Miller v. Zandieh

Decision Date11 February 2015
Docket NumberCIVIL NO. 1:15-CV-34
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania
PartiesLORETTA LAX MILLER, Plaintiff, v. ATA RICHARD ZANDIEH, et al., Defendants.

(Judge Kane)

(Magistrate Judge Carlson)

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

This is a pro se civil action that was first brought by Loretta Lax Miller, through the filing of a complaint on January 6, 2015. (Doc. 1.) Miller's initial pro se complaint is a lengthy, but confusing, document, which stitches together disparate parties, claims and causes of action. At the outset, Miller named a private party and Pennsylvania resident, Ata Richard Zandieh, as a defendant in this lawsuit. Miller apparently had a lengthy, but poorly explained, history with Zandieh, a history that included some state civil litigation in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County. In her complaint, Miller alleged in a summary fashion that Zandieh had committed bankruptcy fraud in Philadelphia and has operated Ponzi schemes in the past, but provided few well-pleaded factual averments in support of these claims. Miller alsoasserted, without supporting factual details, that Zandieh is in some way responsible for injuries she suffered when she stumbled and fell into a sinkhole outside her home in November 2014. (Id.)

Miller's complaint then contained a separate narrative thread relating to the Dauphin County Tax Bureau and an official of that agency. Much of this narrative appeared to relate to a 2012 tax assessment, and Miller's assertion that in 2012 she discovered evidence of anti-Semitism by a tax official. (Id.) While it was unclear from Miller's original complaint, it also appeared that these tax assessments matters have been the subject of unsuccessful litigation by Miller in the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County. (Id.)

These various state lawsuits that Miller vaguely alluded to in her pleadings, in turn, introduced the third narrative thread to this complaint. In this portion of her narrative, Miller sued a state court judge, and the attorney who represented the tax bureau in this state litigation, alleging that the judge should have recused himself from this otherwise undescribed litigation due to his friendship and association with counsel. (Id.) On the basis of these allegations, Miller sought more than $40,000,000 in damages along with wide-ranging injunctive relief including orders freezing assets and-apparently-the criminal prosecution of a number of these civil defendants. (Id.)

Along with her complaint, the plaintiff filed a motion to proceed in forma pauperis. (Doc. 2.) On January 12, 2015, we granted Miller leave to proceed in forma pauperis but as part of our legally-mandated duty to screen pro se in forma pauperis pleadings, we recommended that this complaint be dismissed. (Doc. 5.)

Miller responded to this Report and Recommendation by filing what the district court has construed as an amended complaint. (Doc. 7.) This document, while described as a "Clarification of the Complaint," in fact adds not legal clarity to this pleading. Instead, it alleges in a prolix and confusing fashion that a vast array of defendants have committed a breath-taking variety of federal crimes and apparently seeks to pursue these criminal allegations in the guise of a federal civil lawsuit. (Doc. 7.)

Given this filing, the district court referred this case to us for a further screening review. (Doc. 8.) Having conducted this second screening review of these pleadings, for the reasons set forth below, we recommend that the complaint, (Doc. 1.), and amended complaint, (Doc. 7.), be dismissed.

II. Discussion
A. Screening of Pro Se In Forma Pauperis Complaints-Standard of Review

This Court has an on-going statutory obligation to conduct a preliminary review of complaints filed by plaintiffs who seek leave to proceed in forma pauperis, andseek redress against government officials. See 28 U.S.C. §§1915 and 1915A. Specifically, we must assess whether a pro se, in forma pauperis complaint "fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." This statutory text, in turn, mirrors the language of Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides that a complaint should be dismissed for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 12(b)(6).

With respect to this benchmark standard for legal sufficiency of a complaint, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has aptly noted the evolving standards governing pleading practice in federal court, stating that:

Standards of pleading have been in the forefront of jurisprudence in recent years. Beginning with the Supreme Court's opinion in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) continuing with our opinion in Phillips [v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 230 (3d Cir. 2008)] and culminating recently with the Supreme Court's decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal -U.S.-, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009) pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 209-10 (3d Cir. 2009).

In considering whether a complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, the court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom are to be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, Inc., 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). However, a court "need not credit a complaint's baldassertions or legal conclusions when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). Additionally a court need not "assume that a ... plaintiff can prove facts that the ... plaintiff has not alleged." Associated Gen. Contractors of Cal. v. California State Council of Carpenters, 459 U.S. 519, 526 (1983). As the Supreme Court held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), in order to state a valid cause of action a plaintiff must provide some factual grounds for relief which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of actions will not do." Id. at 555. "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id.

In keeping with the principles of Twombly, the Supreme Court has underscored that a trial court must assess whether a complaint states facts upon which relief can be granted when ruling on a motion to dismiss. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the Supreme Court held that, when considering a motion to dismiss, a court should "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. at 679. According to the Supreme Court, "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 678. Rather, in conducting a review of the adequacy of complaint, the Supreme Court has advised trial courts that they must:

[B]egin by identifying pleadings that because they are no more than conclusions are not entitled to the assumption of truth. While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations. When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.

Id. at 679.

Thus, following Twombly and Iqbal a well-pleaded complaint must contain more than mere legal labels and conclusions. Rather, a complaint must recite factual allegations sufficient to raise the plaintiff's claimed right to relief beyond the level of mere speculation. As the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has stated:

[A]fter Iqbal, when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a'plausible claim for relief.' In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to 'show' such an entitlement with its facts.

Fowler, 578 F.3d at 210-11.

As the court of appeals has also observed: "The Supreme Court in Twombly set forth the 'plausibility' standard for overcoming a motion to dismiss and refined this approach in Iqbal. The plausibility standard requires the complaint to allege 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570,127 S.Ct. 1955. A complaint satisfies the plausibility standard when the factual pleadings 'allow[ ] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.' Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 127 S.Ct. 1955). This standard requires showing 'more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.' Id. A complaint which pleads facts 'merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, [ ] 'stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of "entitlement of relief." ' " Burtch v. Milberg Factors, Inc., 662 F.3d 212, 220-21 (3d Cir. 2011) cert. denied, 132 S. Ct. 1861, 182 L. Ed. 2d 644 (U.S. 2012).

In practice, consideration of the legal sufficiency of a complaint entails a three-step analysis: "First, the court must 'tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.' Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1947. Second, the court should identify allegations that, 'because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the...

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