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Steinberg v. Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

June 10, 2009

ARNOLD Y. STEINBERG, PETITIONER,
v.
THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, RONALD D. CASTILLE, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE CHIEF JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, THOMAS G. SAYLOR, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, MAX BAER F/K/A/ DAVID MAX BAER, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, SEAMUS P. MCCAFFERY, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEBRA TODD, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, J. MICHAEL EAKIN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, AND JANE CUTLER GREENSPAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A JUSTICE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF PENNSYLVANIA, RESPONDENTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge

Judge Nora Barry Fischer, U.S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

This action involves a constitutional challenge to a Pennsylvania Rule of Disciplinary Enforcement concerning orders disbarring attorneys who have consented to disbarrment during the pendency of disciplinary proceedings against them. Pending before the Court is a motion to dismiss filed by the respondents and motions for a preliminary injunction, a writ of mandamus and leave to amend filed by the petitioner. For the reasons that follow, the respondents' motion to dismiss (Docket No. 29) will be granted and the petitioner's motions for a preliminary injunction (Docket No. 22), a writ of mandamus (Docket No. 23), and leave to amend (Docket No. 51) will be denied.

II. Factual Background

Since this matter comes before the Court on a motion to dismiss, the allegations contained in the third verified complaint in equity are assumed to be true. Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163, 164 (1993). Petitioner Arnold Y. Steinberg ("Steinberg") is an attorney who, until very recently, was licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Docket No. 21 at ¶ 1). The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania is the highest court in Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 2). Respondent Ronald D. Castille serves as the Chief Justice of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. (Id. at ¶ 3). Respondents Thomas G. Saylor, Max Baer, Seamus P. McCaffery, Deborah Todd, J. Michael Eakin and Jane Cutler Greenspan serve as Justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-9). Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has the power to prescribe general rules governing "admission to the bar" and the "supervision of all officers of the judicial branch." PA. CONST., ART. V, § 10(c). Pursuant to this authority, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has promulgated the Rules of Professional Conduct and the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement, which govern the conduct and discipline of attorneys licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania. Beyers v. Richmond, 937 A.2d 1082, 1091 (Pa. 2007).

Steinberg underwent open heart surgery on October 5, 2007. (Docket No. 21 at ¶ 71).

On December 13, 2007, Pennsylvania's Office of Disciplinary Counsel filed a petition for discipline*fn1 against Steinberg, alleging violations of Rules of Professional Conduct 1.4(a)(4),*fn2 1.15(a), 1.15(b),*fn3 and 8.4(c).*fn4 (Docket No. 30-2). In accordance with Rule of Disciplinary Enforcement 208(b), a formal hearing was scheduled for an unspecified date in May 2008. (Docket No. 21 at ¶ 73). Because he was still recovering from open heart surgery, Steinberg requested a delay in the proceedings to enable him to regain his strength. (Id.). Nevertheless, he was informed by both the Office of Disciplinary Counsel and his own counsel that such a delay could not be obtained. (Id. at ¶ 74).

Rule of Disciplinary Enforcement 215(a) permits an attorney who is subject to a disciplinary complaint to resign from the bar rather than contest the charges contained in the petition for discipline. PA.R.D.E. 215(a). Rule 215(a) provides:

(a) Voluntary resignation.--An attorney who is the subject of an investigation into allegations of misconduct by the attorney may submit a resignation, but only by delivering to the Board a verified statement stating that the attorney desires to resign and that:

(1) the resignation is freely and voluntarily rendered; the attorney is not being subjected to coercion or duress; the attorney is fully aware of the implications of submitting the resignation; and whether or not the attorney has consulted or followed the advice of counsel in connection with the decision to resign;

(2) the attorney is aware that there is presently pending investigation into allegations that the attorney has been guilty of misconduct the nature of which the verified statement shall specifically set forth;

(3) the attorney acknowledges that the material facts upon which the complaint is predicated are true; and

(4) the resignation is being submitted because the attorney knows that if the charges were predicated upon the misconduct under investigation the attorney could not successfully defend against them.

PA.R.D.E. 215(a). On April 18, 2008, Steinberg signed a verified statement of resignation which included all of the information required under Rule 215(a). (Docket No. 30-3 at 2-3). The statement included an addendum providing that it would not be delivered to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ("Disciplinary Board") before October 18, 2008. (Id. at 4). This delay was apparently designed to give Steinberg time to conclude some of the cases which he had already begun. He agreed not to accept new clients or cases in the meantime.*fn5 (Id.).

Steinberg avers that, at the time that he signed his verified statement of resignation, he was suffering from "ill health" and was in a "weakened and diminished condition." (Docket No. 21 at ¶ 74). He allegedly lacked the "necessary stamina" to defend himself against the charges which had been leveled against him. (Id. at ¶ 75). His doctors had advised him that, after his open heart surgery, he would endure periods of depression. (Id. at ¶ 77). Steinberg also alleges that his signing of the verified statement was the product of "fraud, coercion, and duress." (Id. at ¶ 74).

