United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
PARADISE BAXTER DISTRICT JUDGE
Relevant Procedural History
1, 2018, Plaintiff Zhaojin David Ke, initiated this civil
rights action by filing a pro se complaint pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 [ECF No. 3], against Defendants
Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Western District
(“Superior Court”), Erie County Court of Common
Pleas (“Erie Court”), and Mary Richmond
(“Richmond”), an attorney who was appointed by
the Erie Court to serve as Master of Plaintiff's divorce
proceedings. Plaintiff subsequently filed a first amended
complaint [ECF No. 16] omitting his claims against the
Superior Court and Erie Court, while retaining his claims against
Defendant Richmond and adding claims against four new
Defendants: Michael DiPasquale, executive administrator of
the Superior Court (“DiPasquale”); Robert J.
Catalde, court administrator of the Erie Court
(“Catalde”); The Honorable James J. Fitzgerald, a
senior judge on the Superior Court
(“Fitzgerald”); and The Honorable Joseph M.
Walsh, a judge on the Erie Court (“Walsh”). For
convenience, Defendants DiPasquale, Catalde, Fitzgerald, and
Walsh will be collectively referred to as “Court
Defendants.” On October 1, 2018, Plaintiff filed
supplemental counts as to Defendant Richmond only. [ECF No.
37]. In all, Plaintiff has asserted four claims against
Defendant Richmond: (1) a retaliation claim under 18
Pa.C.S.A. § 4953; (2) a Fourteenth Amendment substantive
due process claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (3) a
retaliation claim under Section 1983; and (4) a state law
claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress.
October 12, 2018, Defendant Richmond filed a motion to
dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint and supplemental
counts [ECF No. 39], asserting that (1) she is entitled to
quasi-judicial immunity from Plaintiff's Section 1983
claims; (2) the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to
review Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine; and (3) Plaintiff's state law
claims of retaliation and intentional infliction of emotional
distress fail to state causes of action upon which relief may
be granted. Plaintiff filed a response in opposition to
Defendant Richmond's motion on December 26, 2018 [ECF No.
63], to which Defendant Richmond filed a reply brief [ECF No.
64], and Plaintiff then filed a sur-reply brief [ECF No. 65].
meantime, Plaintiff was granted leave to file a second
amended complaint, which was docketed on December 12, 2018
[ECF No. 61]. However, since the effect of the second
amendment was merely to consolidate the first amended
complaint and supplemental counts in one pleading, Defendant
Richmond's existing motion to dismiss [ECF No. 39] is
deemed to have been filed as to the second amended complaint.
In addition to the above-mentioned claims against Defendant
Richmond, the second amended complaint includes the following
claims against the Court Defendants: (1) a Fourteenth
Amendment due process claim; (2) a state created danger claim
under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment; and (3) a state law claim of intentional
infliction of emotional distress.
August 4, 2019, the Court Defendants filed a motion to
dismiss Plaintiff's second amended complaint [ECF No.
71], arguing, inter alia, that the court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction to review Plaintiff's Section
1983 claims under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Plaintiff has
since filed a brief in opposition to the Court
Defendants' motion [ECF No. 78]. This matter is now ripe
Relevant Factual History
January 1, 2008, Plaintiff separated from his wife and moved
from their marital home in Erie, Pennsylvania, to
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (ECF No. 61, Second Amended
Complaint, at ¶ 11). Plaintiff alleges that he and his
wife had actually been estranged since 2004, and even signed
a divorce agreement that year. (Id.). On December
23, 2007, Plaintiff was granted disability retirement and
began receiving monthly pension and disability supplemental
payments. (Id. at ¶ 12). On January 31, 2013,
Plaintiff's wife filed a divorce complaint, and on March
13, 2014, Defendant Richmond was appointed divorce master by
the Erie Court. (Id. at ¶ 13).
Richmond initially held two hearings to determine the
parties' date of separation. (Id.). A few days
after the second hearing on June 16, 2014, Plaintiff found
the 2004 divorce agreement and emailed a copy of it to
Defendant Richmond; however, she refused to accept it,
allegedly because she was offended by Plaintiff's
criticism of her for overcharging fees. (Id. at
¶ 15). Defendant Richmond did not issue a report until
November 3, 2014, leading Plaintiff to criticize her, via
emails, for her dilatory conduct. (Id. at ¶
16). In her report Defendant Richmond designated February 22,
2013, as the date of separation, despite the fact that all
parties agreed that Plaintiff moved out of the marital home
on January 1, 2008. (Id. at ¶ 17). Despite
Plaintiff's exceptions, the hearing judge upheld
Defendant Richmond's determination of the separation date
on February 2, 2015. (Id. at ¶ 19).
December 9, 2015, Defendant Richmond scheduled a third
hearing; however, Plaintiff objected to the hearing as
unnecessary, twice notified Defendant Richmond that he would
not attend the hearing, and then moved to disqualify her
“because of her deliberate prejudice.”
(Id. at ¶ 21). After the hearing judge denied
Plaintiff's motion to disqualify Defendant Richmond, the
third hearing was held as scheduled, in Plaintiff's
absence. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23). After the
hearing, Defendant Richmond issued her second report on
September 2, 2016, in which she allegedly made a number of
questionable determinations regarding property distribution,
including the allotment of 50% of Plaintiff's disability
supplement to his ex-wife, without explanation, despite
Plaintiff's argument that it was not marital property.
(Id. at ¶ 23). Plaintiff's exceptions to
this second report were denied by Defendant Walsh, and
Defendant Richmond's report was
“unconditionally” adopted on November 28, 2016.
(Id. at ¶ 27). The divorce decree was
subsequently issued on December 13, 2016. (Id. at
¶ 29). On appeal to the Superior Court, Defendant
Fitzgerald affirmed the state court's ruling.
(Id. at ¶ 34). Plaintiff's petition for
allowance of appeal was later denied by the Pennsylvania
Supreme Court on March 27, 2018. (Id. at ¶ 36)
Richmond argues that Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims
against her are barred by quasi-judicial immunity, ...