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Ke v. Superior Court of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

September 12, 2019

ZHAOJIN DAVID KE, Plaintiff
v.
SUPERIOR COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, WESTERN DISTRICT, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          SUSAN PARADISE BAXTER DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         A. Relevant Procedural History

         On May 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, [1]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.

         On 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].

         In the 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.

         On 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 for consideration.

         B. Relevant Factual History

         On 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).

         Defendant 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).

         On 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)

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Quasi-Judicial Immunity

         Defendant Richmond argues that Plaintiff's Section 1983 claims against her are barred by quasi-judicial immunity, ...


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