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CUFFELD v. SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA

July 23, 1996

CHARLES H. CUFFELD, HONORABLE, PRESIDENT JUDGE PHILADELPHIA TRAFFIC COURT, Plaintiff,
v.
THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: REED

 Reed, J.

 July 23, 1996

 Plaintiff the Honorable Charles H. Cuffeld, President Judge Philadelphia Traffic Court has brought this action against the following defendants: the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania; seven Justices of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (collectively "Justices"); the Honorable Alex Bonavitacola, President Judge Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County; Cynthia Marelia, Court Administrator Philadelphia Traffic Court; and Nancy M. Sobolevitch, Court Administrator of Pennsylvania. Plaintiff alleges that defendants have infringed his rights guaranteed under the federal Constitution in violation of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985. Plaintiff further alleges that these defendants have violated the doctrine of separation of powers embodied in the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343.

 Currently before the Court is the motion by defendants to dismiss. (Document No. 6) The Court has considered the complaint, the motion of defendants, the respective filings of the parties and the oral argument thereon. For the following reasons, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part. With regard to all counts of the complaint as against defendant the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and with regard to Counts II and V of the complaint as against the individual defendants, the motion will be granted. The motion will also be granted with respect to Count I as against the individual defendants, but only to the extent that Count I asserts a claim for violation of the right of plaintiff to freedom of association as secured by the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The motion will be denied in all other respects, and the remaining claims by plaintiff will be allowed to proceed.

 While I do not generally comment on pending litigation except to render legal opinions, I feel compelled in this case to note how regrettable it is that this Court is involved in a dispute of this nature. At a time when the Philadelphia court system is in the midst of reorganization and the judiciary as a whole is facing a multitude of challenges, it is unfortunate that this state's judicial system, as represented by both plaintiff and defendants, is faced with an additional drain on its limited resources because of this dispute. This Court cannot, of course, comment on the ultimate viability of the remaining claims asserted by President Judge Cuffeld; the resolution of the instant motion to dismiss is necessarily based solely on the allegations contained in the complaint and the legal arguments asserted by the parties and not on whatever evidence may be available to support or refute these claims. But regardless of the merits of these claims, it is the fervent hope of this Court that this dispute will be speedily resolved by the parties without the need for further action by this Court.

 I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 The following facts are based upon the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint. See Miree v. DeKalb County, 433 U.S. 25, 27 n.2, 53 L. Ed. 2d 557, 97 S. Ct. 2490 (1977).

 Plaintiff has been a duly elected Judge of the Philadelphia Traffic Court since 1982. In 1992, the Governor of Pennsylvania appointed plaintiff as the President Judge of the Philadelphia Traffic Court. At all relevant times, plaintiff was the only African American President Judge of any court in Philadelphia County.

 Defendant Marelia is the Court Administrator for the Philadelphia Traffic Court. Over the objections of plaintiff, she was appointed to this position in 1995 by defendant Sobolevitch acting at the direction of defendant the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and the defendant Justices. Marelia was chosen because she was recommended by a powerful politician.

 In an Order dated March 26, 1996, the defendant Justices returned control of the First Judicial District to the individual courts effective April 1, 1996, which included inter alia returning administrative control of the Philadelphia Traffic Court to plaintiff in his capacity as President Judge. As part of this Order, an Administrative Governing Board ("Administrative Board") was created for the First Judicial District consisting of plaintiff, the President Judges of two other Philadelphia courts, the three Administrative Judges of the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas and defendant Sobolevitch.

 Exercising his new powers, plaintiff sought to make a number of parking and personnel changes. Defendant Marelia objected to these changes and communicated her objections to the defendant Justices. As a result of this communication, defendant Justice Cappy stayed all personnel decisions in a memorandum dated March 29, 1996, a memorandum which defendant Marelia promptly circulated to all defendants as well as to members of the Traffic Court staff. Defendant Marelia then sent plaintiff, on April 1, 1996, a memorandum informing him that she was overruling his parking changes.

 In response to these actions, plaintiff through his counsel petitioned the Administrative Board in a letter dated April 3, 1996 regarding what he saw as the improper co-opting of his powers by defendant Marelia and the defendant Justices; plaintiff also repeatedly raised his concerns at Administrative Board meetings. Defendant President Judge Bonavitacola, with the consent of the other defendants, responded on April 4, 1996 with a promise of discussion of plaintiff's concerns at the first Administrative Board meeting but also with a warning that plaintiff had no authority to retain counsel. No such discussion ever occurred, however, and instead defendant Marelia, with the consent and approval of the other defendants, continued to overrule and otherwise take over the responsibilities of plaintiff from this time forward, including making hiring and reorganization decisions without consulting plaintiff.

 In a letter dated April 23, 1996, plaintiff advised defendant President Judge Bonavitacola of the actions of defendant Marelia and stated his intention to terminate defendant Marelia effective April 26, 1996. In response to this letter, on April 25, 1996 President Judge Bonavitacola sent a memorandum to all members of the Administrative Board halting all personnel transactions. Plaintiff then sought to attend, with his attorney, an Administrative Board meeting at which defendant Justice Cappy was to be present, but President Judge Bonavitacola informed plaintiff that he could not have his attorney present at this meeting. In addition, on May 8, 1996 the defendant Justices *fn1" created the new position of Administrative Judge for the Philadelphia Traffic Court and transferred to that position many of the responsibilities of plaintiff; on May 9, 1996, they removed plaintiff from the Administrative Board, replacing him with the new Administrative Judge for the Philadelphia Traffic Court. The President Judges of the both the Philadelphia Municipal Court and the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas remained on the Administrative Board. Plaintiff then filed the instant action.

 II. DISCUSSION

 Defendants make the instant motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (6), arguing that this Court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter of this case and that plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction over the subject matter pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), a court must accept as true the allegations contained in the complaint of plaintiff absent a challenge to the factual truthfulness of the complaint's jurisdictional averments. Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. and Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). Defendants make no such factual challenge here. Similarly, in deciding a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant Rule 12(b)(6) a court must take all well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint as true; dismissal is only appropriate if the plaintiff could prove no set of facts that would entitle him to the relief requested. See Miree, 433 U.S. at 27 n.2; Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957). This Court must therefore consider all of the well-pleaded factual allegations contained in the complaint to be true for the purposes of deciding the instant motion.

 Plaintiff has asserted five counts in his complaint. They are as follows: (I) a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983) claim of violation of the First and Fourteenth Amendments, specifically the right of plaintiff to freedom of speech and of association; (II) a Section 1983 claim of violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, specifically the right of plaintiff to not be deprived of his property or liberty interests without due process of law; (III) a Section 1983 claim of violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, specifically the right of plaintiff to equal protection; (IV) a 42 U.S.C. § 1985 ("Section 1985") claim of conspiracy to violate the rights of plaintiff as detailed in the first three counts; and (V) a violation of the doctrine of separation of powers embodied in the Constitution of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Defendants make both an Eleventh Amendment attack on the jurisdiction of this Court over the entire complaint and a series of attacks on the substance of each of the counts asserted by plaintiff. The individual defendants also assert that they have qualified immunity to the claims by plaintiff. The Court will first address the Eleventh Amendment argument, then the arguments by defendants with regard to each count of the complaint, and then the qualified immunity defense.

 
A. Eleventh Amendment
 
The Eleventh Amendment provides:
 
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by citizens of another State, ...

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