BROWN v. HANGLEY, ET. AL.
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION. SIGNED BY HONORABLE NITZA I QUINONES ALEJANDRO ON 11/13/23. 11/13/23 ENTERED & E-MAILED.(fdc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
WILLIE ANTHONY BROWN
MICHELLE HANGLEY, et al.,
NITZA QUIÑONES ALEJANDRO, J.
NOVEMBER 13, 2023
Currently before the Court is a Fifth Amended Complaint (“FAC” (ECF No. 17) filed by
Plaintiff Willie Anthony Brown, a self-represented litigant. For the reasons set forth, the Court
will dismiss Brown’s FAC with prejudice for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). Brown will not be granted further leave to amend.
PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS 1
The Court initially screened Brown’s Second Amended Complaint, which, at the time, was
the operative pleading. See Brown v. Hangley, No. 23-1265, 2023 WL 5153513 at *1 n.1 (E.D.
Pa. Aug. 10, 2023). In said amended complaint, Brown asserted claims against Philadelphia Court
of Common Pleas Judge Michelle Hangley, Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Clerk of Court
Eric Feder, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, City of Philadelphia Police Officer Duane
White, Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
Public Defender Beverly Beaver, United States Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and the United
States. (Id. at *1.) Upon screening, the Court dismissed with prejudice as frivolous Brown’s
The allegations set forth in this Memorandum are taken from Brown’s FAC (ECF No.
17). The Court adopts the pagination assigned by the CM/ECF docketing system.
claims against Hangley, Beaver, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, Yellen and the United States, and his official capacity claims against Hangley,
Feder, and Shapiro, and dismissed without prejudice his individual capacity claims against Feder,
Shapiro and White. (Id. at *7.) Brown was granted leave to file a Third Amended Complaint
limited to his individual capacity claims against Defendants Feder, Shapiro, and White. (Id.)
After the Court filed its Order and Memorandum dismissing Brown’s Second Amended
Complaint and granting him leave to file a third amended complaint, Brown filed an “Amended
Complaint,” a “Second Amended Complaint,” and a “Plain Statement as to Why Plaintiff is
Entitled to Relief,” which the Court construes as a further amended complaint. (See ECF No. 15,
16, 17.) In general, an amended complaint, once submitted to the Court, serves as the governing
pleading in the case because an amended complaint supersedes the prior pleading. See Shahid v.
Borough of Darby, 666 F. App’x 221, 223 n.2 (3d Cir. 2016) (per curiam) (“Shahid’s amended
complaint, however, superseded his initial complaint.” (citing W. Run Student Hous. Assocs. LLC
v. Huntingdon Nat’l Bank, 712 F.3d 165, 171 (3d Cir. 2013)); see also Garrett v. Wexford Health,
938 F.3d 69, 82 (3d Cir. 2019), cert. denied, 140 S. Ct. 1611 (2020) (“In general, an amended
pleading supersedes the original pleading and renders the original pleading a nullity. Thus, the
most recently filed amended complaint becomes the operative pleading.”) (internal citations
omitted); see also Argentina v. Gillette, 778 F. App’x 173, 175 n.3 (3d Cir. 2019) (per curiam)
(holding that “liberal construction of a pro se amended complaint does not mean accumulating
allegations from superseded pleadings”).
Moreover, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not contemplate piecemeal pleadings
or the amalgamation of pleadings, even in the context of a pro se litigant. See Bryant v. Raddad,
No. 21-1116, 2021 WL 2577061, at *2 (E.D. Pa. June 22, 2021) (“Allowing a plaintiff to file
partial amendments or fragmented supplements to the operative pleading, ‘presents an undue risk
of piecemeal litigation that precludes orderly resolution of cognizable claims.’” (quoting Uribe v.
Taylor, No. 10-2615, 2011 WL 1670233, at *1 (E.D. Cal. May 2, 2011)); Brooks-Ngwenya v. Bart
Peterson’s the Mind Tr., No. 16-193, 2017 WL 65310, at *1 (N.D. Ind. Jan. 6, 2017) (“Piecemeal
pleadings cause confusion and unnecessarily complicate interpretation of a movant’s allegations
and intent . . . .”). Accordingly, the Court will screen Brown’s Fifth Amended Complaint, which
is now the governing pleading in this case.
