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Catanzaro v. Collins

April 27, 2010


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



This is a civil rights action in which pro se Plaintiff Anthony P. Catanzaro alleges that the Defendants, two members of the federal bench, the Honorable James M. Munley and the Honorable James F. McClure (the "Judicial Defendants"), and two members of the bar, Michael D. Collins, Esquire and Patrick Rogan, Esquire (the "Attorney Defendants"), conspired to violate his rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. (Docket No. 36). He seeks to enforce his constitutional rights through 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985 and 1988. (Id.). He also raises state law claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress against all of the Defendants and a legal malpractice claim against Collins. (Id.). Each of the Defendants has moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). (Docket Nos. 42, 44, 45, 46, 48, 49). All of the Defendants contend that Plaintiff's claims are time-barred, and that he has otherwise failed to state any claims for relief which are plausible on the face of his Amended Complaint. In addition, the Judicial Defendants argue that they are entitled to judicial immunity, while the Attorney Defendants argue that they are not state actors for purposes of section 1983. Plaintiff contends that his claims are timely, and that he has properly alleged a civil conspiracy action against the Defendants. (Docket No. 55). Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, and for the following reasons, Defendants' motions to dismiss [42], [44], [46] are granted, and all of Plaintiff's claims are dismissed, with prejudice.


A. Legal Standards Applicable to Pro Se Plaintiffs

Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, therefore, the factual allegations in his Amended Complaint are liberally construed as he is held to a less stringent standard than attorneys. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). When considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), this Court is required to accept a plaintiff's factual allegations as true, however, many of the lengthy and convoluted allegations in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint improperly consist of legal argument and conclusory factual and legal assertions which this Court need not credit. See Capogrosso v. Rabner, 588 F.3d 180, 184-85 (3d Cir. 2009). Mindful of this standard, the Court turns to the allegations in the Amended Complaint.

B. Factual Allegations in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint

Plaintiff filed two civil rights actions in 1999 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania at Docket Numbers CV-99-00874 ("874") and CV-99-00876 ("876"). (Docket No. 36 at ¶¶ 17, 21, 23). In these actions, Plaintiff alleged that his constitutional rights were violated by the County of Lackawanna, the District Attorney of said County, certain police officers, and a number of other individuals, when he was subject to an alleged false arrest, prosecuted for indirect criminal contempt, convicted of same, and incarcerated in 1997. (See generally Docket No. 36, Civ. A. Nos. 99-874, 99-876).

At that time, Plaintiff was subject to two protection from abuse ("PFA") orders issued by Judge Eagan on April 10, 1997 and Judge Harhut on April 16, 1997 in the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas. (Id. at ¶ 23). Subsequently, the Plaintiff violated the PFAs and a warrant was issued for his arrest. (Id. at ¶ 20). A hearing was set for June 11, 1997 and Defendant Patrick Rogan, Esquire was appointed to represent him by Judge Harhut. (Id. at ¶¶ 21, 23, 25). At the conclusion of the hearing, Plaintiff was found guilty of indirect criminal contempt and received a nine-month jail sentence. (Id. at ¶ 25). He was dissatisfied with the representation of Defendant Rogan in the criminal proceedings because he received a jail sentence and due to Defendant Rogan's refusal and/or failure to file an appeal on his behalf. (Id. at ¶¶ 26-28).

Defendant Michael Collins, Esquire was then retained to represent Plaintiff in a civil rights action seeking money damages for the alleged constitutional violations stemming from his arrest and subsequent incarceration. (Id. at ¶¶ 23-25).

On June 1, 1999, Defendant Collins filed the '876 complaint on Plaintiff's behalf. (Id. at ¶ 23). This action was brought against the County of Lackwawanna, Assistant District Attorney Lance Fanucci, the City of Carbondale, Chief of Police Dominick Andidoro, Everett Abicht, District Attorney of Lackawanna County Michael Barrese, and Does 1-25. (See Civ. A. No. 99-876).

Plaintiff claims that Defendant Collins was opposed to adding Defendant Rogan as a defendant to this suit. (Docket No. 36 at ¶ 25). Yet, Plaintiff desired to add claims against Defendant Rogan based on his alleged refusal and/or failure to file an appeal on his behalf. As a result, Plaintiff filed a separate complaint pro se, which is the '874 complaint. (Id. at ¶¶ 25, 29). The '874 action was brought against Carbondale Housing Authority, Thomas Ruddy, his wife, Josephine Catanzaro, Brian Cali, and Patrick Rogan, Esquire. (See Civ. A. No. 99-874).

Judge McClure presided over both of these civil actions. (Docket No. 36 at ¶¶ 30,31). In the pro se matter, Judge McClure immediately issued an order requiring the Plaintiff to show cause why the Court should not sua sponte dismiss the '874 action against Defendants for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Id. at ¶ 30). Plaintiff responded to the Court's Show Cause Order and, on July 15, 1999, Judge McClure found that the case could proceed because Plaintiff had alleged sufficient facts to support a claim under §1983. (Id. at ¶ 31). The Defendants then moved to dismiss the '874 action under Rule 12(b)(6) and Judge McClure granted the Defendants' motions on March 8, 2000. (Id. at ¶ 33). Plaintiff claims that the order granting the Defendants' motions to dismiss the '874 action contradicted the July 15, 1999 Order. (Id. at ¶ 33).

Plaintiff and his nephew then met with Defendant Collins to discuss filing an appeal based on the alleged contradictory Order. (Id. at ¶¶ 35-36). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Collins convinced him to forego an appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit by agreeing to represent Plaintiff in the '874 action and to pursue reconsideration of Judge McClure's Order and a motion to amend Plaintiff's complaint. (Id. at ¶ 36). Plaintiff avers that Defendant Collins assured him that he would be granted his motion for leave to file an amended complaint because he was an attorney and that the Court would allow the amended complaint to be filed "due to his 'Collins' handling of the said action." (Id. at ¶ 37). Defendant Collins then entered his appearance and filed the motion to amend Plaintiff's Complaint on his behalf. Said motion however was denied by Judge McClure on July 26, 2000. (Id. at ¶ 39).

The Defendants in the '876 action filed Answers to Plaintiff's Complaint and then the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. (Civ. A. No. 99-876). In an Order dated July 26, 2000, Judge McClure denied Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and granted the Defendants' motions for summary judgment. (Id.).

Plaintiff appealed the adverse decisions in both cases to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. Both decisions were affirmed by the Court of Appeals. See Catanzaro v. Carbondale Housing Authority, et al., 262 F.3d 403 (3d. Cir. 2001)('874 action); Catanzaro v. County of Lackawanna, et al., 262 F.3d 403 (3d Cir. 2001)('876 action). Later, Plaintiff's petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme ...

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