Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

James Gillette and Erica Michaliga v. Mark A. Ciavarella

January 31, 2012

JAMES GILLETTE AND ERICA MICHALIGA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MARK A. CIAVARELLA, JR., MICHAEL T. CONAHAN, COUNTY OF LUZERNE, GREG SKREPENAK, TODD VONDERHEID, SAM GUSTO, SANDRA BRULO, LUZERNE COUNTY DEPARTMENT OFJUVENILE PROBATION, ROBERT J. POWELL, ROBERT MERICLE, PA CHILD CARE, MERICLE CONSTRUCTION, INC., PA CHILD CARE, LLC, WESTERN PA CHILDCARE, LLC, MID-ATLANTIC CHILD YOUTH SERVICES, LLC, POWELL LAW GROUP, P.C., BARBARA CONAHAN, CINDY CIAVARELLA, PINNACLE GROUP OF JUPITER, LLC, GREGORY ZAPPALA, BEVERAGE MARKETING OF PA, INC., AND JOHN DOE, ESQUIRE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are Defendant Mark A. Ciavarella's Motion to Dismiss and Defendant Western PA Childcare, LLC's Motion to Dismiss.*fn1 Mr. Ciavarella's motion will be denied in part and granted in part because he is only shielded by judicial immunity for judicial acts taken within his jurisdiction.Western PA Childcare, LLC's motion will be granted in part because 42 U.S.C. § 1983 does not apply to state law violations, but denied in part because Plaintiffs have stated a claim under § 1983 for federal civil rights violations and have standing to assert their timely civil RICO claims.

I. Background

Plaintiffs' suit arises out of an alleged conspiracy involving judicial corruption on the part of two former Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas ("LCCCP") judges: Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan. The general facts of this conspiracy have already been laid out in Wallace v. Powell, No. 3:09-cv-0286, 2009 WL 4051974 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 20, 2009), another action against these Defendants arising out of the same circumstances.This opinion will only address the facts that are relevant to the instant motions filed by Defendants Mr. Ciavarella and Western PA Child Care, LLC ("WPACC").

The complaint alleges as follows: In June of 2000,*fn2 Mr. Ciavarella presided over juvenile proceedings in the LCCCP. He began discussing the potential construction of a juvenile detention facility in Luzerne County, coming to an agreement with Defendant Robert Mericle, a contractor, and Defendants Robert Powell and Gregory Zappala, acting as Defendant PA Child Care ("PACC"), to build a juvenile detention center that would be operated by PACC. On January 29, 2002, Mr. Conahan signed an agreement between PACC and LCCCP to house juvenile offenders at a the PACC facility. He also took action to divert funds away from the Luzerne County juvenile detention center. In January 2003, Mr. Conahan and Mr. Ciavarella arranged to receive a payment from Mr. Powell and Mr. Mericle for the roles the judges played in accomplishing the construction of the PACC facility. All Defendants took steps to conceal these payments, including making multiple financial transactions via wire transfer, entering false entries in books and records, creating false notations on checks, and creating fraudulent agreements.

Due to the success of the PACC facility, Mr. Powell and Mr. Zappala built a second detention center in western Pennsylvania, this time acting as Defendant WPACC, with Mr. Mericle as the contractor. The two judges each received payment from WPACC for their roles in the construction of the facility. Throughout the scheme, the two judges received a total of approximately $2.6 million in payments.

Starting in February 2003, after the PACC facility was completed, Mr. Ciavarella began directing that the juvenile offenders brought before him in court be sent to the PACC facility. Upon completion of the WPACC facility, he directed that juvenile offenders be sent there as well. Mr. Ciavarella ordered the detention of juveniles even when Juvenile Probation Officers did not recommend detention and put pressure on court staff to recommend detention. He used his administrative powers to adopt procedures for a "specialty court" that allowed for more juveniles to be sent to the PACC and WPACC facilities. He did not disclose his financial interest in the facilities to juvenile offenders or their families.

Plaintiff James Gillette was one of the juvenile offenders who appeared in front of Mr. Ciavarella. In June 2004, he faced charges of assault, terroristic threats, harassment, disorderly conduct, and criminal mischief. At his proceedings, he was denied his right to counsel and due process. He was incarcerated almost continuously between June 2004 and October 2008.

Mr. Gillette and his mother, Erica Michaliga, filed a complaint in the Middle District of Pennsylvania on April 8, 2011. The complaint contains three claims: Count alleges a violation of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-68; Count II alleges a conspiracy to violate RICO; and Count III alleges civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Mr. Ciavarella moved to dismiss on May 25, 2011. WPACC moved to dismiss on June 13, 2011. Both motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

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). The pleading standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 does not require "detailed factual allegations," but "[a] pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or a 'formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1959 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "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).

Thus, when determining the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must undertake a three-part inquiry. See Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). The inquiry involves: "(1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." 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).

III. Discussion

A. Judicial ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.