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Moeller v. Bradford County

August 10, 2006

CLARK MOELLER; JANE MOELLER; JEFFREY GONZALEZ; LAURA BLAINE; KRIS SCHWENKE; AND TIM THURSTON, PLAINTIFFS
v.
BRADFORD COUNTY; CAROL L. LAVERY, IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ACTING DIRECTOR OF THE PENNSYLVANIA COMMISSION ON CRIME AND DELINQUENCY; ALBERTO GONZALEZ, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES; THE FIRM FOUNDATION OF AMERICA, D/B/A THE FIRM FOUNDATION OF BRADFORD COUNTY; DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court for disposition are objections to a Report and Recommendation from United States Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Blewitt disposing of Defendant Bradford County's ("the County") motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). Plaintiffs have filed an objection and the County has filed three. These matters have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, we will sustain the Plaintiffs' Objection and overrule the Defendants'.

I. Background*fn1

The Firm Foundation received federal, state, and local government funding to operate a vocational training program for inmates in the Bradford County Correctional Facility, which is the jail for Bradford County, Pennsylvania ("the County"). The program not only provides vocational training, but spends a significant amount of time and resources on religious discussions, religious lectures, and prayer. The Firm Foundation describes its program as a prison ministry. It requires its staff to adhere to Christian beliefsand to share these beliefs when the opportunity arises. The Firm Foundation routinely proselytizes to the inmates in the vocational training program, and does not make an effort to segregate government funds for the purely secular purpose of vocational training. This program is the only program available to Bradford County inmates that provides vocational training or teaches employment skills.

The Firm Foundation received funds derived from a federal grant under the Workforce Investment Act from the United States Department of Labor. The Department of Labor awarded the funds to the Team Pennsylvania Workforce Initiative Board, which manages the funds in Pennsylvania. The Pennsylvania Board then awarded a portion of those funds as a sub-grant to the Northern Tier Regional Planning and Development Commission. The Regional Commission then granted some of those funds to the Firm Foundation.

The Firm Foundation also received funds from Bradford County and the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The County applied to the Commission on Crime for funds for the Firm Foundation, and, under the authority of Defendant Carol L. Lavery, the Commission on Crime approved the application. The County and the Firm Foundation then signed a contract governing payment of the grant. In the middle of 2004, the County applied to the Commission on Crime for a continuation grant. Again, the funds were approved, but on this occasion some of the funds came from the Federal Drug Control and System Improvement Program, and the remaining money came from state funds. Additionally, the Firm Foundation inmates received hourly wages from Bradford County Action, which received the funds from the Regional Commission, which received the funds under the Workforce Investment Act.

Plaintiffs Clark Moeller, Jane Moeller, Jeffrey Gonzalez, Laura Blain, and Kris Schwenke are residents of Bradford County who pay taxes to the United States, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and Bradford County. Each objects to the Firm Foundation's use of taxpayer funds for a religious purpose. Plaintiff Tim Thurston is a resident of Bradford County, a former inmate of the jail, and a former participant in the Firm Foundation's program.

II. Procedural Background

On February 17, 2005, Plaintiffs filed the instant three count Complaint. In Count I, they allege that the government's support of the Firm Foundation violates the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. In Count II, they allege the support violates Section Three of the Declaration of Rights of the Pennsylvania Constitution. In Count III, they allege the support violates Section 29 of Article II of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Plaintiffs seek an injunction prohibiting the defendants from funding the Firm Foundation so long as the program continues its religious instruction and activity, religious coercion of inmates, or discrimination in employment. Plaintiffs also seek an injunction requiring Bradford County, Carol Lavery, and Defendant Alberto Gonzalez, the United States Attorney General, to monitor all grants given to faith based organizations to ensure that the funds are not used in a manner prohibited by the United States or Pennsylvania Constitutions. They seek a declaration that providing funds that flow to the Firm Foundation without adequately monitoring the use of the funds violates the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions. They also seek monetary damages for the recoupment of the funds used for religious purposes, and finally, they seek nominal damages.

Defendant Firm Foundation filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). It argued: 1) it was not a state actor; 2) Plaintiffs have no private cause of action to recover damages under the Pennsylvania Constitution; 3) Plaintiffs cannot recover nominal damages if they have standing solely as taxpayers; and 4) Plaintiff Thurston's claims for declaratory and injunctive relief are moot because he is no longer an inmate. Magistrate Judge Blewitt issued a report and recommendation suggesting: 1) the Complaint sufficiently alleged that the Firm Foundation was a state actor; 2) we should decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state constitutional claims because the issue of whether Plaintiffs can recover damages for violations of the Pennsylvania Constitution is a novel issue of state law; 3) Plaintiffs may recover nominal damages, and 4) Plaintiff Thurston's claims for injunctive relief are moot. The Firm Foundation objected to the state actor and the nominal damages issues, and Plaintiffs filed no objections. We overruled the objections and adopted the Report and Recommendation.

Defendant Alberto Gonzalez also filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to 12(b)(6). He argued that: 1) Plaintiffs lacked standing to complain about his funding decisions; 2) they lacked standing to request injunctive relief as to all future Department of Justice (DOJ) grants; and 3) he is entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs' claims that he failed to appropriately monitor his funding.

Magistrate Judge Blewitt issued a Report and Recommendation agreeing with Gonzalez on the first and second issues, but found it premature to grant summary judgment. Gonzalez filed no objections and Plaintiffs objected to Magistrate Judge Blewitt's conclusion that they lacked standing to complain about the funding. We sustained this objection, but adopted the Report and Recommendation in all other respects.

II. Jurisdiction

As this case is brought pursuant to the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, we have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. ยง 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have ...


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