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Dawn v. Ciavarella

August 9, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge



Presently before the Court are the Motions to Dismiss of Defendants Mark A. Ciavarella, Jr., Michael T. Conahan, Sandra Brulo, and Luzerne County Juvenile Probation Department ("Juvenile Probation"). For the reasons discussed more fully below, the motions of Defendants Brulo and Juvenile Probation will be granted, and the motions of Defendants Ciavarella and Conahan will be granted in part and denied in part.


The facts alleged in the Complaint are as follows. Defendants Ciavarella and Conahan were judges on the Court of Common Pleas for Luzerne County; Conahan served as President Judge from January 2002 until 2007, and Ciavarella served as President Judge from June 2007 to January 2009. (Compl. ¶¶ 39, 42, 44.) In 2000, Conahan and Ciavarella entered into an agreement with Defendants Robert Powell, a local attorney, and Robert K. Mericle, the owner of a local construction company, to build a new, privately owned juvenile detention center in Luzerne County as a replacement for the adequate, publicly owned juvenile detention center already in existence. (Compl. ¶¶ 45-48, 51-52.) In order for this new facility to be financially viable, it would require a regular stream of juvenile defendants; as a result, Conahan and Ciavrella aimed to divert large numbers of juveniles into the new facility in order to gain "kickbacks." (Compl. ¶ 49, 53.)

Between June 2002 and January 1, 2007, Conahan and Ciavarella received over $2.6 million ($2,600,000.00) in covert income in exchange for their cooperation in the scheme to build and fill the new juvenile detention center. (Compl. ¶ 71.) In order to hide these ill-gotten proceeds, Conahan and Ciavarella transferred the money via wire transfer to various corporations controlled by them. (Compl. ¶¶ 57-68.) Their cooperation included removing all funding from the publicly run detention center, having juveniles moved to the new privately-owned facilities built and operated by Defendants Mericle and Powell, agreeing to guarantee placement of juvenile defendants in the new facilities, ordering juveniles to be placed at the private facilities, and assisting the new juvenile detention centers in securing "agreements worth tens of millions of dollars with Luzerne County for the placement of juvenile offenders." (Comp. ¶ 72.)

Conahan and Ciavarella used their role as judges to adopt procedures that allowed large numbers of juveniles to be sent to the newly constructed facilities and did not disclose their conflict of interest to the juveniles who appeared before them. (Compl. ¶ 99.) Plaintiff Wayne Dawn appeared before Ciavarella in 2003; at the proceedings he was denied his right counsel and due process, resulting in a violation of his civil rights. (Compl. ¶¶ 101-104.) In 2005, Plaintiff again appeared before Ciavarella, following an allegation that he had stolen a car; he was denied access to counsel and coerced into pleading guilty. (Comp. ¶¶ 106-108.) Plaintiff claims that he was incarcerated, and as a result he suffered deprivation of personal liberty, loss of positive sense of well-being, emotional trauma, collateral consequences in his personal and family life, and the detrimental effects of the stigma place on him by his time spent in detention. (Compl. ¶ 110.)

On April 14, 2010, Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff brings causes of action for violation of Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) (Count I), conspiracy to violate RICO (Count II), and violations for 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivations of Plaintiff's Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteen Amendment rights. On May 14, 2010, Defendants Conahan, Ciavarella, and Juvenile Probation filed motions to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint in its entirety. (Doc. 7, 9, 11.) On May 20, 2010, Defendant Brulo also filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. (Doc. 18.) These motions have been fully briefed and are currently ripe for disposition.


Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring a complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant [with] the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232; see also Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or "'legal conclusions,'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of her claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).


I. Counts I and II

In order to have standing to bring a RICO claim pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c), as Plaintiff does here, Plaintiff must plead injury to his business or property and that Defendants proximately caused such injury. Pappa v. Unum Life Ins. Co. of America, No. 3:07-cv-0708, 2008 WL 744820, at *8 (M.D. Pa. March 18, 2008). A injury "by nature of mental distress" is not sufficient to claim damage to business or property. Id. (citing Zimmerman v. HBO Affiliate Group, 834 F.2d 1163, 1169 (3d Cir. 1987)). The phrase "business or property" has been held by the Supreme Court, in construing the Clayton Act, to exclude personal injury. Id. (citing Reiter v. Sonotone, 442 U.S. 330, 339 (1979)). Mental distress, emotional distress, and harmed reputations do not constitute injury to business or property sufficient to confer standing on a RICO plaintiff. Id. at *8-9; Zimmerman, 834 F.2d at 1169. Furthermore, injury for RICO purposes requires proof of concrete financial loss, not mere injury to an intangible property interest. Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 483 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing Steele v. Hospital Corp. of Am., 36 F.3d 69, 70 (9th Cir. 1994)).

In the instant case, Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient injury to business or property to confer standing to bring a claim pursuant to RICO. Plaintiff's claims for loss of sense of well-being, emotional trauma and stigma are not the type of concrete financial loss that is envisioned by the phrase "injury to business or property." Having failed to plead injury to business or property, Plaintiff has not pled a key requirement to ...

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