Pa. law firm didn't intimidate or harass plaintiff, Third Circuit Court says

By Nicholas Malfitano | Dec 22, 2016

PHILADELPHIA – A panel of federal appellate judges have ruled to affirm the dismissal of a Pottstown woman’s litigation, which claimed a Pennsylvania law firm intimidated and harassed her.

On Dec. 20, judges Michael A. Chagares, Cheryl Ann Krause and Jane R. Roth ruled in a per curiam decision in favor of defendant and private attorney Richard J. Tompkins and his firm Morrow Tompkins Trueblood & Lefevre, and upholding the trial court’s dismissal of plaintiff Cynthia M. Yoder’s case.

Yoder’s lawsuit, initiated against Tompkins and his firm, was in regards to a Pennsylvania state court civil action where Yoder was involved.

The defendants represented the opposing party in that same state court case, and Yoder’s federal complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, alleged the defendants sent her a threatening letter after she attempted to submit a filing in that case.

Yoder’s complaint claimed the defendants’ conduct was tantamount to intimidation and harassment, and argued she was due relief under both 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and Pennsylvania state law.

The defendants moved to dismiss the complaint with prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted – a decision which a federal judge made on Oct. 5, 2015.

Over Yoder’s objection, the District Court granted the motion, explained dismissal was appropriate under Rule 12(b)(1) and the dismissal should be with prejudice, because amendment of the complaint would be futile. Yoder then followed a timely appeal.

The Third Circuit said collectively it affirmed the trial court’s ruling that Yoder’s complaint did not meet the standard for surviving dismissal – arguing though Yoder’s complaint presented itself to rely on 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, her allegations do not actually implicate that federal statute.

“Section 1983 provides a basis for relief only when the (1) plaintiff is deprived of a federal right, and (2) the defendant(s) who deprived them of that right acted under color of state law,” the Third Circuit said.

“As the District Court explained, Yoder’s allegations do not implicate a federal right and defendants were not acting under color of state law. Because Yoder’s purported Section 1983 claim was ‘wholly insubstantial and frivolous,’ the District Court’s dismissal of her complaint for lack of jurisdiction was proper. Furthermore, because we agree with the District Court that amendment of the complaint would be futile, the District Court did not err when it dismissed the complaint with prejudice,” the appellate court continued.

“We have considered Yoder’s various arguments in her appellate brief and conclude that none has merit. Accordingly, and in light of the above, we will affirm the District Court’s judgment. To the extent that Yoder requests appointment of counsel, that request is denied. To the extent that she requests any other relief from this Court, that request is denied, too,” the Third Circuit stated.

The defendants are represented by Richard J. Tompkins of Morrow Tompkins Trueblood & Lefevre, in Norristown.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-3593

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-04590

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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