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Harmon v. Department of Finance

United States District Court, D. Delaware

August 20, 2019

SANDRA HARMON, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE, SUSSEX COUNTY, DELAWARE, et al., Defendants.

          Sandra Harmon, Hartsville, South Carolina. Pro Se Plaintiff.

          Kevin J. Connors, Esquire, and Artemio C. Aranilla, II, Esquire, Marshall, Dennehey, Warner, Coleman & Goggin, Wilmington, Delaware. Counsel for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ANDREW, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Sandra Harmon appears pro se. She commenced this lawsuit on July 11, 2018, as a civil Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO") action and under 18 U.S.C. §§ 241, 242, which makes criminal certain civil rights violations, and alleges violations of her constitutional rights to due process and equal protection (D.I. 1 at 2). Before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss and Plaintiffs motion for summary judgment. (D.I. 7, 13). The matters have been fully briefed. (See D.I. 8, 9, 14, 15, 18, 20).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges Defendants are violating her right to due process and equal protection by "engaging in arbitrary conduct with respect to the selling of [her] property at Sheriffs Sale on June 19, 2018." (D.I. 1 at 2). Plaintiff alleges the property was unlawfully sold and the conduct of Defendant Jason Adkins - counsel for the "Sussex County Administration" - was discriminatory and racist. (Id. at 2-3). Plaintiff alleges that Adkins' conduct and those who support it violated RICO. (Id. at 4).

         She explains that the Sussex County Department of Finance alleged that she owed about on a sewer and water bill that had been paid in full with a check for about $1, 800. (Id. at 3). Defendants also alleged Plaintiff owed costs, perhaps of about $8, 300 (see Id. at 3, ¶¶ 8, 10), from a September 14, 2017 demolition. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges that the Department added interest to the total cost of demolition and then attempted to seek a judgment for the full cost of the demolition. (Id.). She alleges the sale took place without the filing of a complaint, service, or notice to her and the other co-owners of the property. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges, "[T]he Younger Doctrine does not apply in this case because Defendants failed to file an initial complaint in the Superior Court, so technically there is no case filed, no pending. The S18T-001-002 case number is clearly bogus, and [its] unlawful generation represents racketeering and corruption at the hands of Sussex County Officials." (Id. at 4).

         Plaintiff seeks to enjoin Adkins "to halt his misconduct, and find him in contempt and in violation of court rules of civil procedure," compensatory damages of $1, 000, 000, and an order to rescind the Sheriff's sale, among other things. (Id. at 4-5). She also requests counsel (Id. at 5).

         The Court takes judicial notice that on January 12, 2018 (prior to the time Plaintiff commenced this action), the Department of Finance of Sussex County filed a monitions suit against Plaintiff and the other owners for delinquent sewer and water bills and the demolition lien. Department of Finance of Sussex County v. Harmon Heirs, Civ. A. No. S18T-01-002 (Del. Super.) at BL-1.[1] Monition was entered on January 18, 2018, and posted on the property on January 23, 2018. Id. at BL-6. On May 30, 2018, a notice of the Sheriffs sale was posted at the physical entrance of the property and, on May 31, 2018, Plaintiff and the other property owners were notified by certified mail of a Sheriff's sale of the real estate to take place on June 19, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. Id. at BL-16, BL-17, BL-18.

         On June 8, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss and motion for injunctive relief in Civ. A. No. S18T-01-002 alleging violations of her constitutional rights. Id. at BL-10. On June 18, 2018, the Superior Court denied the motion and ordered that the sale could proceed as scheduled on June 19 2018. Id. at BL-28. A notice of lis pendens was filed on June 19, 2018 and on June 21, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion to invalidate and to dismiss. Id. at BL-30. The property was sold to the highest bidder; Plaintiff filed an objection to the sale, and then an amended notice of objection. Id. at BL-35, BL-36, BL-44. On August 9, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss. Id. at BL-51. On November 7, 2018, the Superior Court stayed the matter while awaiting resolution of the related federal civil cases Plaintiff had filed here, Civ. No. 17-1817-RGA and the instant case, Civ. No. 18-1021-RGA. Id. at BL-51. Plaintiff then filed a petition for a writ of mandamus in the Delaware Supreme Court to compel the Superior Court Judge to dismiss S18T-01-002. Id. at BL-53, BL-56. The Delaware Supreme Court dismissed the petition. Id. at BL-57. The most recent filings in the Superior Court case are an affidavit of non-redemption filed on June 19, 2019, and an amended writ filed July 11, 2019. Id. at BL-59, BL-60.

         Defendants move to dismiss on the grounds that the Court must abstain under the Younger abstention doctrine because there remains pending an underlying matter in Delaware State Court that continues to be actively litigated on identical or related issues. (D.I. 7). Plaintiffs opposition to the motion does not address the Younger abstention doctrine other than to state that it is clearly inapplicable. Instead, she asks the Court to explore the "unclean hands theory" and the "continuing violation theory." (D.I. 8).

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Younger abstention is not analyzed under either Rule 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6), see Knox v. Union Twp. Bd. of Educ., 2015 WL 769930, at *5 n.7 (D.N.J. Feb. 23, 2015), but "[dismissal on abstention grounds without retention of jurisdiction is in the nature of a dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)," Gwynedd Properties, Inc. v. Lower Gwynedd Twp., 970 F.2d 1195, 1206 n. 18 (3d Cir. 1992). Hence, "courts [in the District of New Jersey] have treated [a motion to dismiss on the basis of] Younger abstention as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss," see, e.g., Tobia v. Lakewood Bd. of Educ., 2017 WL 1206010, at *3 (D.N.J. Mar. 31, 2017), "in that matters outside of the pleadings are not to be considered," see Knox, 2015 WL 769930, at *5 n.7. The Court, however, may take judicial notice of court documents. Gwynedd Properties, Inc., 970 F.2d at 1206 n.18

         III. ...


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