In his FAC, Brown identifies the following Defendants: Judge Michelle Hangley, the
Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System, Philadelphia Police Officer Duane H. White, the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and all City of Philadelphia “Employees; Agents; Officers;
Contractors; [and] Assignees” (“Philadelphia Employees.”) 2 (Id. at 17-18.) Like his Second
Amended Complaint, Brown’s FAC is lengthy and largely incomprehensible.
references numerous statutes, including the Sherman Antitrust Act and the Tucker Act, discusses
the jurisdiction of the United States Court of Federal Claims, reasserts that he has been the victim
of trafficking, discusses actions in ejectment; and reasserts an earlier claim that the Defendants are
acting together to manipulate the securities market. (See FAC.) Brown again includes a “Letter
of Evidence of Tax-Exempt foreign Status” in his pleading, (id. at 37-42), and also includes an
“Affidavit of Ownership of Registered Securities and Certificate of Title,” (id. at 46-50) and a
“Bill Notice for Violating Copyright” (id. at 50-53). 3
The Court has already dismissed with prejudice Brown’s claims against Hangley and the
Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and will not revisit these claims. They are thus dismissed for the reasons
previously provided in the Court’s earlier Memorandum.
Brown’s FAC is replete with the type of nonsensical language and legalisms often found in
pleadings filed by adherents to the so-called sovereign citizen movement, such as describing himself as
both a “natural person,” an “authorized representative,” and “the “Trustee of the SOVEREIGN
HIERARCHY USUFRUCT GALAXIAL.” (FAC at 1, 8, 17.) He asserts that he is not required to obtain
The FAC includes few factual allegations.
Brown alleges that he was detained by
Defendant White while walking in Philadelphia. (Id. at 19.) He references state court criminal
proceedings pending against him in Commonwealth v. Brown, No. CP-51-CR-6768-2022 (C.P.
Philadelphia). (Id. at 7, 11, 27, 30-31.) There are no other discernible allegations describing
conduct engaged in by any of the named Defendants.
Brown also refers to due process and the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the United States
Constitution in his FAC. The Court understand him to be asserting § 1983 claims based on alleged
constitutional violations. As relief, Brown seeks reversion of title to unidentified property, cure
for breach of an unidentified contract, due process, dismissal of the state criminal charges against
him, 4 and an award of money damages from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia
Court of Common Pleas, the United States of America, the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System,
and Officer White. 5 (Id. at 32-36.)
a Social Security number, and that he is exempt from taxes because of his status. (Id. at 22.) “[L]egalsounding but meaningless verbiage commonly used by adherents to the so-called sovereign citizen
movement” is nothing more than a nullity. See United States v. Wunder, No. 16-9452, 2019 WL 2928842,
at *5 (D.N.J. July 8, 2019) (discussing the futility of the sovereign citizen verbiage in collection claim for
student loan); United States v. Crawford, No. 19-15776, 2019 WL 5677750, at *1 (D.N.J. Nov. 1, 2019)
(holding that criminal defendant’s attempt to use fake UCC financing statements against prosecutor was a
legal nullity); Banks v. Florida, No. 19-756, 2019 WL 7546620, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 17, 2019), report
and recommendation adopted, 2020 WL 108983 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 9, 2020) (collecting cases and stating that
legal theories espoused by sovereign citizens have been consistently rejected as “utterly frivolous, patently
ludicrous, and a waste of . . . the court’s time, which is being paid by hard-earned tax dollars.”).
The Court is not empowered to grant this relief in a civil rights action. See Jaffery v. Atl. Cnty.
Prosecutor’s Office, 695 F. App’x 38, 41-42 (3d Cir. 2017) (per curiam) (“[T]o the extent Jaffery
seeks dismissal of the charges against him as a result of constitutional violations, such relief is only
available through a writ of habeas corpus.”); Duran v. Weeks, 399 F. App’x 756, 759 (3d Cir. 2010) (per
curiam) (“[T]o the extent that Duran is seeking dismissal of the charges against him as a result of
constitutional violations, he is essentially asking for relief only available through habeas corpus.”)
