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Joseph Guarrasi v. County of Bucks et al

April 6, 2011


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


Joseph Guarrasi, a pro se state prisoner and former attorney, has brought suit against twenty-two defendants under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1987.*fn1 Guarrasi alleges that the defendants violated his constitutional rights under Articles I, IV, V, VI, VIII, and XIV by depriving him of an adequate post-deprivation remedy to retrieve his personal property seized on March 2, 2004. In an order dated March 28, 2011, I granted six motions to dismiss, thereby dismissing fifteen of the named defendants as parties to this suit.*fn2 Currently before the court is defendant Gambardella's motion to dismiss.For the reasons set forth below, I will also grant Gambardella's motion to dismiss.

I. Factual and Procedural History

The factual background relevant to this action has been fully set forth in my previous memorandum opinion. (Doc. 68.) I will therefore only briefly summarize the basis of the complaint and restate the facts relevant to the claim raised solely against Gambardella.

Guarrasi was arrested for various inchoate felonies*fn3 and his personal property was seized after his homes, office, vehicles, and person were searched on March 2, 2004, pursuant to a warrant and as a search incident to arrest. (Compl. ¶¶ 29, 37.) The seized property includes cash, guns, household items, personal records, credit and bank records, and various other documents. (Id. ¶ 31.) No property was forfeited or placed into evidence "at the termination of his criminal proceedings on May 25, 2005." (Id. ¶ 41.)*fn4 Guarrasi has continuously sought the return of his property since the seizure occurred on March 2, 2004. (Id. ¶ 42.)

Guarrasi received a letter on July 27, 2009, from the Bucks County Solicitor's Office stating that $2,000 of the money seized was, with Guarrasi's agreement, forfeited.*fn5 (Id. ¶ 65, Ex. 23 "Letter 7/21/2009 Bucks County Solicitor.") Guarrasi claims that this was the first time he was notified of the forfeiture and that he never consented to it. (Id. ¶ 72.) In response to Guarrasi's request for the chain of custody and the alleged forfeiture agreement, the Bucks County Solicitor explained that the forfeiture was pursuant to a verbal agreement made between Richard Fink, Guarrasi's attorney, and Gambardella before Judge Biehn "that took place in the hallway adjacent to Courtroom 1;" the agreement was that the forfeited funds could be used to purchase electronic surveillance equipment." (Id. ¶ 67, Ex. 25 "Letter 1/8/2010.") Gambardella believed that it was reduced to a writing or order, but he could not find a copy, and that the money was in the prosecutor's office's account and had not been spent. (Id.) Guarrasi did not receive, however, a chain of custody as requested. (Id. ¶ 68.) After hiring a private investigator who could not find any evidence of a forfeiture hearing, Guarrasi filed a right-to-know request. (Id. ¶ 69.) On February 2, 2010, Bucks County Open Records Officer Det. Lt. Gorman wrote to Guarrasi that the money was deposited in the bank on July 7, 2005, by order of Judge Biehn directing it be forfeited. (Id., Ex. 26 "Letter 2/2/2010 Gorman.") Guarrasi alleges that the letter did not provide a chain of custody or photocopy of the currency forfeited.*fn6 (Id. ¶¶ 69-70.)

Guarrasi questioned Fink about his participation in the forfeiture agreement, but Fink denied making such an agreement. (Id. ¶ 71.)

Guarrasi filed his complaint on July 1, 2010. Defendant Gambardella filed his motion to dismiss on March 8, 2011. I granted six motions to dismiss filed by other defendants on March 28, 2011.

II. Legal Standard

"To survive a motion to dismiss [under Rule 12(b)(6)], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949 (2009).

In evaluating a motion to dismiss, "the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009). The court "must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions." Id. at 210-11. The assumption of truth does not apply to legal conclusions couched as factual allegations or to "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. Rather, the complaint must contain "'enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (internal citations omitted).

III. Discussion

In his five-count complaint, Guarrasi alleges that Gambardella, individually and as part of a conspiracy with the other defendants, violated 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1987 by depriving him of an adequate post-deprivation remedy as required by the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth amendments as well as the Privileges and Immunities clause.*fn7 Gambardella argues that Guarrasi has already litigated these claims in his previous lawsuit before this court, which I dismissed as to most claims. Guarrasi v. Gibbons, No. 07-5475, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 81632 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 15, 2008) [hereinafter Guarrasi I]. Although Gambardella was a defendant in the previous suit, Guarrasi's claims are not barred by the doctrine of res judicata because he did not previously litigate to a final judgment on the merits any claims regarding Gambardella's alleged failure to return his property.

Gambardella also argues that Guarrasi's claims are time-barred and lack merit. I addressed identical arguments in my previous memorandum opinion dated March 28, 2011, in which I granted several motions to dismiss by other defendants in this case as to the same claims. I incorporate by reference my previous memorandum and on the reasoning ...

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