RICHARDSON v. FOREST et al
MEMORANDUM AND/OR OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE GENE E.K. PRATTER ON 2/8/2017. 2/9/2017 ENTERED AND COPIES MAILED TO PRO SE.(kp, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
JUDGE JOSEPH L. FERNANDES
FEB - 8 IG17
KATE BARKMAN, CIMk
In this civil action, plaintiff Antoinette Richardson challenges the termination of her parental
rights in 2014 by a state judge. For the following reasons, the Court will grant Ms. Richardson
leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss her complaint.
Ms. Richardson alleges that her parental rights were illegally terminated in Family Court by
Judge Joseph L. Fernandes on September 3, 2014. Ms. Richardson alleges that she did not learn
that her rights were subject to termination until she appeared for court on that date because
Barbara Forest, an employee of the Philadelphia Department of Human Services, failed to
provide proper notice. Ms. Richardson also alleges that the judgment terminating her rights is
improper and/or illegal in various respects. In particular, she alleges that the judge was biased,
that the judgment relied on hearsay evidence, and that she was not given a "fair trial."
Based on those allegations, Ms. Richardson appears to be raising constitutional claims
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and state tort claims against Judge Fernandes and Ms. Forest. She
Ms. Richardson filed this action using two form complaints, one for a civil rights case and one
for a civil case alleging negligence. The Court will consider the two complaints as one pleading.
asks this Court to vacate the "false judgment and order" and return her child to her. She also
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court will grant Ms. Richardson leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears
that she is incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action. As Ms. Richardson is
proceeding informa pauperis, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) applies, which requires the Court to
dismiss the complaint if it fails to state a claim. To survive dismissal, a complaint must contain
"sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quotations omitted). Additionally, the Court may
dismiss claims based on an affirmative defense if the affirmative defense is obvious from the
face of the complaint. See Ball v. Famiglio, 726 F.3d 448, 459 (3d Cir. 2013), abrogated on
other grounds, Coleman v. Tollefson, 135 S. Ct. 1759 (2015). As Ms. Richardson is proceeding
prose, the Court construes her allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen::., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d
Cir. 2011). Furthermore, "[i]fthe court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3).
Pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal district courts lack jurisdiction over "cases
brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered
before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection
of those judgments." Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild, LLP, 615 F.3d 159,
166 (3d Cir. 2010) (quotations omitted). Here, Ms. Richardson, who lost in state court, filed this
action seeking reversal of the state court's judgment because the state court's ruling allegedly
violated her constitutional rights. Accordingly, Ms. Richardson's claims fall within the RookerFeldman doctrine and will be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
In the event any of Ms. Richardson's claims do not fall within Rooker-Feldman, they fail for
other reasons. The statute of limitations governing Ms. Richardson's state and federal claims is
two years. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5524; Wallace v. Kato, 549 U.S. 384, 387 (2007). The
limitations period began running when Ms. Richardson "knew or should have known of the
injury upon which [her] action is based." Sameric Corp. v. City of Phila., 142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d
Cir. 1998). Here, it is apparent that Ms. Richardson knew of the injuries giving rise to her claims
on September 3, 2014, when her parental rights were terminated. However, she did not file this
action until January 20, 2017, more than two years after her claims accrued. Accordingly, it is
apparent that her claims are time-barred. Furthermore, Judge Fernandes is absolutely immune
from Ms. Richardson's claims, all of which are based on Judge Fernandes's judicial acts. See
Gallas v. Supreme Court of Pa., 211 F.3d 760, 768 (3d Cir. 2000); Langella v. Cercone, 34
A.3d 835, 838 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2011).
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will dismiss the complaint. Ms. Richardson will not be
given leave to file an amended complaint because amendment would be futile, as she cannot cure
the defects in her claims. The motion to recuse that Ms. Richardson filed with her complaint,
which asks Judge Fernandes to recuse himself from her case, is denied. An appropriate order
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