record” showing that there is a genuine dispute for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). Similarly, the non-moving party cannot rely on unsupported assertions, conclusory allegations, or mere suspicions in attempting to survive a summary judgment motion. Williams v. Borough of West Chester, 891 F.2d 458, 460 (3d Cir. 1989) (citing Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325). The non-moving party has the burden of producing evidence to establish prima facie each element of its claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-323. If the court, in viewing all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party, determines that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact, then summary judgment is proper. Id. at 322; Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 812 F.2d 81, 83 (3d Cir. 1987). When the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial, the moving party's burden can be “discharged by ‘showing' - that is, pointing out to the District Court - that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case.” Jones v. Indiana Area Sch. Dist., 397 F.Supp.2d 628, 642 (W.D. Pa. 2005) (quoting Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325).

         V. DISCUSSION.

         Following Chief Judge Stengel's decision on the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiffs' remaining claims are: civil rights claims under section 1983 for violations of the Plaintiff's Fourteenth (Count I) and Fourth (Count II) Amendment rights; a claim for attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. section 1988 (Count III); a claim for declaratory relief/judgment that the Defendants' actions were in violation of section 1983 (Count XV) and state law claims for intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count IX), abuse of process (Count XI), trespass (Count XIII) and conversion (Count XIV) pursuant to Pennsylvania law.

         The Smith Defendants' Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings must be denied because Plaintiffs' Complaint states sufficient facts that “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). See also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (“Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”). Further, Defendants had the opportunity and in fact did file ...


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