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Loretta Elia v. Robert J. Powell

February 23, 2012

LORETTA ELIA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROBERT J. POWELL, MICHAEL T. CONAHAN, MARK A. CIAVARELLA, PA CHILD CARE, LLC, WESTERN PA CHILD CARE LLC, ROBERT K. MERICLE, MERICLE CONSTRUCTION, INC., PINNACLE GROUP OF JUPITER, LLC, BEVERAGE MARKETING OF PA, INC., VISION HOLDINGS, LLC, MID ATLANTIC YOUTH SERVICES CORP, AND PERSEUS HOUSE, INC. D/B/A ANDROMEDA HOUSE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are two motions to dismiss: one filed by Defendants Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corp. ("MAYS"), PA Child Care, LLC ("PACC"), and Western PA Child Care, LLC ("WPACC") (collectively, the "Provider Defendants"); and one filed by Defendant Mark Ciavarella. The Provider Defendants' motion will be granted in part because Plaintiffs' § 1983, civil conspiracy, and false imprisonment claims are untimely; the motion will be denied in part because Plaintiffs state a timely RICO claim. And because judicial immunity only applies to Mr. Ciavarella's acts outside the courtroom, his motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

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. Several other cases arising out of this alleged conspiracy have been consolidated in Wallace v. Powell, No. 3:09-cv-0286; Plaintiffs' complaint here incorporates by reference the allegations from the Master Long Form Complaint in Wallace.

The complaint alleges the following facts relevant to the motions under consideration:

Defendants Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella abused their positions as judges of the Luzerne County Court of Commons Pleas by accepting compensation in return for favorable judicial determinations. As part of this conspiracy, Mr. Conahan and Mr. Ciavarella acted with Defendants Robert Powell, Robert Mericle, Mericle Construction, Pennsylvania Child Care ("PACC"), Western Pennsylvania Child Care ("WPACC"), Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corp. ('MAYS"), Pinnacle Group of Jupiter, LLC, Beverage Marketing of PA, Inc., Vision Holdings, LLC, and Perseus House, Inc. The basic outline of the conspiracy is that the two judges were paid approximately $2.6 million to use their influence as judicial officers to select PACC and WPACC as detention facilities, and that they then intentionally filled those facilities with juveniles to earn the conspirators excessive profits. The Provider Defendants participated in the payments. Mr. Ciavarella, Mr. Conahan, Mr. Powell, and Mr. Mericle took actions directly and through Pinnacle, Beverage Marketing, and Vision Holdings to conceal the payments.

Mr. Powell, doing business as PACC, acquired land in Luzerne County and entered into an agreement with Mr. Mericle to construct a juvenile detention center to be operated by PACC and/or MAYS. Mr. Conahan took official actions to remove funding from the Luzerne County budget from the Luzerne County facility, and he exerted influence to facilitate the construction, expansion, and lease of the PACC facility. On January 29, 2002, Mr. Conahan also signed a "Placement Guarantee Agreement" with PACC on behalf of Luzerne County that provided that the Court would pay PACC an annual rental fee. After the PACC facility was a success, with the involvement of the two judges, Mr. Powell and Mr. Mericle constructed a second facility to be operated by WPACC.

Mr. Ciavarella sentenced thousands of juveniles to detention in violation of their constitutional rights such as the right to counsel, the right to an impartial tribunal, and the right to a free and voluntary guilty plea. Both Mr. Conahan and Mr. Ciavarella pressured court probation officers to make recommendations in favor of incarcerating juvenile offenders, even when they would have otherwise recommended release also executed a number of schemes to conceal the unlawful proceeds of this conspiracy. They also failed to disclose their financial relationship with the other Defendants.

Plaintiff Andrew Elia was a juvenile who appeared before Mr. Ciavarella for an adjudication hearing in 2004. As a result of that hearing, Mr. Elia was incarcerated in the PACC facility. His mother, Plaintiff Loretta Elia, had to pay for his detention, lodging, and incarceration in the facility. Mr. Elia asserts that as a result of his unlawful incarceration, he suffered physical injuries and emotional distress.

Plaintiffs filed their complaint on March 11, 2011. The complaint alleges a violation of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. §§ 1961-68; a conspiracy to violate RICO; procedural and substantive due process violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; civil conspiracy; and false imprisonment. The Provider Defendants moved to dismiss on May 24, 2011. Mr. Ciavarella moved to dismiss on May 25, 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). Under Rule 12(b)(6), a dismissal based on the statute of limitations ...


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