The verified statement was forwarded to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on October 24, 2008. (Id. at ¶ 76). On November 15, 2008, Steinberg filed a "verified motion to withdraw statement of resignation" with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, contending that he had signed a verified statement of resignation solely because of his health problems. (Docket No. 30-4 at 2-8). He sought the appointment of a special master to investigate whether disciplinary action short of disbarrment would have been imposed if he had opted to contest the pending disciplinary charges. (Id. at 7-8). In a response dated November 26, 2008, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel argued that Steinberg had voluntarily signed an "irrevocable" verified statement of resignation, and that his verified motion to withdraw statement of resignation should be denied. (Docket No. 30-5 at 2-18). Steinberg filed a response on November 30, 2008, refuting the arguments which had been advanced by the Office of Disciplinary Counsel. (Docket No. 30-6 at 2-17). On December 2, 2008, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel informed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that it would not respond further to Steinberg's arguments. (Docket No. 30-7 at 2).

On December 30, 2008, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court issued two per curiam orders relating to Steinberg. One such order stated:

AND NOW, this 30th day of December, 2008, there having been filed with this Court by Arnold Yale Steinberg his verified Statement of Resignation dated April 18, 2008, stating that he desires to resign from the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in accordance with the provisions of Rule 215, Pa.R.D.E., it is

ORDERED that the resignation of Arnold Yale Steinberg is accepted; he is disbarred on consent from the Bar of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; and he shall comply with the provisions of Rule 217, Pa.R.D.E. Respondent shall pay costs, if any, to the Disciplinary Board pursuant to Rule 208(g), Pa.R.D.E. (Docket No. 30-12 at 2). This order was issued pursuant to Rule of Disciplinary Enforcement 215(b), which provides:

(b) Order of disbarrment.--Upon receipt of the required statement, the Board shall file it with the Supreme Court and the Court shall enter an order disbarring the attorney on consent.

PA.R.D.E. 215(b). The other order issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated:

AND NOW, this 30th day of December, 2008, the Motion to Withdraw Statement of Resignation is denied.

(Docket No. 30-13 at 2).

On January 5, 2009, Steinberg filed a "motion for reconsideration and to stay order" with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, seeking a stay of the order of disbarrment and the withdrawal of his verified statement of resignation. (Docket No. 30-8 at 2-7). Two days later, he filed an "emergency motion to correct the Supreme Court website." (Docket No. 30-10 at 2-5). Rule of Disciplinary Enforcement 217(d) provides that "[o]rders imposing suspension, disbarrment or transfer to inactive status shall be effective 30 days after entry." PA.R.D.E. 217(d). Steinberg contended that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's website had wrongfully listed him as having been "disbarred" even though his license was still active for a period of thirty days. (Docket No. 30-10 at 3-4). On January 21, 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court denied both of these motions in a per curiam order which stated:

AND NOW, this 21st day of January, 2009, the Motion for Reconsideration and to Stay Order and the Emergency Motion to Correct the Supreme Court Website are hereby denied.

(Docket No. 30-14 at 2).

In a letter to Elaine Bixler ("Bixler"), the Executive Director and Secretary of the Disciplinary Board, dated February 10, 2009, Steinberg requested a pro rata refund of his annual assessment fee. (Docket No. 21-2). He had paid the required assessment fee to keep his license active from July 1, 2008, through July 1, 2009, but the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's disbarrment order had rendered him unable to practice law for the balance of that time period. (Id.). Bixler responded on February 19, 2009, with a letter informing Steinberg that the assessment fee was not prorated, and that he was not entitled to the pro rata refund that he had requested in his letter. (Docket No. 21-3).

III. Procedural History

Steinberg commenced this action against the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania on January 23, 2009, contending that the actions of that Court in relation to his disbarrment had constituted violations of the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Docket No. 1). He sought redress pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Two days later, he filed motions seeking a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction. (Docket Nos. 2 & 3). On January 28, 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Docket No. 8). The Court entertained oral arguments from the parties on February 5, 2009. (Docket No. 35-2). Steinberg's motion for a temporary restraining order was denied on that occasion. (Id. at 29). Steinberg orally requested leave to amend his complaint. (Id. at 39). Although the Pennsylvania Supreme Court initially objected to Steinberg's motion to amend on the ground of futility of amendment, this objection was withdrawn on February 10, 2009. (Docket No. 14).

On March 3, 2009, Steinberg filed his first amended complaint, seeking both a preliminary injunction and a writ of mandamus. (Docket No. 16). In addition to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, Steinberg named each of the individual Justices serving on that Court. (Id.). The first amended complaint was stricken for failure to comply with this Court's internal rules. (Docket No. 18). Steinberg filed his second amended complaint on March 11, 2009. (Docket No. 19). The second amended complaint was also stricken for failure to comply with this Court's internal rules. (Docket No. 20). On March 15, 2009, Steinberg filed his third verified complaint in equity. (Docket No. 21). That same day, he filed motions for a preliminary injunction and a writ of mandamus. (Docket Nos. 22 & 23). In addition to his claims under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses, Steinberg filed a claim under the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment based on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's refusal to give him a pro rata refund of his assessment fee.*fn6 (Docket No. 21 at ¶¶ 108-114). The respondents filed a renewed motion to dismiss on March 25, 2009, along with a supporting memorandum. (Docket Nos. 29 & 30). Responses to Steinberg's motions for a preliminary injunction and a writ of mandamus were also filed on that day. (Docket Nos. 27-28, 31-32).

