Third Circuit labels Philly man's lawsuit as 'frivolous'

By Nicholas Malfitano | Mar 29, 2016

City of Philadelphia  

PHILADELPHIA – A federal appeals court has determined a Philadelphia-area man's civil rights lawsuit against the City of Philadelphia and a variety of state and federal judges and other government entities and individuals is “frivolous” and subject to dismissal.

Anthony Johnson initiated the instant action in October, alleging the defendants violated his constitutional rights by “prohibiting him from representing others in court, despite his obtaining their power of attorney.” Though Johnson is not a licensed attorney, his suit appeared to claim a constitutional right to provide legal representation to others through possessing a power of attorney.

On Oct. 8, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted Johnson’s petition to proceed in forma pauperis, but then dismissed his complaint as “malicious,” since it essentially served as a duplicate case to one Johnson filed in the same District Court approximately two months earlier, levying an identical claim against different judges.

Johnson filed a timely appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, arguing Pennsylvania’s prohibition of the unauthorized practice of law “is nothing more than legalizing the Sedition Act.” But as the Third Circuit Court noted, Johnson “does not identify any plausible constitutional basis for a right to represent others or address the duplicative nature of his suit.”

In a per curiam ruling, Judges D. Michael Fisher, Kent A. Jordan and Thomas I. Vanaskie of the Third Circuit decided Johnson’s case similarly to the District Court, labeling it “frivolous.”

“We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Section 1291 and review the District Court’s dismissal of the complaint as frivolous or malicious for abuse of discretion. Because Johnson is proceeding IFP, we must dismiss the appeal if it is frivolous or malicious,” the Third Circuit said. “The District Court properly dismissed Johnson’s claim as malicious because it duplicates a pending suit.”

According to the Third Circuit, the District Court also accurately noted that Johnson’s claim is legally frivolous because it is premised on an “indisputably meritless legal theory.”

“The Constitution guarantees no right to represent others, and our rule barring non-lawyers from representing others remains. Accordingly, we will dismiss the appeal as legally frivolous under Section 1915(e),” the Third Circuit stated in summation.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-3816

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-05459

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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