ALESSANDRINI et al v. GWYNEDD CLUB CONDOMINIUM ASSOCIATION et al
MEMORANDUM/OPINION THAT THE COURT WILL DISMISS SOME OF THE COUNTS AND REFER THE REMAINING CLAIM, REGARDING VIOLATION OF THE BANKRUPTCY STAY, TO THE BANKRUPTCY COURT. SIGNED BY HONORABLE JEFFREY L. SCHMEHL ON 12/19/16. 12/21/16 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED. (ky, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CHRISTINE DENISE ALESSANDRINI,
GWYNEDD CLUB CONDOMINIUM
MANAGEMENT CORPORATION; CAROL
PAOTE, President of Gwynedd Club
Condominium Association Executive Board; and
JOHN BITTNER, Secretary of Gwynedd Club
Condominium Association Executive Board,
SCHMEHL, J. /s/ JLS
December 19, 2016
Plaintiff, who has ongoing related bankruptcy proceedings, also was delinquent in
money owed to her Condominium Association. As a result, Defendants took issue with
Plaintiff’s use of the shared pool facility, which led to altercations and calls to the police.
The Court will dismiss some of the counts and refer the remaining claim, regarding
violation of the bankruptcy stay, to the bankruptcy court.
This case originated as an adversary action in bankruptcy court. Defendants filed
a motion to withdraw the reference and transfer the case to this Court. Plaintiff did not
oppose the motion, and this Court granted it. After some issues with failure to file the
withdrawal motion before the bankruptcy court and associated delays in responding to the
complaint, this Court held a Rule 16 pretrial conference. At the conference, counsel and
the Court discussed the possibility of sending the case back to the bankruptcy court;
Plaintiff planned to file a motion to that effect, and Defendants would determine whether
or not they opposed the motion. In the meantime, the Court would not issue an order
scheduling discovery or further proceedings in this matter.
Plaintiff indeed filed a motion to refer the case back to the bankruptcy court.
Rather than simply opposing or agreeing, Defendants filed a motion for judgment on the
pleadings as to counts two and three, claims for invasion of privacy and civil rights
violations, but otherwise did not oppose referral to bankruptcy of the remaining claim, for
violation of the bankruptcy stay. Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a letter requesting a Rule 16
conference. As noted, the Court already held a conference and delayed entering a
scheduling order pending the possible return to bankruptcy court, but Plaintiff’s desire to
move the case forward is understandable. The Court herein addresses both Plaintiff’s
motion to refer the matter to bankruptcy and Defendants’ motion for judgment on the
pleadings as to certain counts.
According to the complaint, Plaintiff filed a bankruptcy petition on May 25, 2015,
and the automatic stay of debt collection under 11 U.S.C. § 362(a) took effect the same
day. Plaintiff apparently resides in a condo unit under the purview of Defendant
Gwynedd Club Condominium Association, which was listed as a secured creditor in the
petition based on a foreclosure action. Plaintiff alleges that all Defendants were
effectively aware of the bankruptcy filing.
On May 31, 2015, Plaintiff was in the condo community swimming pool area.
Defendant Carol Paote, the condo board president, told Plaintiff, in front of other condo
residents, that she was not allowed in the pool area because she owed the condo
association money. Paote threatened to fine Plaintiff, who responded that she had filed
for bankruptcy. A short while later, allegedly responding to a call from Paote, two local
police officers arrived and asserted that Plaintiff was trespassing. After talking with her
lawyer, Plaintiff asked the police what they would do if she did not leave the pool area;
the police answered, “nothing,” and left.
On June 7, 2015, Defendants Paote and John Bitner, the condo board secretary,
blocked Plaintiff from entering the pool area. Again in front of neighbors, these
Defendants announced that Plaintiff could not use the pool because she owed the
association $14,000. Plaintiff again contacted her attorney, who advised that this time
Plaintiff should call the police. After the attorney notified the police of the bankruptcy,
two officers arrived and enabled Plaintiff to enter the pool area.
Defendants also sent Plaintiff a letter dated June 4, 2015, noting that Plaintiff and
guests had used the pool on several occasions and stating that because her account was
delinquent, Plaintiff could not use the communal facilities or enjoy several other benefits
of condo association membership. Further, Defendants sent Plaintiff five monthly
account statements allegedly requesting payment of debts and late fees.
