On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 87-0026.
Seitz, Stapleton, and Cowen, Circuit Judges.
J. Benedict Centifanti appeals the order of the district court dismissing his complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and denying his motion for leave to amend the complaint. Centifanti filed a complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (1982) against the Chief Justice and the Justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ("the Justices" or "Justice Nix"), following the Court's denial of his petition for reinstatement to the bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The complaint alleged various constitutional defects in the procedural rules under which the Supreme Court considers petitions for the reinstatement of suspended attorneys.
We hold that the complaint, properly framed, raises a permissible general constitutional challenge to state rules, and does not improperly seek review of a state court decision. Therefore, we will reverse the district court's dismissal of the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. We will also reverse the district court's denial of Centifanti's motion for leave to amend his complaint to eliminate improper factual detail contained in the complaint. We further hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Centifanti's motion to compel discovery and granting the Justices' motion for a protective order with regard to certain privileged documents. Finally, we conclude that Centifanti's suit is not barred by either the statute of limitations or the doctrine of res judicata.
Before discussing the facts of this case, we briefly examine the relevant provisions of the Pennsylvania Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement ("R.D.E."), which govern the investigation and sanction of attorney misconduct. The Rules designate the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania as the ultimate decisionmaker on matters of attorney discipline.*fn1 The Rules provide for a Disciplinary Board and hearing committees which make findings and submit recommendations to the Supreme Court. R.D.E. 205 and 206.
The Disciplinary Board has "the power and the duty . . . [t]o consider and investigate the conduct of any person subject to these rules . . . ." R.D.E. 205(c)(1). More specifically, the Board has the authority to appoint three or more hearing committees within each disciplinary district, and to assign formal charges to a hearing committee. R.D.E. 205(c)(3) and (4). The Board is also authorized "[t]o review the conclusions of hearing committees with respect to formal charges and to prepare and forward its own findings and recommendations, together with the record of the proceeding before the hearing committee, to the Supreme Court." R.D.E. 205(c)(5). Hearing committees, in turn, are authorized to conduct hearings into formal charges of misconduct upon assignment by the Board, to submit their conclusions (together with the record of the hearing) to the Board, and to review and approve or modify recommendations by Disciplinary Counsel for dismissals, informal admonitions, private reprimands and institution of formal charges. R.D.E. 206(b).
With regard to decisions on initial disciplinary actions, R.D.E. 208(e)(5) provides that the Supreme Court "shall review the record, where appropriate consider oral argument, and enter an order." R.D.E. 208(e)(4) states, however, that "[e]xcept as provided in [R.D.E. 208](e)(2) and (e)(3), respondent-attorney will not be afforded the right of oral argument." R.D.E. 208(e)(2) provides that if the Board recommends disbarment, the attorney may submit to the Supreme Court a request to present oral argument. R.D.E. 208(e)(3) provides that if the Board recommends a sanction less than disbarment, the Court may issue a rule to show cause why an order of disbarment should not be entered, if the Court so decides after considering the Board's recommendation. In the latter case, the attorney "shall have the absolute right upon request for oral argument." R.D.E. 208(e)(3).
R.D.E. 218(a) provides that "[n]o attorney suspended for a period exceeding three months . . . may resume practice until reinstated by order of the Supreme Court after petition therefor pursuant to these rules." R.D.E. 218(b) provides that, with exceptions which are not germane here, "[a] person who has been disbarred may not apply for reinstatement until the expiration of at least five years from the effective date of the disbarment . . . ." With regard to reinstatement petitions of disbarred or suspended attorneys, R.D.E. 218(c)(6) states: "The Supreme Court shall review the record [of the hearing committee and Disciplinary Board] and enter an appropriate order. Unless otherwise ordered, matters arising under this rule will be considered without oral argument."
Centifanti is an attorney admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in 1972. In 1980, by order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, Centifanti was retroactively suspended from the practice of law for five years, resulting from a plea of nolo contendere to two charges of aggravated assault on his wife in 1976.
On August 10, 1983, having successfully completed his criminal probation, Centifanti filed a petition for reinstatement with the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Following the completion of hearings, a hearing committee of the Disciplinary Board submitted a report to the Board unanimously recommending that Centifanti's petition for reinstatement be granted.
Upon review, the Disciplinary Board remanded the petition to the hearing committee to consider certain factual questions which it believed were presented by the record and to consider independent medical testimony concerning Centifanti's mental health. The hearing committee reviewed additional evidence and again unanimously recommended reinstatement. On review of the record, the Disciplinary Board issued an opinion recommending Centifanti's reinstatement by a vote of eight to one.
Centifanti filed an application for leave to file a brief in support of his petition for reinstatement with the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. By letter dated July 9, 1986, the Court, with one Justice dissenting, denied the petition for reinstatement to the Bar as well as the application for leave to file a brief. The decision was unaccompanied by an opinion or statement of reasons.
On January 2, 1987, Centifanti filed a complaint in the district court alleging a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Chief Justice and the Justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. The complaint alleges that the court-promulgated procedural rules governing attorney reinstatement violate the due process and equal protection clauses of the fourteenth amendment to the United States Constitution.*fn2 Although we do not decide the merits of Centifanti's constitutional claims in this opinion, an understanding of these claims is necessary to resolve the jurisdictional issue in this case. The complaint, fairly read, essentially alleges the following due process defects in the rules:
1) that the rules fail to provide for a hearing before the Justices prior to action on a petition for reinstatement, following favorable action on the petition by the hearing committee and the Disciplinary Board;
2) that the rules fail to allow petitioners to submit briefs to the Justices in support of the recommendation of the Disciplinary Board that petitioners be reinstated, or to address any concerns or comments expressed by the Board;
3) that the rules fail to provide notification to petitioners, following favorable action by the Board, that the Justices may believe that reinstatement may not be in order, and fail to allow petitioners a hearing before the Justices and to submit a brief addressing any concerns the Justices may have; and
4) that the rules fail to require issuance of a statement of reasons when the Justices reject a petition for reinstatement which had ...