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Kammerdiener v. Armstrong County

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 7, 2019

RONALD E. KAMMERDIENER, Plaintiff,
v.
ARMSTRONG COUNTY, PHILLIP SHAFFER, REGINA HIMES, and ERIKA KIRKPATRICK, Defendants.

          Cathy Bissoon Magistrate, District Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION RE: ECF NO. 11

          MAUREEN P. KELLY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. RECOMMENDATION

         Plaintiff Ronald E. Kammerdiener ("Plaintiff") initiated this civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs claims arise out of allegations that Defendants deprived him of his federal and state law rights when the Court of Common Pleas of Armstrong County adjudged him in contempt of court and sentenced him to a maximum term of six-months incarceration without granting him a hearing or access to counsel.

         Presently before the Court is a partial Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Regina Himes and Erika Kirkpatrick and brief in support (collectively, the "Motion to Dismiss"), and a brief in opposition filed by Plaintiff. ECF Nos. 11, 12, and 15.

         Pursuant to the Order of this Court dated June 11, 2019, ECF No. 19, the parties also submitted supplemental briefing addressing the applicability of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine (Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923) and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983)) and Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994) to preclude the exercise of this Court's jurisdiction over any and all claims alleged by Plaintiff in his Complaint. ECF Nos. 21, 22, and 23.

         For the following reasons, it is recommended that Plaintiffs Complaint be dismissed. The Court should dismiss Plaintiffs claims arising out of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts I to IV) pursuant to Heck and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Having dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, the Court should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiffs remaining state law claim for false imprisonment (Count V), and should therefore dismiss Count V without prejudice to refile in state court.

         II. REPORT

         A. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on November 6, 2018. ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs Complaint asserts claims against Defendants Armstrong County; Phillip Shafer ("Shafer"), Warden of the Armstrong County Jail; Regina Himes ("Himes"), Chief Adult Probation Officer of Armstrong County; and Erika Kirkpatrick ("Kirkpatrick"), Armstrong County Adult Probation Officer. Plaintiffs claims arise" out of allegations that Defendants violated Plaintiffs federal and state law rights when the Court of Common Pleas of Armstrong County adjudged Plaintiff in contempt of court on March 26, 2015 and May 19, 2017, sentencing him to a maximum term of six-months incarceration without granting him a hearing or access to counsel.

         1. Factual Background

         On June 6, 2013, Plaintiff pleaded guilty to two criminal charges of writing bad checks.[1]Commonwealth v. Kammerdiener, CP-03-CR-0000210-2013 (C.P. Armstrong Cty. March 20, 2013); Commonwealth v. Kammerdiener, CP-03-CR-0000211-2013 (C.P. Armstrong Cty. March 20, 2013) (attached hereto as Appendices A and B, respectively). The Court of Common Pleas of Armstrong County (the "State Court") sentenced Plaintiff to one year of probation, and to pay costs, restitution, and fines. Appendix A at 4; Appendix B at 4. Plaintiff was represented by the Armstrong County Public Defender's Office in connection with both charges. Appendix A at 2; Appendix B at 3.

         Plaintiff did not pay the financial penalty ordered by the State Court in either of the bad check cases. See Appendix A at 5; Appendix B at 5. On March 6, 2015, Consent Orders were entered into by Plaintiff and signed off on by Armstrong County Senior Judge Kenneth G. Valasek, ECF No. 1 ¶ 13; see also M, On March 26, 2015, the State Court filed Consent Orders (the "2015 Orders") on the criminal dockets for Plaintiffs bad check convictions, adjudging him in contempt of court for his failure to pay his financial penalty. Appendix A at 5; Appendix B at 5. The 2015 Orders set forth a payment plan of $25.00 a month through November 1, 2022 (the "Payment Plan"). Id. In the event that Plaintiff failed to adhere to this Payment Plan, the State Court, as set forth in the 2015 Orders, sentenced Plaintiff to an immediate term of incarceration, lasting a maximum of six months, or until his financial penalty was paid in full. Id.; see also ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 13-14. Copies were also provided to the District Attorney's Office and the Probation Department. Appendix A at 5; Appendix B at 5.

         Because Plaintiff did not comply with the Payment Plan, he was arrested in Clarion County, Pennsylvania on November 8, 2016. ECF No. 1 ¶ 13. The arrest was made pursuant to a bench warrant issued according to the 2015 Orders. Id. Plaintiff was incarcerated in the Clarion County Correctional Facility until November 16, 2016, and then was transferred to the Armstrong County Jail by two Armstrong County Probation Officers, one of whom was Defendant Kirkpatrick. Id. ¶¶ 15-17. Throughout the course of his incarceration, Plaintiff alleges that he never received access to counsel despite repeated efforts, and that he was never given a hearing to determine his financial ability to pay the penalty. See Id. ¶¶ 14, 15, 18-27, 31-33 and 37.

         On December 9, 2016, Plaintiff alleges he wrote a letter to Defendant Kirkpatrick regarding his confinement. Id. ¶¶ 28-30. Kirkpatrick responded by informing Plaintiff that he would remain confined until he paid his fines and costs or at the end of a six-month period of incarceration. Id. Plaintiff did not pay the financial penalty he owed. He was released after six months of incarceration on May 7, 2017. Id. ¶ 35.