The Court has already dismissed with prejudice Brown’s claims against the Commonwealth of
Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, and the United States and will not revisit these
claims. They are thus dismissed for the reasons previously provided in the Court’s earlier Memorandum.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The Court has already granted Brown leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Accordingly,
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) requires the Court to dismiss the FAC if it fails to state a claim.
Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same
standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see
Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine
whether the complaint contains “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);
Talley v. Wetzel, 15 F.4th 275, 286 n.7 (3d Cir. 2021). “At this early stage of the litigation,’ ‘[the
Court will] accept the facts alleged in [the pro se] complaint as true,’ ‘draw all reasonable
inferences in [the plaintiff’s] favor,’ and ‘ask only whether [that] complaint, liberally construed, .
. . contains facts sufficient to state a plausible  claim.’” Shorter v. United States, 12 F.4th 366,
374 (3d Cir. 2021) (quoting Perez v. Fenoglio, 792 F.3d 768, 774, 782 (7th Cir. 2015)).
Conclusory allegations do not suffice. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. As Brown is proceeding pro se, the
Court construes his allegations liberally.
Vogt v. Wetzel, 8 F.4th 182, 185 (3d Cir. 2021)
(citing Mala v. Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 244-45 (3d Cir. 2013)).
Section 1915 also requires the dismissal of claims for monetary relief brought against a
defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii); Rauso v.
Giambrone, 782 F. App’x 99, 101 (3d Cir. 2019) (per curium) (holding that § 1915(e)(2)(B)(iii)
“explicitly states that a court shall dismiss a case ‘at any time’ where the action seeks monetary
relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief”).
Moreover, a complaint may be dismissed for failing to comply with Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 8. Garrett, 938 F.3d at 91. To conform to Rule 8, a pleading must contain a short and
plain statement showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. See Travaline v. U.S. Supreme Court,
424 F. App’x 78, 79 (3d Cir. 2011) (per curiam). The Third Circuit recently explained that in
determining whether a pleading meets Rule 8’s “plain” statement requirement, the Court should
“ask whether, liberally construed, a pleading ‘identifies discrete defendants and the actions taken
by these defendants’ in regard to the plaintiff’s claims.” Garrett, 938 F.3d at 93 (citation omitted).
A pleading may still satisfy the “plain” statement requirement “even if it is vague, repetitious, or
contains extraneous information” and “even if it does not include every name, date, and location
of the incidents at issue.” Id. at 93-94. The important consideration for the Court is whether, “a
pro se complaint’s language . . . presents cognizable legal claims to which a defendant can respond
on the merits.” Id. at 94.
However, “a pleading that is so ‘vague or ambiguous’ that a defendant cannot reasonably
be expected to respond to it will not satisfy Rule 8.” Id. at 93; see also Fabian v. St. Mary’s Med.
Ctr., No. 16-4741, 2017 WL 3494219, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 11, 2017) (“Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 8 requires that pleadings provide enough information to put a defendant on sufficient
notice to prepare their defense and also ensure that the Court is sufficiently informed to determine
the issue.”) (quotations omitted). Dismissals under Rule 8 are “‘reserved for those cases in which
the complaint is so confused, ambiguous, vague, or otherwise unintelligible that its true substance,
if any, is well disguised.’” Garrett, 938 F.3d at 94 (quoting Salahuddin v. Cuomo, 861 F.2d 40,
42 (2d Cir. 1988)).
Like his SAC, Brown’s FAC is best understood as asserting claims for violations of his
constitutional rights arising from his arrest and prosecution on drug related charges. The vehicle
by which federal constitutional claims may be brought in federal court is Section 1983 of Title 42
of the United States Code. “To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege the violation of
a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged
deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” West v. Atkins, 487 U.S.
