Hill v. Lycoming Cnty. Gov't, CIVIL ACTION NO. 4:20-CV-2397

Decision Date23 December 2020
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 4:20-CV-2397
PartiesJEFFREY D. HILL, Plaintiff v. LYCOMING COUNTY GOVERNMENT, Defendant
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania

(BRANN, D.J.)

(ARBUCKLE, M.J.)

REPORT & RECOMMENDATION
I. INTRODUCTION

On December 21, 2020, Jeffrey D. Hill ("Plaintiff") initiated a civil action in federal court against the Lycoming County Government alleging that numerous state and federal statutes were violated, and continue to be violated, by a 2004 property tax assessment that was performed on his property. (Doc. 1). Along with his Complaint, Plaintiff filed an application seeking leave to proceed in forma pauperis and a Motion for injunctive relief. (Docs. 2, 3).

This case is not Plaintiff's first one in this court. As previously noted by this Court, Plaintiff has filed no fewer than 55 civil actions in this district, virtually all of which have ended in dismissal, most on the grounds that Plaintiff's claims were frivolous or malicious. Report and Recommendation, Hill v. Umpstead, No. 4:15-CV-587 (Mar. 27, 2015), ECF No. 3 adopted by ECF No. 5 (M.D. Pa. June 25, 2015). This case also isn't Plaintiff's first case concerning his objections to the 2004 property tax assessment. Plaintiff has filed at least six complaints over the last sixteen years (including this one) related to the 2004 property tax assessment in Lycoming County. See Hill v. Nassberg, No. 4:04-CV-2444 (M.D. Pa.) (dismissed, dismissal affirmed on appeal); Hill v. Nassberg, No. 4:05-CV-1336 (M.D. Pa.) (dismissed, dismissal affirmed on appeal); Hill v. Carpenter, No. 4:08-CV-591 (M.D. Pa.) (dismissed, dismissal affirmed on appeal); In re Jeffrey Hill, No. 4:11-MC-243 (M.D. Pa.) (dismissed); Hill v. Century 21, No. 1:11-MC-297 (M.D. Pa.).

Plaintiff's conduct of filing a large number of meritless lawsuits from 1988 through 2011 resulted in the imposition of a sanction requiring that Plaintiff "receive certification from a magistrate judge prior to filing a future civil action within the Middle District of Pennsylvania." Order, Hill v. Carpenter, No. 4:08-CV-591 (M.D. Pa. Feb 26, 2011), ECF No. 18. However, the enforceability of that sanction was called into question in a Third Circuit opinion in 2016. Mandate of USCA, Hill v. Umpstead, No. 4:15-CV-587 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 15, 2016), ECF No. 9-2 (noting that "the District Court's pre-filing injunction - which 'sanction[ed] Hill by requiring him to receive certification from a magistrate judge prior to filing a future civil action within the Middle district of Pennsylvania' - fails to comport with our direction that it 'impose more tailored sanctions against him.'").

To the extent that the 2011 sanction is still enforceable, I DECLINE to certify this action for filing because there is no plausible claim alleged. However, even ifthe sanction is unenforceable, this case should alternatively be dismissed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).

II. BACKGROUND & PROCEDURAL HISTORY
A. PLAINTIFF'S LITIGATION HISTORY IN THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Our story in this case begins in 1988, when it appears Plaintiff initiated his first civil action in this Court. All cases were filed pro se and Plaintiff sought leave to proceed in forma pauperis. By September 1996, Plaintiff had filed approximately 42 separate actions in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Hill v. Gates, 940 F. Supp. 108, 109 (M.D. Pa. 1996). On September 3, 1996, United States District Judge James McClure issued an Order directing Plaintiff to show cause as to why sanctions should not be imposed. Id. In that Order, the court "indicated that it would consider as an appropriate sanction the issuance of an order rendering Hill subject to the same restrictions with respect to litigation under § 1915 as are applied for prisoners." Id. On September 18, 1996, Judge McClure imposed a series of restrictions (explained in 51 paragraphs at the conclusion of his order) to Plaintiff's ability to file cases in this district, including (but not limited to):

(1) requiring Plaintiff to pay an initial partial filing fee of $5.00 and to deposit $5.00 per month until the full filing fee was paid in each civil action filed (failure to pay, and keep making payments would result in dismissal), id at 113-114; and
(2) barring Plaintiff from bringing any further civil actions if he has "on 3 or more occasions after the date of [the September 18, 1996 order],brought an action or appeal in a court of the United States that was dismissed pursuant to this order on the grounds that it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Id. at 114.