         Just before Plaintiff was released from jail, on May 5, 2017, Plaintiff alleges that Kirkpatrick met with him and directed him to sign additional consent orders. Id. ¶ ¶ 34, 36. On May 8, 2017, Plaintiff was again adjudged to be in contempt. Appendix A at 5; Appendix B at 5. On May 19, 2017, the State Court entered a Consent Order adjudging Plaintiff to be in contempt of court for failing to pay his financial penalty from his bad check convictions (the "2017 Orders"). Id. In the event Plaintiff failed to make the required payments, the 2017 Orders sentenced him to a term of incarceration not to exceed six months. Id.; see also ECF No. 1 ¶ 34.[2]

         2. Plaintiffs Claims

         On November 6, 2018, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, raising four federal claims and a state law claim of false imprisonment. ECF No. 1. Plaintiff sues Shafer, Himes, and Kirkpatrick in their individual and official capacities. Id.

         In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that: (1) after his arrest pursuant to the 2015 Orders, Defendants failed to bring Plaintiff before a magistrate or judge for a hearing to determine his ability to pay fines and costs and thereby violated his procedural due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment (Count I); (2) Defendants violated Plaintiffs Sixth Amendment and/or Fourteenth Amendment rights to counsel when they deprived him of access to counsel throughout his six-month incarceration (Count II); (3) Defendants violated Plaintiffs Fourth Amendment or Fourteenth Amendment rights against wrongful detainment when he was incarcerated for six months without access to counsel or hearing (Count III); and (4) Defendants violated Plaintiffs Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from cruel and unusual punishment when he was incarcerated for six months without a hearing to determine his financial ability to pay his financial penalty (Count IV). ECF No. 1 at 7, 12, 15, and 17. Plaintiff also asserts that the Defendants conduct constituted state law false imprisonment (Count V), and that the Court has jurisdiction over this claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). Id. at 19.

         In sum, Plaintiff alleges that he was unlawfully arrested and incarcerated "without a court hearing or any process whatsoever." Id. ¶ 1. Plaintiff directly attacks the language in the State Court's 2015 Orders and 2017 Orders, which provided that he would not be given a hearing or access to counsel if he was arrested for failing to adhere to the Payment Plan. Id. ¶ 14; see also ECF No. 15 at 4. Plaintiff alleges the language of the Orders was "facially defective," because "on its face, it permitted incarceration for six months without a court hearing (or any process) to determine the individual's ability to pay" in violation of state and federal law. Id. ¶ 14. Plaintiff seeks compensatory and special damages from Defendants in their individual capacities for "actual physical and emotional injuries" and other damages that he sustained as a result of the State Court's purportedly unlawful 2015 Orders. Id. at 11-12, 14-19; ECF No. 15 at 5. In addition, Plaintiff requests that the Court issue a permanent injunction enjoining Defendants and their agents from enforcing the 2017 Orders without granting him a hearing and access to counsel, and a declaratory judgment holding that Defendants' deprivation of counsel and a hearing pursuant to the 2015 Orders and 2017 Orders was constitutionally defective. ECF No. 1 at 12, 15, 17 and 19.

         3. The Motion to Dismiss and Supplemental Briefing Regarding the Applicability of Heck and the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         On January 7, 2019, Defendants Himes and Kirkpatrick filed the instant partial Motion to Dismiss, seeking dismissal of all claims against them in their official capacities. ECF No. 11. Defendants argue that: (1) all claims against Himes and Kirkpatrick in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (2) Himes and Kirkpatrick, in their official capacities, are not persons subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) Plaintiff improperly asks the Court to intervene in ongoing State Court proceedings; and (4) declaratory relief is not available to adjudicate past conduct. ECF No. 12.

         Plaintiff opposes the Motion to Dismiss, arguing that: (1) his official capacity claims against Himes and Kirkpatrick are not barred by the Eleventh Amendment, because the declaratory and prospective injunctive relief he seeks invokes the Ex Parte: Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), exception to immunity; (2) whether Himes and Kirkpatrick are persons subject to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 is not relevant because claims for monetary damages are only brought against them in their individual capacities; (3) Plaintiff is not asking this Court to direct the State Court to perform any action, but simply to refrain from performing unconstitutional action; and (4) declaratory and prospective injunctive relief is required with respect to the 2017 Orders because Plaintiff fears that he will be rearrested and incarcerated with the same deprivation of process and counsel that he was allegedly subject to pursuant to the 2015 Orders. ECF No. 15.

         Upon review of the parties' submissions, this Court took notice of two issues that may require dismissal of Plaintiff s claims: (1) the applicability of Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994); and (2) the applicability of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Because the parties did not raise these potentially dispositive issues, the Court ordered supplemental briefing on the applicability the Rooker-Feldman, doctrine and whether Heck bars the claims raised in Plaintiffs Complaint. ECF No. 19. Thereafter, all parties filed supplemental briefs addressing these two issues. ECF Nos. 21, 22, and 23.

         B. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must be dismissed if, after viewing the facts as alleged in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and accepting any well-pleaded facts as true, it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007) (rejecting the traditional 12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009).

         In making this determination, a court need not accept inferences drawn by a plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. Cal. Pub. Employees' Ret. Sys. v. Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist. 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). Nor must the Court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)); see also McTernan v. City of York, Penn., 577 F.3d 521, 531 (3d Cir. 2009) ("The tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions."). A plaintiffs factual allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (citing 5 C. Wright & A. Miller, Fed. Practice and Procedure ยง 1216, at 235-236 (3d ed. ...


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