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Mojica v. SCI-Mahanoy Security

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania

January 3, 2020

Benjamin Mojica, Appellant
v.
SCI-Mahanoy Security and RHU Officers, i.e., Security Cpt. Sober, Security Lt. Clark, Security Sgt. Malick (now Lt.), Security Coll Brobst (now Sgt.), Security Coll Delacruz, Acting Security Coll Umholtz, Security Coll Jane and/or John Doe, Restricted Housing Unit (RHU) Lt. Wall, RHU Sgt. Malick, RHU Coll John Doe, Secretary Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, John Wetzel

          Submitted: September 27, 2019

          BEFORE: HONORABLE P. KEVIN BROBSON, Judge HONORABLE ANNE E. COVEY, Judge HONORABLE CHRISTINE FIZZANO CANNON, Judge

          OPINION

          ANNE E. COVEY, JUDGE [1]

         Benjamin Mojica (Mojica) appeals from the Schuylkill County Common Pleas Court's (trial court) June 29, 2018 order denying Mojica's petition to proceed in forma pauperis (Petition) and dismissing Mojica's complaint (Complaint) as frivolous pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure No. (Civil Rule) 240(j). After review, we remand to the trial court.

         Mojica is an inmate at the State Correctional Institution at Mahanoy (SCI-Mahanoy). On April 23, 2018, Mojica filed his Petition with the trial court seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis due to his current financial condition. Attached to the Petition was a copy of his Complaint, wherein he sought an award of monetary damages against several security and restricted housing unit (RHU) officers and other employees at SCI-Mahanoy and the Department of Corrections Secretary John Wetzel (collectively, DOC). Therein, Mojica alleged that after DOC placed him in the RHU for 30 days following a failed drug test, DOC negligently handled his personal property by, inter alia: (1) removing his personal property from his general population cell without him being present; (2) failing to complete an inmate personal property inventory form at the time they removed his personal property; (3) failing to provide him with his non-contraband personal property during his 30-day stay in the RHU; and (4) failing to return some of his personal property at the time he was released from the RHU and returned to the general population, including, but not limited to, basic household items, food items, personal hygiene items, magazines, and legal papers associated with the criminal case for which he is incarcerated.

         On June 29, 2018, the trial court denied Mojica's Petition and dismissed the Complaint pursuant to Civil Rule 240(j). The trial court concluded: "The Complaint sets forth an intentional tort for which [DOC is] entitled to sovereign immunity. Also, [Mojica] fails to aver that the grievance process has been pursued to final [o]rder." Trial Ct. Order at 1. Mojica appealed to this Court.[2] By July 24, 2018 order (Rule 1925(b) Order), the trial court directed Mojica to file a Statement of Matters Complained of on Appeal pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Appellate Procedure (Rule) 1925(b) (Rule 1925(b) Statement). Therein, the trial court stated: "Failure to comply with this directive may be considered by the appellate court as a waiver of all objections to the order, ruling, or other matter complained of." Rule 1925(b) Order at 1 (emphasis added).

         On August 3, 2018, Mojica timely filed his Rule 1925(b) Statement with the trial court Prothonotary. On August 22, 2019, Mojica filed an Application for Relief Seeking to Modify the Record (Application) with this Court, requesting inclusion of a document which Mojica claims establishes he served the trial court judge with his Rule 1925(b) Statement, even though he did not include the trial court judge on the proof of service. On November 28, 2018, the trial court issued its opinion pursuant to Rule 1925(a) (Rule 1925(a) Opinion), wherein the trial court recognized it had erred in dismissing Mojica's Complaint because, "upon further review of the Complaint[, ] it is clear that the Complaint is couched as [a] negligent tort seeking compensation for personal property not returned to [Mojica]" following his 30-day RHU stay. Trial Ct. Op. at 2, 4. Therefore, the trial court recommended that the matter be remanded to the trial court for further consideration.

         DOC argues that Mojica's appeal should be quashed because Mojica failed to serve his Rule 1925(b) Statement on the trial court judge.

Initially,
this Court, in Egan v. Stroudsburg School District, 928 A.2d 400 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007), specifically concluded, at the request of the court of common pleas, that an appellant had waived all issues on appeal as a result of the appellant's failure to serve a copy of her Rule 1925(b) [S]tatement on the trial court judge even though a Rule 1925(b) [S]tatement had been filed of record with the trial court. As a result, we entered an order quashing the appeal.
While these cases did not involve the [] amended Rule 1925(b), the cases demonstrate the Supreme Court's commitment to a bright-line rule of waiver for failure to comply with the requirements of Rule 1925. Applying that guidance, this Court previously concluded that failure to serve a 1925(b) [S]tatement on the trial court judge constitutes a fatal defect which shall result in the issues being waived and the appeal being quashed. Such a determination is consistent with the prior language of Rule 1925 and the [] amended Rule 1925, the latter of which requires appellants 'to file of record in the trial court and serve on the judge a concise statement of the errors complained of on appeal.' Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) (emphasis added). Furthermore, the language of the amended Rule 1925 reveals that failure to comply with the filing or service requirements continues to result in waiver given that the trial court judge's order must inform appellants that 'any issue not properly included in the [Rule 1925(b)] [S]tatement timely filed and served' shall be deemed waived. Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) (emphasis added).

Commonwealth v. $766.00 U.S. Currency, 948 A.2d 912, 915-16 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2008) (emphasis added).

         Importantly, Rule 1925(b) gives the trial court judge discretion to order a Statement of Errors Complained of on Appeal "if the judge giving rise to the notice of appeal ([trial court judge]) desires clarification of the errors complained of on appeal," in order to file its Rule 1925(a) opinion. Pa.R.A.P. 1925(b) (emphasis added). Here, the trial court filed its Rule 1925(a) Opinion, after the filing of the Rule 1925(b) Statement, and requested a remand so it could correct its error. The trial court did not mention the Rule 1925(b) Statement or Mojica's failure to serve the Rule 1925(b) Statement on the trial court judge. Rather, DOC raised the issue and this Court remanded the matter to the trial court.[3]

         Specifically, by July 11, 2019 order, this Court remanded the matter to the trial court pursuant to Rule 1925(c)(1) (relating to the timely filing/service of a Rule 1925(b) Statement) for a determination as to whether Mojica served his Rule 1925(b) Statement on the trial court. On August 12, 2019, the trial court issued an opinion, wherein it stated: "This court[']s review of our office record indicates that we were not directly served by [Mojica] with [Mojica's] [Rule 1925(b)] Statement. However, this judge did timely review the original [Rule 1925(b) Statement] ...


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