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Cook v. City of Philadelphia

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 18, 2019

DARYL COOK, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

         Plaintiff Daryl Cook is an inmate in the Pennsylvania State Correctional System. He brings claims against the City of Philadelphia and other defendants under § 1983 and § 1985 alleging due process violations and conspiracy, and claims for fraud and misrepresentation, all of which relate to certain prior state court litigation. That litigation was settled and concluded when the Supreme Court of the United States declined to review Cook's allegations of impropriety in the case. Unhappy with the outcome, Cook believes there must have been a conspiracy or other misconduct. However, Cook's federal case cannot proceed: his § 1985 claim is not cognizable on the facts he has alleged; the Court lacks jurisdiction over his § 1983 and misrepresentation claims under Rooker-Feldman; the Settlement Agreement bars all claims, including the fraud claim; and finally, res judicata also precludes all claims. Thus, the § 1985, § 1983, and misrepresentation claims will be dismissed, and summary judgment will be granted in favor of Defendants and against Cook on the fraud claim as a matter of law.

         Contents

         I. INTRODUCTION .............................................. 3

         A. State Court Litigation .................................. 3

         B. Federal Litigation ...................................... 7

         II. DISCUSSION ............................................... 11

         A. Sua Sponte Raising of Subject Matter Jurisdiction and Preclusion .................................................. 11

         B. Cook's § 1985 claim is not legally cognizable .......... 13

         C. Rooker-Feldman ......................................... 14

         1. Legal doctrine ........................................ 14

         2. The Court lacks jurisdiction over Cook's § 1983 claims and misrepresentation in the Settlement Agreement claims in light of Rooker-Feldman ................................... 15

         3. Cook's claim of fraud in the Petition to Open Judgment is not barred by Rooker-Feldman .............................. 16

         D. Preclusion ............................................. 17

         1. Legal principles ...................................... 17

         2. Cook's arguments against preclusion ................... 20

         3. The Settlement Agreement bars Cook's claims ........... 21

         4. Res judicata bars Cook's claims ....................... 21

         III. CONCLUSION ............................................. 24

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A lengthy recitation of the facts and history of the state and federal litigations is warranted in order to put the legal issues in this case in perspective.

         A. State Court Litigation

         On July 13, 2010, Cook was convicted of third-degree murder in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. ECF No. 50 at 3. Cook alleges that during the investigation, he was beaten into making a self-incriminating statement, and he was assaulted while awaiting trial. Id.; ECF No. 50-3 at 12, 15; see also Cook v. City of Phila., No. 2304 C.D. 2015, 2016 WL 6938451, at *1 (Nov. 28, 2016).

         In May 2012, after his conviction, Cook filed a state court civil action seeking damages for his alleged injuries from multiple defendants, including Lt. Dean and Det. Rodden. See ECF No. 50-1. On March 14, 2013, Cook sought the entry of default judgments against Dean and Rodden for their failure to file an answer, and default judgment was entered against them. Id. at 20 (entries dated March 14, 2013).

         On December 9, 2013, Dean and Rodden filed a Petition to Open Judgment, [1] which was granted on January 7, 2014. Id. at 26-27. On June 19, 2014, Cook moved for extraordinary relief in the form of reinstating the default judgment, [2] but was denied on October 29, 2014. Id. at 30.

         The case proceeded, and over a year later, on January 23, 2015, the remaining parties attended a settlement conference held on the record before Judge Jacqueline Allen in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas. See Id. at 33; ECF No. 50-5. Cook stated that he sought money damages, release from prison, and expungement of his murder conviction. ECF No. 50-5 at 8-11. Judge Allen explained to Cook that the court could not grant him relief as to his imprisonment or conviction. Id. at 11-12. Cook stated that he understood “very clearly, ” he wanted help with the settlement as to the amount of money, and he was “still going to seek [his] relief in the criminal process.” Id. at 12-13.

         The parties then discussed settlement amounts. Judge Allen stated her view that “if the City offers you $2, 500.00 I think you ought to take it and this case should be marked settled, $2, 500.00.” Id. at 13. Cook replied “I want to do that.” Id. at 14. Judge Allen confirmed with the defendants' attorney, Amanda Shoffel, Esq., that she had authority to “settle this civil lawsuit.” Id. Judge Allen then asked Cook whether he accepted the offer in “total settlement of this civil lawsuit, ” to which Cook responded yes. Id.

         But Cook later refused to sign the Settlement Agreement, believing that Shoffel had failed to send him all of the required paperwork when petitioning to open the judgment, including the Petition and an accompanying proposed Rule to Show Cause Order. See ECF No. 50-3 at 6-7, 21-22. The defendants moved the court to enforce the Settlement Agreement, and the court granted the motion on May 13, 2015. ECF No. 50-1 at 33-34. Cook ultimately signed the Settlement Agreement on May 29, 2015. ECF No. 50-6.

         On September 4, 2015, Cook moved to strike the Settlement Agreement, arguing in part that he had not been served with the Petition and the accompanying proposed Rule to Show Cause Order, but his motion was denied by the Court of Common Pleas on October 13, 2015. ECF No. 50-1 at 34-35; Cook, 2016 WL 6938451, at *3.

         Cook then timely appealed the denial of his motion to strike the Settlement Agreement to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania. Cook, 2016 WL 6938451, at *4. Amongst the issues presented, Cook contended that “the trial court's January 2014 order opening and vacating the default judgment [was] void because the trial court did not issue a rule to show cause.” Id. Cook also contended that “the trial court's order denying the motion to strike settlement and reinstate default judgment should be vacated and the case remanded to the trial court” because of errors and coercion. Id.

         The Commonwealth Court held that Cook had “withdrawn and terminated” any claim that he may have had on any procedural defects because he entered into a “total settlement of the civil law suit, ” and had “agreed to discontinue those claims.” Id. at *5. Furthermore, the Settlement Agreement plainly applied to all defendants, ...


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