Based on these facts, Plaintiff brings three claims. Count I alleges violations of
the automatic stay, arguing that the letter, account statements, and attempts to prevent
Plaintiff from using the pool without paying off her delinquent account constitute
prohibited attempts to collect debts. Count II asserts a cause of action for invasion of
privacy based on the statements about Plaintiff’s debts in front of her condo neighbors.
Count III claims a civil rights violation, apparently based on Defendants’ involvement of
the police in blocking her rightful access to the pool area. Plaintiff has filed a motion to
refer all counts to bankruptcy court. Defendants have responded by moving for judgment
on the pleadings, asking this Court to dismiss Counts II and III before referral; Plaintiff
has filed no substantive response to Defendants’ arguments, submitting only a oneparagraph response arguing that Counts II and III should be referred to bankruptcy court
along with Count I and decided there.
Both sides’ positions on whether Counts II and III should be referred to
bankruptcy are rather conclusory. Plaintiff asserts they are core to the bankruptcy
proceedings because they arise in connection with the bankruptcy filing and involve the
same events as the claims of stay violations under Count I. Defendants simply state that
they are non-core. Of course, whether the claims are core or non-core does not fully
determine where they may or should be heard. The bankruptcy court may make final
decisions on core claims but also hear and propose findings on non-core claims, while
both core and non-core claims are ultimately under the jurisdiction of this Court, which
may refer them to the bankruptcy court. See In re Guild & Gallery Plus, Inc., 72 F.3d
1171, 1177–78 (3d Cir. 1996). So even if the claims are core, this Court can rule on
Defendants’ motion for judgment on the pleadings before referring the case to
bankruptcy. Further, it is not clear that Counts II and III actually do “arise only in the
context of a bankruptcy case.” Id. at 1178 (quoting In re Marcus Hook Dev. Park Inc.,
943 F.2d 261, 267 (3d Cir. 1991)). The invasion of privacy claim involves Defendants’
public statements about Plaintiff’s debts, not the bankruptcy filing, and Defendants
likewise called the police because they believed Plaintiff’s delinquency—which existed
without the bankruptcy filing—barred her from using the pool. Thus Counts II and III do
not depend on the bankruptcy, and this Court will rule on their dismissal prior to referral.
Defendants argue that Count II, the invasion of privacy claim, fails primarily
because Plaintiff’s bankruptcy is a matter of public record. This is a slight
mischaracterization of the situation: as noted just above, the complaint alleges that
Defendants publicized not the bankruptcy filing, but rather Plaintiff’s debt to the condo
association. Nevertheless, as the complaint also notes, the debt to the condo association is
itself listed on the publically available petition documents. Defendant’s argument that
Plaintiff’s debt to the association is an issue of legitimate concern to fellow condo
residents is also well taken. In light of Plaintiff’s very thin allegations, the exceedingly
minimal conceivable harm if any, the already public and truthful nature of the
information at issue, the neighbors’ valid interest in the information, and the lack of
substantive response by Plaintiff, the Court credits Defendants’ arguments and will
dismiss Count II.
As to Count III, concerning a civil rights violation, Defendants argue that Plaintiff
has not identified any right of which she was deprived and that Defendants are not state
actors. But the Court is willing to entertain claims that private individuals who call in law
enforcement to intervene on their behalf in disputes about private property may be acting
under color of law. See Schmitt v. Farruggio, No. CIV.A. 13-2007, 2014 WL 4055835, at
*3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 14, 2014) (analyzing a similar claim under the framework of Fuentes v.
Shevin, 407 U.S. 67 (1972), and Abbott v. Latshaw, 164 F.3d 141 (3d Cir. 1998), which
prohibit state actors from aiding one side of a dispute over property without prior hearing,
and Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc., 457 U.S. 922, 941 (1982), which recognizes that
“a private party's joint participation with state officials in the seizure of disputed property
is sufficient to characterize that party as a ‘state actor’ for purposes of the Fourteenth
Amendment”). Further, intervention by police that prevents a party’s rightful use of
property, such as a citation for trespass, constitutes a seizure of the party’s rights in the
property. Id. The real problem in this case is that the police did not actually do anything
to interfere with Plaintiff’s rights. Although they initially stated that Plaintiff was
trespassing, they readily admitted they would take no action against Plaintiff and then
walked away. During the second incident, the police actually intervened on Plaintiff’s
behalf (which was probably not improper because Plaintiff’s attorney provided them with
the bankruptcy information). Therefore, this claim has no substance and will be
All that remains is Count I. Neither party opposes referral of that claim back to
bankruptcy court, which the Court will therefore order.
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