Third Circuit: Plaintiff's fraud allegation against Philadelphia Housing Authority is meritless

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jun 16, 2017

PHILADELPHIA – A panel of federal appellate court judges have decided to dismiss a plaintiff’s attempt to allege legal fraud on behalf of the Philadelphia Housing Authority.

In a per curiam ruling issued June 14, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit judges Patty Shwartz, Robert E. Cowen and Julio M. Fuentes decided the claims of fraud and collusion brought by complainant George E. Johnson Jr. failed to state a claim against the Philadelphia Housing Authority and its Executive Director, Michael P. Kelly.

“Johnson was involved in an administrative proceeding before the Philadelphia Housing Authority, after which he filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against the Philadelphia Housing Authority and its Executive Director. Johnson charged the defendants with perpetrating “fraud upon the court” that resulted in a series of adverse procedural rulings and failures by the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas prothonotary,” according to the Third Circuit.

The District Court dismissed the action, as it determined that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Johnson then filed a motion seeking leave to add the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as a defendant, as well motions for reconsideration and relief from the judgment. These motions were denied and we affirmed the District Court’s orders. Five years after the District Court entered judgment, Johnson filed a motion pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), alleging that the judgment was void due to fraud. The District Court denied the motion, leading Johnson to appeal.

“A motion for relief from judgment based on fraud must be filed not more than one year after the judgment was entered. A Rule 60(b)(6) motion must be brought within a reasonable time. Johnson alleged that the defendants colluded with the docket clerk in the District Court to avoid entering their appearance and responding to Johnson’s complaint. Johnson claimed that the District Court’s judgment entered in 2011 is therefore void. It is difficult to discern what Johnson asserts occurred between the docket clerk and the defendants, but to the extent he complained of fraud, his motion is untimely as it was brought over five years after judgment was entered,” the Third Circuit said.

The Third Circuit further held the District Court did not err in determining that the motion was meritless, and agreed with the lower court that Johnson failed to explain the basis for his fraud allegation.

“While Johnson contended that there was a conspiracy between the defendants and the clerk, he presented no evidence of this. In his brief, Johnson argues that a District Court order was not signed and that this supports his allegation of a conspiracy; however, our review of the order in question reveals that the order was electronically signed by the District Judge. Johnson also claimed that the clerk’s failure to serve the defendants is evidence of their collusion. As we discussed in our prior opinion, the Court independently identified a flaw in the complaint that, in its view, rendered service (and response by the defendants) pointless. Therefore, relief from judgment under Rules 60(b)(3) or 60(b)(6) would not be warranted,” according to the federal appellate judiciary.

“Finally, the District Court did not err in denying Johnson’s motion to the extent he asserted that the judgment was void under Rule 60(b)(4). Johnson argued that the judgment was void because the defendants had defaulted in the state court proceedings and because the defendants failed to enter an appearance in the District Court. Again, the defendants were not required to enter their appearance as the District Court sua sponte dismissed Johnson’s complaint. Additionally, Johnson’s claim that the underlying state court judgment is void, even if it were true, does not provide a basis to conclude that the District Court’s judgment is void,” the Third Circuit said.

“In his brief, Johnson also argues that the defendants defaulted in the District Court by failing to respond to his original complaint. This issue concerns rulings related to his original civil action, but an appeal from the denial of Rule 60(b) relief does not bring up the underlying judgment for review unless it is timely filed and tolls the time for appeal under Rule 4(a)(4). Johnson’s motion was filed five years after the entry of judgment and clearly did not toll the time for appeal,” the Third Circuit concluded.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 16-4306

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:11-cv-04572

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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