Steinberg filed responsive briefs on April 14, 2009. (Docket Nos. 33-25). On April 25, 2009, the respondents filed a reply brief in support of their motion to dismiss. (Docket No. 37). That same day, the respondents filed motions to strike some of the briefs which had been previously filed by Steinberg, arguing that they were not in compliance with the Court's internal rules. (Docket Nos. 38-43). Steinberg sought leave to file his pre-existing briefs three days later. (Docket Nos. 44 & 45). On May 4, 2009, Steinberg moved for leave to amend his complaint in order to seek compensatory and punitive damages against the respondents for publishing a notice of his disbarrment in the Beaver County Times even though he had not maintained a law office in Beaver County for over two decades. (Docket Nos. 51 & 51-2). The Court subsequently granted Steinberg's requests for leave to file his pre-existing briefs. The respondents were given until June 1, 2009, to file responsive briefs. (Docket No. 53). On May 6, 2009, the respondents filed a response in opposition to Steinberg's motion for leave to amend. (Docket Nos. 54 & 55).

Steinberg filed an addendum on May 31, 2009. (Docket No. 58). This addendum consisted of documents related to disbarrment proceedings initiated against him by the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.*fn7 (Id.). The respondents filed their final reply briefs on June 1, 2009. (Docket Nos. 59-61).

IV. Standards of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenges a court's subject-matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff's claims. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1). "At issue in a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is the court's 'very power to hear the case.'" Judkins v. HT Window Fashions Corp., 514 F.Supp.2d 753, 759 (W.D.Pa. 2007), quoting Mortenson v. First Federal Savings and Loan Association, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). As the party asserting jurisdiction, the plaintiff bears the burden of showing that his or her claims are properly before the court. Development Finance Corp. v. Alpha Housing & Health Care, 54 F.3d 156, 158 (3d Cir. 1995). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, a court must determine whether the attack on its jurisdiction is a facial attack or a factual attack. A facial attack challenges the sufficiency of the plaintiff's pleadings. Petruska v. Gannon University, 462 F.3d 294, 302, n. 3 (3d Cir. 2006). When considering a facial attack, a court must accept the allegations contained in the plaintiff's complaint as true. Id. A factual attack on the court's jurisdiction must be treated differently. Id. When considering a factual attack, the court does not attach a presumption of truthfulness to the plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts does not preclude the court from deciding for itself the jurisdictional issues raised in the motion to dismiss. Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891.

In light of the United States Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), a complaint may be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008), quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. This standard requires more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The complaint must allege a sufficient number of facts "to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. This requirement is designed to facilitate the notice-pleading standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), which requires "a short and plain statement of [a] claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2)(emphasis added).

In considering a motion to dismiss, a court accepts all of the plaintiff's allegations as true and construes all inferences drawn from those allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Buck v. Hampton Township School District, 452 F.3d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 2006). Nonetheless, a court need not credit bald assertions, unwarranted inferences, or legal conclusions cast in the form of factual averments. Morse v. Lower Merion School District, 132 F.3d 902, 906, n. 8 (3d Cir. 1997). The primary question in deciding a motion to dismiss is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but rather whether he or she is entitled to offer evidence to establish the facts alleged in the complaint. Maio v. Aetna, 221 F.3d 472, 482 (3d Cir. 2000). The purpose of a motion to dismiss is to "streamline[] litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and factfinding." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 326-327 (1989). In addition to the allegations contained in the complaint, a court may consider matters of public record, exhibits attached to the complaint, and other items appearing in the record of the case. Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384, n. 2 (3d Cir. 1994).

V. Discussion

Steinberg challenges the constitutionality of Rule 215(b) as applied to him and similarly situated individuals. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has promulgated the Rules of Disciplinary Enforcement pursuant to its "inherent and exclusive power to supervise the conduct of attorneys," who are considered to be "its officers." PA.R.D.E. 103. Although attorneys are frequently referred to as "officers of the court," the United States Supreme Court has observed that an attorney does not become a government official when he or she obtains a license to practice law. In Re Griffiths, 413 U.S. 717, 729 (1973). "The word 'officer' as it has always been applied to lawyers conveys quite a different meaning from the word 'officer' as applied to people serving as officers within the conventional meaning of that term." Cammer v. United States, 350 U.S. 399, 405 (1956)(footnote omitted). Consequently, a court's ability to regulate the conduct of its attorneys is not as broad as its authority to regulate the conduct of its employees. Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765, 796 (2002)(Kennedy, J., concurring). The power ...


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