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Guarrasi v. Gibbons

August 27, 2009

JOSEPH GUARRASI AND U & ME, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DIANE E. GIBBONS ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Yohn, J.

Memorandum

Plaintiffs, Joseph Guarrasi and U & Me, Inc., sued twenty-nine defendants for various civil rights violations in connection with plaintiff Guarrasi's arrest for attempted murder and other charges, to which Guarrasi pled no contest or pled guilty. Presently before the court is a motion to dismiss, or in the alternative a motion for summary judgment, from defendants Thomas G. Gambardella and Timothy Carroll. For the reasons below, the court will deny the motion for summary judgment from Gambardella and grant the motion for summary judgment from Carroll.

I. Facts and Procedural History*fn1

Because the court writes for the parties only, it will recite only the most relevant facts. Guarrasi's claims arise out of an alleged conspiracy to violate his civil rights that occurred as part of the criminal investigation and judicial proceedings pertaining to his treatment of former owners of homes Guarrasi purchased, namely Thomas Witthauer and Lisa Fryling. Guarrasi, 2008 WL 4601903, at *1. Shortly after these purchases, Guarrasi attempted to remove Fryling and Witthauer from their respective previously owned homes. Id. at *1. Defendants Fryling and Michael Samios, Fryling's boyfriend, who lived with Fryling at her home at 703 North Street, suspected that Fryling's transfer of that property to Guarrasi was fraudulent and they went to the authorities. Id. at **1-2. Through Samios's cooperation, police gathered information about Guarrasi's attempts to remove Witthauer, including recordings of Guarrasi's conversations where he threatened violence against Witthauer. Id. at *2. This information led to Guarrasi's arrest and indictment. Id. On March 28, 2005, Guarrasi pleaded no contest to a charge of attempted murder and guilty to charges of attempted aggravated assault, attempted kidnaping, attempted burglary, and related counts. Id. at *3. He was found guilty but mentally ill and was sentenced to six and a half to fifteen years of imprisonment. Id. Guarrasi's present claims against Gambardella and Carroll pertain to deprivations of property arising out of the transfer of Guarrasi's real property back to Fryling and Fryling's taking of Guarrasi's personal property.

A. Transfer of Guarrasi's Real Property*fn2

At some unspecified time, due to financial troubles defendants Samios and Fryling faced foreclosure on the home in which they lived at 703 North Street in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. On January 7, 2004, Guarrasi purchased the property from Fryling, (Civil Rights Compl., Exs.- Agreement of Sale for 703 N. St.), and filed the deed for the transfer on January 28, 2004, (Pl.'s Answer to Defs. [sic] Mot. to Dismiss Compl. 'or in Alternative Mot. for Summ. J.' ("Pl.'s Resp.") Ex. 2 - Fee Simple General Warranty Deed). Despite the transfer, Fryling and Samios apparently did not vacate the home. On February 24, 2004, Guarrasi asked Doylestown police to check on the home for suspected squatters. (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 2 - Police Report 1-2.) The police agreed to check on the home, but also asked for proof of ownership, and Guarrasi faxed the police a copy of the deed. (Id.) On March 2, 2004, a local paper reported that Fryling and Samios returned to occupying 703 North Street. (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 3 - Newspaper Article.) Sometime later, Guarrasi filed an action for eviction against Fryling, but withdrew it on March 30, 2004 so that the parties involved could "discuss resolution of this dispute." (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 3 - Letter from Richard Fink to District Justice Philip J. Daly.)

The chief deputy district attorney for Bucks County, defendant Gambardella, became involved in this dispute over 703 North Street in the course of the criminal investigation of Guarrasi. On July 18, 2004, Gambardella emailed Guarrasi's attorney and stated that "our CI [Samios]... is living in the house that Guarrasi 'purchased' fom [sic] him by exchanging property tat [sic] Guarrasi never owned," while keeping the mortgage in the "CI"'s name.*fn3 (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 1 - Emails from Gambardella.) Gambardella continued, "We have not arrested Guarrasi for this scheme (YET!), however if he is ultimately going to take responsibility for ripping these people off, then I would request that you/he consider deeing [sic] the property back to the rightful owner(s)." Gambardella claimed that he was not "getting into the civil aspects of this case," but he expressed his feeling that Guarrasi's attorney had a chance to cure an inequity to the benefit of all those involved. (Id.) On August 17, 2004, Gambardella emailed Guarrasi's attorney to notify him that due to Guarrasi's conduct, foreclosure was pending on the house where Lisa Fryling was living. (Id.) Gambarella asked for someone to "work on this ASAP (just deed the house back!)" and noted that "these people are getting screwed." (Id.) On September 16, 2004, in another email to Guarrasi's attorney, Gambarella asked that "if your client Guarassi intends to sign back the house to Lisa Fryling, can he please do so sooner rather than later." (Id.) He further stated that "although I think Joe [Guarrasi] can be arrested for these matters too -- I don't know if that will lead to these people rightfully getting their house back in their names immediately." (Id.)

