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CIAFFONI v. SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

November 15, 1982

CONCETTA CIAFFONI and ROBERT J. CIAFFONI, Plaintiffs,
v.
SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, an agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and HONORABLE HENRY X. O'BRIEN, THE HONORABLE SAMUEL J. ROBERTS, HONORABLE ROBERT NIX, JR., HONORABLE ROLF LARSEN, HONORABLE JOHN P. FLAHERTY, JR., HONORABLE WILLIAM D. HUTCHISON, HONORABLE JAMES T. McDERMOTT, individually and in their capacities as Justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; HONORABLE MICHAEL EAGEN, HONORABLE BRUCE KAUFFMAN, individually and in their former capacities as Justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; HONORABLE ALEXANDER BARBIERI, individually and as Court Administrator of Pennsylvania, and THE JUDICIAL INQUIRY & REVIEW BOARD, an agency of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ZIEGLER

 Presently before the court are the Rule 12(b) motions of defendants to dismiss the original and amended complaints for want of justiciability, standing, ripeness and mootness. We hold that the complaints of plaintiffs fail to state a case or controversy as required by Article III and therefore the motions of defendants to dismiss must be granted. *fn1" We also hold that assuming the subsequent developments in state court have not rendered the action moot, the teachings of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669, 91 S. Ct. 746 (1971) require this court to abstain.

 The genesis of this bitter dispute is a will contest that apparently has been litigated for many years in the courts of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. See In re Estate of Ciaffoni, 491 Pa. 46, 417 A.2d 1136 (1980) (Ciaffoni I); In re Estate of Ciaffoni, 498 Pa. 267, 446 A.2d 225 (1982) (Ciaffoni II).

 On April 30, 1982, plaintiffs instituted the instant civil action alleging a deprivation of due process and equal protection predicated on the Fourteenth Amendment and the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs contend that they were denied a fair trial and impartial appellate review of their cause due to alleged malevolence, conflicts of interest, bias and other perceived irregularities involving present and former members of the state judiciary and certain members of the bar. However, because "the truth seldom catcheth the lie," we are constrained to observe that the allegations of plaintiffs are not proof of wrongdoing by any past or present public official of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Indeed, defendants have denied each and every allegation in their instant motions and as a matter of record at the status conference of September 1, 1982.

 On May 20, 1982, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania reversed its previous holding and granted a new trial in the underlying dispute. In re Estate of Ciaffoni, 498 Pa. 267, 446 A.2d 225 (1982). The proponents of the will petitioned the United States Supreme Court for certiorari and that matter is pending. Thus we are confronted with the question of whether the decision of the highest court of Pennsylvania, which was filed subsequent to the original complaint, moots this action since plaintiffs will be afforded the opportunity to contest the validity of the will admitted to probate in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County, Pennsylvania. We conclude that it does.

 A.

 In Count 2, plaintiffs would have this court (a) enjoin the participation of a jurist of the state's highest court "in the forthcoming decision of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court regarding the appeal of the plaintiffs," (b) "enter an injunction directing that Richard Sprague not participate in the Ciaffoni estate litigations," and (c) supervise the activities of the Judicial Inquiry and Review Board of Pennsylvania in an investigation of a member of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. See Original Complaint at 17-18. We decline because this court has neither the inclination nor the jurisdiction to sit as an ongoing supervisor of the business of the state courts.

 First, we have no power or basis to enjoin a justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania from sitting in judgment of any matter. Second, plaintiffs no longer have any matter pending before that Court. Third, the fact that Richard Sprague is counsel for the will proponents and also serves as a special investigator for the Judicial Inquiry and Review Board in an investigation of a judge of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania provides no basis for federal jurisdiction, even if we assume that all allegations advanced by plaintiffs are correct. Representation of diverse interests is not uncommon to prominent members of the bar and it cannot serve as a predicate for the disqualification of counsel in this or any other court. Moreover, there are no facts well pleaded to support plaintiffs' assertion that disqualification of Richard Sprague is required in the litigation in Washington County.

 Finally, a federal court has no authority, under these circumstances, to supervise the investigations of the Judicial Inquiry and Review Board or to order that certain information be made available for "independent evaluation." Plaintiffs' arguments of alleged bias and other objections should be made to the trial court when the will contest is called for trial in the Court of Common Pleas of Washington County and, if relief is denied, to the appropriate appellate court.

 In Count 3, plaintiffs would have this court assume jurisdiction of the will contest and enjoin "the estate co-administrators from taking further action . . . as might affect the property rights of the plaintiffs." Simply put we have no power to issue such an order and plaintiffs' citation to the Constitution of the United States does not transpose this local dispute into a federal question.

 The reason for the rule is clear. Even if we assume that the allegations of plaintiffs are true, there is no basis to conclude that the alleged conduct is endemic. As the Supreme Court has noted in the context of Article III jurisdictional questions, "while past wrongs are evidence bearing on whether there is a real and immediate threat of repeated injury, the attempt to anticipate under what circumstances the respondents there would be made to appear in the future before petitioners takes us into the area of speculation and conjecture." Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 372, 46 L. Ed. 2d 561, 96 S. Ct. 598 (1975). Here the possibilities are myriad. Plaintiffs may have no objection to the trial judge to whom the case is assigned on remand in Washington County. Or they may prevail in the lower court. Or they may prevail before a jury. Or they may prevail on appeal. Or they may not appeal. Or the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania may deny certiorari. Or the case may be settled.

 The Supreme Court of the United States recently discussed the exception to the mootness doctrine but it too is of little solace to plaintiffs. See Murphy v. Hunt, 455 U.S. 478, 102 S. Ct. 1181, 71 L. Ed. 2d 353 (1982). There the Court held that the district court was without jurisdiction in a civil action predicated on 42 U.S.C. § 1983 because the order of the Nebraska Supreme Court was moot and not "capable of repetition, yet evading review." Id. at 482. The Court noted the exception requires that (1) the challenged action be too short in duration to be fully litigated prior to cessation, and (2) there is a reasonable expectation that the "complaining party would be subjected to the same action again." Id.

 Here the challenged action may be fully litigated in the state courts of Pennsylvania by virtue of the decision of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in Ciaffoni II. Moreover, there is no reasonable expectation from our reading of the pleadings and papers that plaintiffs will not receive a full and fair hearing on the merits. We hold that the original complaint of plaintiffs fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted because there is ...


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