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A.J. Adams v. the County of Erie

September 27, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sean J. McLAUGHLIN United States District Judge


Pending before this Court is Plaintiff‟s pro se "Omnibus Motion for Relief" [93]. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be denied.


Following his termination from employment as the First Assistant Public Defender for Erie County, Plaintiff A.J. Adams filed this §1983 action against the County of Erie, Pennsylvania, Mark A. DiVecchio, Anthony A. Logue, and David C. Agresti. Broadly speaking, Adams alleged that his First Amendment right to be politically inactive was violated when he was fired as the result of "pay-to-play" scheme whereby employment decisions for certain county job positions were based upon the applicant‟s level of support for DiVecchio during DiVecchio‟s 2005 campaign to become County Executive. Adams‟ complaint also asserted a §1983 claim premised on the alleged violation of his federal due process rights, claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 and the federal RICO statute, 18 U.S.C. §1961 et seq., and claims arising under Pennsylvania contract and tort law.

By memorandum opinion and order entered on September 23, 2009 [34], I granted the Defendants‟ motion for judgment on the pleadings relative to Adams‟ RICO claim and denied Adams‟ motion for leave to amend, as I viewed the proposed amendments to the RICO claim insufficient to withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal. Adams‟ remaining claims were subsequently either abandoned or withdrawn, except for his §1983 claim premised on the alleged violation of his First Amendment right to be politically inactive. (See Tr. of Oral Argument held on 7/15/10 [81] at pp. 49-50.)

On September 30, 2011, this Court granted the Defendants‟ motion for summary judgment relative to Adams‟ sole remaining §1983 claim. After reviewing the entirety of the record, I concluded that that the evidence, even when construed most favorably to Adams, would not permit a jury to reasonably conclude that the relevant decision-makers knew of Adams‟ political status or were motivated by it in the course of making their decision to fire him from his job. See Adams v. County of Erie, Case No. 1:07-cv-316-SJM, 2011 WL 4574784 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 30, 2011).

Several days later, Adams filed a motion for an expedited hearing [85], claiming that his counsel, Willaim D. Taggart, Esq., had failed to file materials which Adams believed would have resulted in the reinstatement of his formerly dismissed RICO claim and the denial of summary judgment as to all of his other state and federal claims. It was evident from this filing that a disagreement had arisen between Adams and his attorney concerning the manner in which his case had been prosecuted and the scope of their professional relationship. In his motion, Adams sought an expedited hearing for the purpose of resolving whether the attorney-client contract was still in effect and, pending that determination, an order requiring Mr. Taggart either to continue representing Adams or to pay for representation by other counsel.

On October 6, 2011, this Court denied Adams‟ motion on the ground that it lacked ancillary jurisdiction to address the attorney-client dispute since the case had already been closed. Moreover, the Court found no basis in Adams‟ motion for reconsideration of its prior summary judgment ruling. (See Mem. Order dated 10/6/11 [86].)

The Court subsequently vacated this order on November 23, 2011 having concluded, on further reflection, that ancillary jurisdiction did exist. (See Mem. Order dated 11/23/11 [93].) The Court expressly noted in its order that it was not concluding that an evidentiary hearing was warranted concerning Adams‟ alleged conflict with his attorney. Rather, based on the submissions of record, we found it to be "clear that there has been a break-down in communication between Adams and his counsel such that good cause exist[ed] justifying Mr. Taggart‟s withdrawal from the case." (Id. at p. 4.) Accordingly, the Court granted Mr. Taggart‟s motion for leave to withdraw his appearance as Adam‟s counsel and directed Mr. Taggart to surrender any papers and property to which Adams might be entitled pursuant to Rule 1.16(d) of the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct.

In the meantime, Adams had filed the pending "Omnibus Motion for Relief" [87]. Under the terms of my November 23, 2011 Memorandum Order, Adams was given an opportunity to supplement his omnibus motion following his review of materials relinquished by Mr. Taggart. Adams has since supplemented his motion [94] and Defendants have filed their brief in opposition [95].


Having reviewed Adams‟ submissions in their entirety, I find that his motion, although generically captioned an "omnibus motion," it is best construed as a motion under Rule 60(b) for relief from the final judgment and orders entered in this case. Specifically, Adams seeks reinstatement of his claims under §1983, RICO, and Pennsylvania state contract law.

Adams‟ extensive materials in support of his "omnibus motion" provide a sprawling narrative about his relationship with Mr. Taggart, the instant federal civil litigation, his efforts to have the Defendants criminally prosecuted, and his own investigation into the 2005 election which led him to author a publication entitled "Erie County‟s Dirty Little Secrets." Broadly speaking, Adams contends that his federal claims should be reinstated because they were incompetently prosecuted by Mr. Taggart, resulting in this Court‟s dismissal of the RICO claims and entry of summary judgment in favor of the Defendants on Adams‟ First Amendment claim. Adams asserts that his remaining claims under state and federal law were improperly conceded or abandoned by Mr. Taggart without his consent.

Essentially, Adams states that he mistakenly placed blind trust in his lawyer, whom (he claims) proved to be incompetent both mentally and professionally.*fn1 Adams asserts that, contrary to his own wishes, Mr. Taggart failed to use information which Adams provided that was supportive of the RICO claims and also failed to seek timely reconsideration of the RICO counts after they were dismissed. Adams believes that, had Mr. Taggart done so, the RICO counts would have been reinstated and would have resulted in triable issues of fact. Adams claims he believed, based on representations from Mr. Taggart, that his case was going well and that he would achieve a substantial recovery. Adams also represents that he finally undertook his own study of RICO law and in-depth investigation of circumstances surrounding DiVecchio‟s campaign and hiring decisions and has uncovered information which he believes supports the RICO claims. On the basis of his experience as a criminal defense attorney and the investigation he undertook concerning DiVecchio‟s 2005 campaign for County Executive, Adams purports to offer an expert opinion supportive of his RICO claims.

Adams also appears to believe that that he had a contractual right to employment as Erie County‟s First Assistant Public Defender by virtue of the Supreme Court‟s decision in Branti v. Finkel, 455 U.S. 507 (1980). Further, Adams appears to believe that his termination from employment, in violation of this alleged contractual right, established the basis of a §1983 claim for the violation of his federal due process and First Amendment rights.


Where a final judgment or order has been entered in a case, Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides a limited avenue of relief based on one or more of the following reasons:

(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;

(2) newly discovered evidence that, with reasonable diligence, could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial under Rule 59(b);

(3) fraud (whether previously called intrinsic or extrinsic), misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing party,

(4) the judgment is void;

(5) the judgment has been satisfied, released or discharged; it is based on an earlier judgment that has been reversed or vacated; or applying it prospectively is no longer equitable; or

(6) Any other reason that ...

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