On October 6, 2004, Lisa Fryling filed an action against Guarrasi and U & Me, Inc. to quiet title for the property located at 703 North Street. (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 5 - Stipulation and Settlement Agreement.) On November 5, 2004, as part of a settlement agreement for pending lawsuits between Guarrasi and Fryling, Fryling agreed to pay Guarrasi $25,000 in exchange for Guarrasi's agreement to an order striking the deed to 703 North Street that "transfer[ed] it from Fryling to U & Me, Inc." and quieting title to the property in Fryling's name. (Id.)

B. Seizure of Guarrasi's Personal Property

On April 24, 2004, Fryling called the police department of Hatboro Borough, Montgomery County, and claimed that Guarrasi removed her personal property from her house, which Guarrasi had forced her to vacate. (Pl.'s Resp., Ex. 7 - Compl. Summ. Hatboro Police Dep't). Fryling told the police that she had information that led her to believe that her personal property was located at 424 Oakdale Avenue, Hatboro Borough, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. (Id.) Fryling also stated that the owner of the property 424 Oakdale Avenue refused to cooperate with her in recovering her property. (Id.) The responding Hatboro police officer contacted defendant Carroll, a Bucks County detective investigating Guarrasi at the time, to discuss the matter. (Id.) Carroll confirmed that he had investigated the matter, but that the Doylestown police had not taken a report concerning Fryling's missing items. (Id.) The Hatboro police officer told Carroll he would investigate the matter further. (Id.)

After securing the cooperation of the property owner at 424 Oakdale Avenue, the Hatboro police officer brought Fryling there. (Id.) Fryling found and took a mountain bike and a motorized scooter, which she claimed belonged to her. (Id.) The Hatboro police officer advised Fryling to contact the Doylestown police to file a report concerning the missing items recovered. (Id.) On February 18, 2009, Carroll gave a signed declaration that the Hatboro police report of the above incident accurately summarized his conversation with the responding officer. (Mem. of Law Supp. Defs. Thomas G. Gambardella and Timothy Carroll's Mot. to Dismiss Compl. Pursuant to Fed. R. of Civ. P. 12(b)(6) or in Alternative Mot. Summ. J. ("Defs.' Mot."), Ex. B -Decl. of Tim Carroll in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss Compl. Pursuant to Fed. R. of Civ. P. 12(b)(6) or in Alternative Mot. Summ. J. 1-2.) He also stated that he "never authorized anyone to remove any property located at 424 Oakdale Avenue." (Id.)

C. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed their complaint on November 28, 2007 in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. On January 15, 2008, the matter was transferred to this court. On October 15, 2008, pursuant to defendants' motions, the court dismissed plaintiff U & Me, Inc., all but six defendants, and all but three claims. See Guarrasi, 2008 WL 4601903, at *11. On May 27, 2009, plaintiff voluntarily dismissed defendant Richard Fink. On the same day, the court dismissed defendant John Doe, Bucks County custodian of plaintiff's personal property, due to plaintiffs' failure to name the defendant within sixty days of the court's scheduling order, as the order so provided.

Thus, the remaining defendants include: Gambardella, Samios, Fryling, and Carroll. The remaining claims include: a § 1983*fn4 claim against Thomas G. Gambardella for deprivation of property arising out of an alleged coerced transfer of Guarrasi's real property; and a ยง 1983 claim against Michael Samios, Lisa Fryling, and Timothy Carroll for deprivation of property arising out of Fryling's alleged taking of Guarrasi's personal property. On February 19, 2009, defendants Gambardella and Carroll jointly filed a motion to dismiss the claims against ...


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