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Kammerdiener v. Armstrong County

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 29, 2019

ARMSTRONG COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          Maureen P. Kelly Magistrate Judge


          Cathy Bissoon United States District Judge

         This case has been referred to United States Magistrate Judge Maureen P. Kelly for pretrial proceedings in accordance with the Magistrates Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 636(b)(1)(A) and (B), and Local Rule of Civil Procedure 72.

         On August 7, 2019, Magistrate Judge Kelly issued a Report (hereinafter “R&R, ” Doc. 24) recommending Counts I-IV of Plaintiff Ronald Kammerdiener's (hereinafter, “Plaintiff's”) Complaint, alleging federal Constitutional violations, be dismissed with prejudice as each is barred by Heck v. Humphrey[1] and, alternatively, by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.[2] (R&R at 10-15; 23.) As to Count V, which arises under state law, Magistrate Judge Kelly recommended that the Court decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the claim and dismiss it without prejudice to Plaintiff's filing in state court. (Id. at 22-23.)

         For the reasons that follow, the Court will adopt in part and reject in part the Magistrate Judge's R&R.


         On November 6, 2018, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Armstrong County, Regina Himes, Erika Kirkpatrick and Phillip Shaffer, (collectively, “Defendants”), alleging Defendants violated his Constitutional and other rights by denying him access to a lawyer or a hearing for six months after Plaintiff was incarcerated for being in contempt of the Armstrong County Court of Common Pleas. (See generally Complaint, Doc. 1.) Defendants Regina Himes and Erika Kirkpatrick filed a Motion to Dismiss on January 7, 2019, (hereinafter, “Motion to Dismiss, ” Doc. 11), and Plaintiff filed a Response opposing the Motion to Dismiss on January 25th (hereinafter, “Response, ” Doc. 15). On June 12th, Magistrate Judge Kelly ordered the parties to file briefs addressing whether either the Rooker-Feldman doctrine or Heck may preclude federal jurisdiction in this case. (Doc. 19.) All parties' briefs in response to Judge Kelly's order were filed on June 21st. (See Docs. 21-23.)


         The Court has conducted a de novo review of the Complaint, the Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff's Response, and the supplemental briefing of the parties, together with the R&R. At this stage, the Court cannot agree with the R&R's conclusion that all of Plaintiff's claims are barred by Heck and by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         The core of the R&R rests on the Magistrate Judge's determination that Plaintiff's lawsuit requires this Court to question the validity of two sets of Consent Orders[3] issued in both of Plaintiff's state criminal cases, the first set on March 6, 2015 and the second set on May 8, 2017 (hereinafter, “2015 Orders” and “2017 Orders, ” respectively). After reviewing the Orders, the record is not developed enough to say conclusively that Counts I through IV of the Complaint are barred. Plaintiff's Complaint is at times confusing, and this Court agrees with Magistrate Judge that those aspects of the Complaint that attack the 2015 and 2017 Orders are barred by Heck. (R&R at 10-15.) However, the Court disagrees that amendment would be futile.

         First, Plaintiff's Complaint is not the only filing to be considered. Plaintiff's supplemental briefing clarifies that the gravamen of his allegations appears to be that he was injured by Defendants' conduct that was not dictated or necessitated by the contempt conviction or the 2015 Orders.[4] He articulates that he challenges neither his contempt conviction nor his initial incarceration subject to the 2015 Orders. Plaintiff states:

Plaintiff's Complaint does not attempt to overturn Plaintiff's convictions for contempt of court. Plaintiff's issues are not with the state court for finding Plaintiff in contempt of court for failure to make payments of fines and costs. The injuries that Plaintiff suffered are not from the state court judgment but from Plaintiff not being able to speak to an attorney and not having a hearing for the six months that Plaintiff was incarcerated.

         (“Plaintiff's Brief, ” Doc. 19, at 4 (emphasis added)).

         It is true that the 2015 Orders accelerated Plaintiff's incarceration to the day immediately following his first noncompliance, and authorized a bench warrant to be issued and him to be initially incarcerated without notice or hearing. Plaintiff appears to agree that the 2015 Orders did so and he states in his Brief that he does not challenge those aspects of the Orders in this suit. Heck is no bar if Plaintiff is not challenging his conviction for contempt nor actions by Defendants caused by the 2015 Orders. See Heck, 512 U.S. at 487 (“[I]f the district court determined that the plaintiff's action, even if successful, will not ...

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