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GOCKLEY v. VANHOOVE

March 3, 1976

EDWIN W. GOCKLEY
v.
ROBERT L. VanHOOVE and J. MICHAEL MORRISSEY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LUONGO

 In June 1969, Edwin W. Gockley filed this suit, pro se, charging that defendants Robert L. VanHoove and J. Michael Morrissey, District Attorney and Assistant District Attorney, respectively, of Berks County, Pennsylvania, had violated his civil rights. The complaint charges that defendants had revived criminal indictments against Gockley, some six and one-half years after the indictments had been returned and some eight years after the alleged offenses had occurred, for the purpose of hindering Gockley's efforts in a pending habeas corpus proceeding relating to other criminal offenses for which he had been convicted. The complaint also asserts a denial of civil rights based on an injury Gockley sustained when a bench in a detention cell collapsed while Gockley was in attendance at court for a hearing relating to the revived charges. Finally, plaintiff complains that his civil rights were violated when the defendants gave the press access to files containing information about him. Suit was brought under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, with jurisdiction based on 28 U.S.C. §§ 1343(3) and 1331.

 On August 1, 1969, defendants filed a motion to strike or dismiss plaintiff's complaint. It is this motion which is now before me for decision. Some explanation as to why decision on the motion to dismiss has been delayed more than six years is due.

 BACKGROUND

 At the time Gockley filed this suit he was in state custody and he was actively seeking habeas corpus relief from two earlier convictions which led to his imprisonment. On July 30, 1969, believing that the results of forthcoming hearings on his habeas corpus petitions would favorably affect, or at least provide evidence favorable to, the instant suit, Gockley requested a stay of proceedings in this action. Thereafter defendants filed the above mentioned motion to strike, to which, on August 27, 1969, Gockley filed a two page "Counter-Reply to Defendants Motion to Strike." Neither was accompanied by citations of authority. On April 29, 1970, I entered an order continuing generally defendants' motion to strike, relieving the parties of the obligation to file briefs on the motion "until application is made either by counsel for the defendants or by the plaintiff." On January 4, 1971, in response to several motions by plaintiff, I entered an order, which inter alia, granted a further continuance.

 Plaintiff was ultimately successful in his habeas corpus proceedings, and on April 19, 1972, he was released from the state penitentiary. On February 6, 1973, I terminated all continuances, and directed the parties to proceed without further delay. Papers recently filed recount the efforts made by Gockley from February 1973 through January 1975 to obtain counsel to aid him in this suit. Without commenting on the diligence or lack of diligence of those efforts, suffice to say that on February 18, 1975, present counsel entered his appearance on Gockley's behalf.

 Following counsel's entry of appearance, he received a letter from the Clerk's Office similar to one sent to Gockley on February 26, 1974, directing his attention to Local Rule 23(a), as amended February 1974, which requires that:

 
"Whenever in any civil action the Clerk shall ascertain that no proceeding has been docketed therein for a period of more than one year immediately preceding such ascertainment, the Clerk shall send notice to counsel of record or, if none, to the parties, that unless the Court upon written application filed within thirty (30) days from the receipt of such notice and upon good cause shown shall otherwise order, the action shall be dismissed."

 Plaintiff's counsel filed such application on February 24, 1975. On April 4, 1975, I advised plaintiff's counsel to file a memorandum in support of the application, setting forth justification for the long delay. That memorandum was filed on April 23, 1975. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Local Rule 23(a), and a memorandum in support thereof, on May 16, 1975. On October 16, 1975, upon consideration of plaintiff's application, and after hearing argument thereon, I denied defendants' motion to dismiss the action for lack of prosecution pursuant to Local Rule 23(a), and ordered defendants to file a memorandum in support of their motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim on or before November 17, 1975, and plaintiff to respond thereto by December 8, 1975. The memoranda were filed on November 14, and December 4, respectively.

 DISCUSSION

 The pro se Complaint which defendants attack is neat and well organized, but at times difficult to understand. The first section of the Complaint sets forth Gockley's factual allegations. Summarizing as best I can, Gockley alleged: He was arrested on November 21, 1960 and finally indicted in December 1961 on felony charges that were entirely groundless. After being tried and convicted of other unrelated felony charges, these "spurious" charges, for which Gockley had not been tried, were considered by the court in setting his sentence. From 1962 until 1968, while Gockley was incarcerated, the spurious charges were held in abeyance. In 1968, when the defendants realized that Gockley's convictions might be reversed, they revived the spurious charges against him. On June 11, 1968, Gockley was taken to Berks County Courthouse for a hearing on these charges, following which he was taken to the "bull pen detention cells" to await return to the state penitentiary. While there, a bench on which Gockley was sitting collapsed causing injury which has resulted in chronic pain and some disablement. Further, defendants opened their files pertaining to Gockley to members of the press although Gockley had requested that they not do so. Allowing the press access to the files "created unusual and exceptional circumstances" amounting to cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

 Following the factual allegations, the Complaint sets forth five separate causes of action. Plaintiff now concedes that the second, fourth, and fifth causes are not actionable. I will deal, therefore, only with the first and third claims.

 The first cause of action asserts that defendants' revival of the spurious and illegal indictments against Gockley was for the purpose of harassing him and violated his Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process and equal protection of the laws, for which 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 provide redress. The third cause of action asserts that defendants opened their files to the press after Gockley had requested that the files be kept closed; that the press then publicly harassed him; that such publicity prior to a hearing on the voluntariness of his statements as contained in the files is prohibited; that as a result of the disclosure it would be impossible to select an impartial jury to try the case; for all of which Gockley claims damages under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985. *fn1"

 Defendants' motion to strike or dismiss sets forth five grounds on which the Complaint should be dismissed: (1) this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction; (2) the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; (3) plaintiff has failed to exhaust state remedies; (4) the Complaint contains "scandalous, libelous and impertinent statements"; and (5) the action is barred by the statute of limitations. Defendants' memorandum in support of the motion, however, discusses only the second ground, specifically that the Complaint fails to state a claim since defendants are cloaked with prosecutorial immunity from any otherwise valid claim which the Complaint may ...


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