Third Circuit says appeal against health and government officials lacked merit

By Nicholas Malfitano | Apr 26, 2016

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit  

PHILADELPHIA – A man’s complaint alleging general misconduct by employees of the Mercy Behavioral Health facility in Pittsburgh and governmental authorities was dismissed from a federal appellate court on Thursday.

In a per curiam verdict, judges D. Michael Fisher, Kent A. Jordan and Thomas I. Vanaskie characterized the complaint of William James Ackerman as being one which “lacks arguable merit”, and therefore dismissed it from the Court.

“This is the seventh civil action Ackerman has brought in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania since December of 2012. The District Court screened Ackerman’s complaint pursuant to Section 1915(e)(2),” the Third Circuit said.

“As with previous complaints Ackerman had filed, the District Court concluded that there was ‘no logical construction of plaintiff’s complaint from which the Court may derive a viable claim against the named defendants and that Ackerman could not cure the deficiencies by amendment.”

Based on this rationale, the District Court dismissed Ackerman’s complaint as frivolous, leading Ackerman to appeal. Ackerman’s complaint listed the Office of Behavioral Health, Kim Welch, Secretary Dr. Karen Murphy and Gov. Thomas Wolff as defendants.

The Third Circuit agreed with the District Court that Ackerman’s complaint lacked factual basis and connection to the laws he alleged the defendants had violated.

“After reviewing all of Ackerman’s filings in the District Court and on appeal, we agree that the complaint lacks an arguable basis in law or fact, and we therefore conclude that the District Court correctly dismissed the complaint,” the Third Circuit said.

“Ackerman lists various forms of relief that he seeks without pleading facts that would support any cause of action. The complaint’s allegations largely mirror those in Ackerman’s previous lawsuits, which were all dismissed as frivolous,” the Third Circuit added.

The Third Circuit explained Ackerman “lists vague and conclusory allegations of misconduct that apparently arise primarily out of the unspecified actions of Mercy Behavioral Health or its staff, but the present suit is directed against a county entity, and county and state officials.”

“Ackerman never pleads with any specificity how those government entities and officials could be responsible for any of the alleged misconduct at Mercy Behavioral Health, let alone liable for a constitutional violation,” the Third Circuit’s judges said.

“To the extent Ackerman makes any allegations against the named defendants in this suit, he merely poses general objections to county or state policies without pleading how those policies violated any constitutional provision, or how they have harmed him or any other mental health patient in any particular way.”

The federal appellate court said Ackerman restated his “clearly baseless” allegations against the defendants without explaining how the District Court made legal or procedural errors.

Ackerman also sought mandamus relief from the Third Circuit Court; a provision he was denied, for further lack of basis.

“Mandamus is an appropriate remedy only in the most extraordinary situations. To justify such a remedy, a petitioner must show that he has (1) no other adequate means of obtaining the desired relief and (2) a “clear and indisputable” right to issuance of the writ. A mandamus petition is not a substitute for an appeal; if a petitioner can obtain relief by an ordinary appeal, a court will not issue the writ,” the Third Circuit stated.

“Here, Ackerman has availed himself of the ordinary appeal remedy, and he presents no argument as to why the standard appellate process could not provide him relief,” the Third Circuit concluded. “And, as discussed above, Ackerman’s allegations have no arguable basis in law or fact, which precludes a finding that Ackerman has a clear and indisputable right to the issuance of a writ a mandamus.”

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-3582

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-01326

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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