Former Pa. congressional candidate allowed to proceed in forma pauperis with civil suit

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jan 21, 2016

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit Judge Joseph A. Greenaway Jr.  

PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently affirmed a pair of trial court decisions, in the case of a former Pennsylvania congressional candidate suing a local newspaper organization and political group members.

In a per curiam decision released Tuesday, judges Michael A. Chagares, Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. and Dolores Sloviter upheld two prior rulings from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, which denied the vacating of a prior judgment and an application to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) to James Schneller.

In 2011, Schneller filed a complaint alleging defamation and civil rights violations by multiple defendants for statements made during the course of a political campaign by Congressman Patrick Meehan, who was running against Bryan Lentz, and Schneller, a third-party candidate. After considering the defendants’ motion for dismiss, the District Court granted the motion in August 2012. 

After a number of additional filings in the interim, the District Court denied Schneller’s motion to vacate the 2012 judgment on Sept. 26, 2014, and a later motion to reconsider that denial on Feb. 10. Additionally, on Oct. 27, 2014, Schneller filed a motion to appeal IFP from the District Court’s September orders – which the District Court also denied.

Schneller appealed these denials to the Third Circuit.

“Turning to the merits, the District Court’s Sept. 26 order denied as moot Schneller’s motion to open, set aside, or vacate its order denying his motion to amend his complaint,” the Third Circuit said.

“Our review of the District Court’s denial of the motion for reconsideration is for abuse of discretion. Motions for reconsideration are appropriate only to rectify plain errors of law or to offer newly discovered evidence, and they may not be used to re-litigate old matters or to present evidence that could have been offered earlier.”

According to the federal appeals court, Schneller’s appeal did not meet these mandates and the District Court committed no such abuse of discretion.

“Schneller’s request that the District Court reconsider its order denying his motion to amend the complaint does not meet these requirements, and we cannot say that the District Court’s Sept. 26, 2014 order denying Schneller’s motion was in error,” the Third Circuit’s per curiam ruling said. “Further, the District Court did not abuse its discretion in denying Schneller’s motion for re-reconsideration of that order.” 

The Third Circuit explained in its Feb. 10 order that the District Court reiterated Schneller’s “appeal on these matters has already been decided,” referring to their own prior rulings which affirmed both its 2012 dismissal of Schneller’s complaint and its 2013 order denying his previous motion for reconsideration.

The Third Circuit then affirmed the District Court’s orders of Sept. 26, 2014, and Feb. 10, dismissed the appeal regarding the District Court’s other September 2014 order, and granted Schneller’s motion for leave to appeal in IFP.

The plaintiff represented himself in this matter.

The defendants are represented by Michael E. Baughman of Pepper Hamilton in Philadelphia, Scott Gottel and William F. Holsten of Holsten & Associates in Media, plus Lois M. Shenk and Salvatore A. Vilardi of Cipriani & Werner in Blue Bell.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-1679

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:13-cv-02057

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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