In April 2008, Plaintiff ran afoul of the 1996 sanction by filing his third frivolous lawsuit. On April 4, 2008, Judge McClure issued an order that states as follows:

4. Pursuant to our September 18, 1996 order in M.D. Pa. Civ. No. 96-1572 and our authority to impose sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, plaintiff's complaint is dismissed based on his filing at least three civil actions in the courts of the United States since the date of that order that were dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or for failure to state a claim. Alternatively, the complaint is dismissed on the merits under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) for failure to state a claim.
5. Plaintiff is ordered not to bring any civil action in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. We warn plaintiff that a failure to comply with this court order may result in contempt proceedings being brought against plaintiff.

Hill v. Carpenter, No. 4:08-CV-591, 2008 WL 936927 at *4 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 4, 2008).

Plaintiff appealed Judge McClure's April 2008 Order to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. On April 22, 2009, the Third Circuit affirmed Judge McClure's dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint, but vacated the imposition of sanction. Hill v. Carpenter, 323 F. App'x 167, 168 (3d Cir. 2009). In doing so the Circuit explained:

The District Court clearly was within its discretion to impose sanctions against Hill, as his filings in this case contained wholly inappropriate language and showed a complete lack of respect for the Court and the judicial process. Moreover, the instant case is but one of many non-meritorious actions Hill has filed over the years, and it is not the firstinstance in which Hill has used disrespectful and abusive language. Nonetheless, there is no indication that the Court gave Hill adequate notice and an opportunity to respond before imposing sanctions. See Brow v. Farrelly, 994 F.2d 1027, 1038 (3d Cir. 1993) ("If the circumstances warrant the imposition of an injunction [restricting a litigant's ability to file future law suits], the District Court must give notice to the litigant to show cause why the proposed injunctive relief should not issue."); see also In re Oliver, 682 F.2d 443, 446 (3d Cir. 1982) ("[The litigant] should have been provided with an opportunity to oppose the court's order [enjoining him from filing future cases] before it was instituted.") The imposed sanctions, which bar Hill from ever bringing another lawsuit in the district, were also overly broad. See In re Packer Ave. Assocs., 884 F.2d 745, 748 (3d Cir. 1989) ( "There simply is no support in the law for permitting an injunction prohibiting a litigant from ever filing a document in federal court."); see also Brow, 994 F.2d at 1038 ("[T]he scope of the injunctive order must be narrowly tailored to fit the particular circumstances of the case before the District Court."). Thus, we must vacate the Court's injunction barring Hill from bringing any future civil suit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.
In lieu of the vacated injunction, we recommend that the District Court-after providing notice and an opportunity to respond-consider adopting an order requiring Hill to obtain certification from a United States Magistrate Judge before bringing any future action in the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Such an approach has been endorsed by Courts of Appeals, see, e.g., Baum v. Blue Moon Ventures, LLC, 513 F.3d 181, 186-94 (5th Cir. 2008) (upholding an injunction preventing an abusive litigant from filing claims in any federal district court, bankruptcy court, or agency without court permission); Ortman v. Thomas, 99 F.3d 807, 811 (6th Cir. 1996) ("[I]t is permissible to require one who has abused the legal process to make a showing that a tendered lawsuit is not frivolous or vexatious before permitting it to be filed."); In re Packer Ave. Assoc., 884 F.2d at 748 (requiring a litigant to obtain leave of the district court before filing any action relating to a particular bankruptcy case); Abdul-Akbar v. Watson, 901 F.2d 329, 332 (3d Cir. 1990) ("[D]istrict courts in this circuit may issue an injunction to require litigants to obtain the approval of the court before filing further complaints."), and it would prevent Hill from pursuing frivolous actions without denying him access to the courts.
In addition, it may be appropriate to impose contempt sanctions against Hill for his blatant violation of the order prohibiting him "from filing any document which is replete with offensive, derogatory material." Order at 10, Hill v. Gates, 940 F.Supp. 108 (M.D. Pa. 1996). Hill's complaint and appellate filings are brimming with vile and outrageous remarks that demean the judiciary and warrant a strong rebuke.

Id. at 171-172.

In December of 2010, Plaintiff's case was reassigned to United States District Judge Yvette Kane. On January 6, 2011, Judge Kane issued an order directing Plaintiff to show cause why sanctions (in the form of requiring Plaintiff to obtain certification from a Magistrate Judge before filing any new civil case) should not be imposed. Order to Show Cause, Hill v. Carpenter, No. 4:08-CV-591 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 6, 2011), ECF No. 16. On January 19, 2011, Plaintiff filed a response. Response, Hill v. Carpenter, No. 4:08-CV-591 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 19, 2011), ECF No. 17. On February 16, 2011, Judge Kane issued an order imposing a...

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