United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
Paradise Baxter, United States District Judge.
prisoner civil rights action was received by the Clerk of
Court on February 13, 2017 and was referred to the
undersigned, then a United States Magistrate Judge, for
report and recommendation in accordance with the Magistrates
Act, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), and Rules 72.1.3 and 72.1.4
of the Local Rules for Magistrates. On May 2, 2018, Plaintiff
filed his Amended Complaint, the operative pleading in this
case. ECF No. 55.
Amended Complaint sets forth a claim against Defendants
William Bloss and James Wolfgang pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§1983 for an alleged violation of Plaintiff's First
Amendment right to access the courts. Specifically, Plaintiff
alleges that, while he was incarcerated in the State
Correctional Institution at Forest, the Defendants withheld
an Order issued by the United States Court for the Eastern
District of Pennsylvania on June 27, 2016 in Case Number
2:14-cv-1399 that granted him leave, nunc pro tunc,
to appeal an order concerning the dismissal of his petition
for habeas corpus relief. Plaintiff claims that, because the
Defendants failed to deliver the June 27, 2016 Order within
the period allowed for a belated appeal, the Defendants
essentially denied him access to an appeal.
September 14, 2018, the undersigned was sworn in as a United
States District Judge. Four days later, this action was
transferred to the undersigned as presiding judge. On
September 27, 2018, the case was referred to United States
Magistrate Judge Richard A. Lanzillo for all pretrial
proceedings. ECF No. 71.
November 26, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary
judgment, supporting brief, statement of undisputed facts,
and appendix. ECF Nos. 82, 83, 84, 85. Defendants William
Bloss and James Wolfgang filed their opposing brief and
counterstatement of material facts on December 28, 2018. ECF
Nos. 91, 92. In their opposition papers, Defendants argued
that Plaintiff's claim must be dismissed for two reasons:
(1) it fails to state an actual case and controversy under
Article III of the U.S. Constitution because it is moot and
this Court therefore lacks jurisdiction to hear the case; and
(2) even if jurisdiction exists, Plaintiff's claim fails
on the merits in that he cannot prove actual injury. ECF No.
91 ¶2. Defendants explain that, in fact, Plaintiff's
appellate case was docketed with the United States Court of
Appeals for the Third Circuit and the appeal proceeded
forward. Id. ¶4. Moreover, Plaintiff was
successful in obtaining a new trial in a Post-Conviction
Relief Act petition at the state trial level, and the
Commonwealth ultimately nolle prossed the criminal
charges that were the subject of his federal habeas corpus
petition in Civil Action No. 14-1399. Id. ¶5.
Thus, Plaintiff obtained “the most successful outcome
that a litigant could hope for in such a circumstance.”
Id. Finally, Plaintiff is currently serving a
sentence on a conviction from Montgomery County that will
result in his imprisonment until at least June 1, 2029.
Id. Accordingly, it is Defendants' position that
Plaintiff can never demonstrate actual injury as a result of
their alleged misconduct. Id.
April 1, 2019, Judge Lanzillo issued a Magistrate Judge's
Report and Recommendation (“R&R”)
recommending that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment
be denied and the Amended Complaint be dismissed for lack of
jurisdiction. ECF No. 116. Plaintiff filed objections, and
certain amendments thereto, on April 15, 2019 and April 19,
2019, respectively. ECF Nos. 120, 121.
objections, Plaintiff contends, among other things, that he
never received Defendants' submissions in opposition to
his pending summary judgment motion, or the Defendants'
contemporaneously filed submissions in support of their own
motion for summary judgment, which were predicated on the
very same arguments set forth above. Notably though,
Defendants -- in response to these very complaints --
withdrew their original Rule 56 papers and re-served/re-filed
them on April 1, 2019. See ECF Nos. 110, 111, 112, 113.
Therein, Defendants once again re-asserted the same central
arguments set forth above. Plaintiff has since had an
opportunity to review and respond to Defendants'
arguments, as set forth in Plaintiffs' filings in
opposition to Defendants renewed motion for summary judgment.
See ECF Nos. 126, 127, 128, 129. Out of an abundance
of caution, the Court has reviewed all of the foregoing
filings submitted by Plaintiff and has construed them as
objections to the pending Report and Recommendation.
done so, the Court finds the recommendations of the
Magistrate Judge to be well-taken. Not only did Plaintiff
lodge a federal appeal in his habeas case, but the appellate
docket shows that Plaintiff's appeal was ultimately
dismissed on merit-related grounds - to wit, because
there was no basis for the issuance of a certificate of
appealability and because Plaintiff had not obtained leave to
assert a second or successive petition as to any new claims
being raised. See Lawson v. Superintendent Forest
SCI, No. 16-3228 (3d Cir. Nov. 23, 2016). In other
words, Plaintiff's appeal was not dismissed on
the basis of being untimely. This Court also notes that the
underlying habeas case from which Plaintiff sought to take an
appeal was not dismissed with prejudice but, rather, was
dismissed without prejudice as premature,
since Plaintiff had not yet at that point exhausted his state
court remedies. See Lawson v. Superintendent of SCI
Forest M. Overmyer, Case No. 2:14-cv-1399 (E.D. Pa.,
June 4, 2015) (ECF No. 18). Once Plaintiff did so, as noted,
he was successful, first in getting a new trial, and
ultimately in getting the charges dropped. Indeed, Plaintiff
acknowledges as much in his own averments. See ECF
No. 129, ¶¶27, 28.
the aforementioned jurisdictional defects in Plaintiff's
Amended Complaint are self-evident based upon various court
filings that are matters of public record, of which this
Court may take judicial notice. Further, this Court is
required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3) to
dismiss a claim at any time if it concludes that subject
matter jurisdiction is lacking. Consequently, regardless of
what Defendants may have asserted in their various filings,
this Court is independently obligated to consider the fact
that Plaintiff's First Amendment
“denial-of-access-to-courts” claim fails to
present an Article III case or controversy.
after de novo review of the complaint and documents
in the case, together with the Report and Recommendation and
Plaintiff's objections and amended objections to the
R&R, the following order is entered:
NOW, this 26th day of July, 2019;
ORDERED that the Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment
 be, and hereby is, DENIED.
FURTHER ORDERED that the Amended Complaint  be, and
hereby is, DISMISSED without leave to amend due to the
Court's lack of jurisdiction. Consistent with this Order,
the Clerk is directed to mark this case “CLOSED.”
IT IS ORDERED that the Report and Recommendation of
Magistrate Judge Lanzillo, issued on April 1, 2019, ECF No.
, be, and ...