42, 48 (1988). Additionally, in a § 1983 action, the personal involvement of each defendant in the
alleged constitutional violation is a required element, and, therefore, a plaintiff must allege how
each defendant was involved in the events and occurrences giving rise to the claims. See Rode v.
Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1998).
Claims Against the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System
Brown asserts a claim for money damages against the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial
System. However, the Eleventh Amendment bars suits against a state and its agencies in federal
court. See Pennhurst State Sch. And Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99-100 (1984); A.W. v.
Jersey City Public Schs., 341 F.3d 234, 238 (3d Cir. 2003). The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
has not waived that immunity. See 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 8521(b).
The Pennsylvania Unified
Judicial System, as an instrumentality of the Commonwealth, shares in the Commonwealth’s
Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Benn v. First Judicial Dist. of Pa., 426 F.3d 233, 241 (3d
Cir. 2005). Accordingly, Brown’s claims against the Pennsylvania Unified Judicial System will
be dismissed with prejudice.
Claims Against Officer White and Philadelphia Employees
Brown asserts claims against City of Philadelphia Police Officer Duane White and
unnamed Philadelphia Employees. Brown alleges that White detained him while he was walking
in Philadelphia. He also describes White as the “Arresting Officer.” The publicly available docket
in Commonwealth v. Brown, CP-51-CR-6768-2022 (C.P. Philadelphia) reflects that Brown was
arrested on June 20, 2022 and charged with drug related offenses. Defendant White is identified
as the arresting officer. (Id.) There are no other allegations or assertions as to why or how this
alleged detention violated Brown’s rights. There are no allegations at all describing the conduct
of any of the unnamed Philadelphia Employees that may have resulted in a violation of Brown’s
constitutional rights. As a result, the Court cannot discern the nature of any legal claims Brown
may have against these Defendants or the basis for those claims. In general, when presented with
a pro se complaint, the Court must “apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether a pro se
litigant has mentioned it by name.” Holley v. Dep’ t of Veteran Affairs, 165 F.3d 244, 248 (3d
Cir. 1999). However, in this case the Court cannot determine the factual basis of the claims Brown
seeks to bring with sufficient clarity to apply the relevant law. The FAC does not “provide enough
information to put a defendant on sufficient notice to prepare their defense and also ensure that the
Court is sufficiently informed to determine the issue.” Fabian, 2017 WL 3494219, at *3.
Recently, in Wright v. United States, the United State Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
affirmed the District Court’s dismissal with prejudice of a pro se amended complaint where the
amended complaint failed to assert adequate factual allegations to put the named defendants on
notice of the claims against them. Id., No. 22-1164, 2023 WL 4540469 (3d Cir, July 14, 2023)
(per curiam). The Court of Appeals stated, “[a]s the District Court noted, the second amended
complaint lacked factual allegations with respect to many named defendants. [ ] The balance of
defendants has been left to guess the specific factual nature and the legal basis of [the plaintiff’s]
claims against them, such that they are unable to properly answer or prepare for trial.” Id. at *2
(citing Salahuddin v. Cuomo, 861 F.2d 40, 42 (2d Cir. 1988)).
Brown’s claims against White and the unnamed Philadelphia Employees suffer from the
same problem. The wholly undeveloped claims against White and the absent claims against the
Philadelphia Employees leave them to guess at the nature and basis of the claims asserted against
them. Accordingly, these claims will be dismissed for failure to state a plausible claim and because
they do not comply with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. As Brown has already been given an
opportunity to cure the defects in his claim and has been unable to do so, the Court concludes that
further amendment would be futile. See Jones v. Unknown D.O.C. Bus Driver & Transp. Crew,
944 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 2019) (amendment by pro se litigant would be futile when litigant
“already had two chances to tell his story”).
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will dismiss Brown’s Fifth Amended Complaint with
prejudice. 6 An Order follows, which shall be docketed separately.
NITZA QUIÑONES ALEJANDRO, J.
To the extent the Court did not address all claims that might have been raised in the FAC, for example,
claims arising under any of the numerous statutes Brown references in the FAC, those claims lack a legal
and/or factual basis and do no warrant further discussion.
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