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Florence Wallace, et al v. Robert J. Powell

October 31, 2012

FLORENCE WALLACE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROBERT J. POWELL, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA WILLIAM CONWAY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MICHAEL T. CONAHAN, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA H.T., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MARK A. CIAVARELLA, JR., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA SAMANTHA HUMANIK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MARK A. CIAVARELLA, JR., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA RAUL CLARK, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MICHAEL T. CONAHAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA WAYNE DAWN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MARK A. CIAVARELLA, JR., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA ANGELA RIMMER BELANGER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MARK A. CIAVARELLA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)

MEMORANDUM

Before the Court is a discovery dispute between Defendants Mid-Atlantic Youth Services, Corp., PA Child Care, LLC, and Western PA Child Care, LLC (together, the "Provider Defendants") and the Class and Individual Plaintiffs in this action. In particular, Plaintiffs oppose Provider Defendants' discovery requests implicating Juvenile Plaintiffs' delinquency adjudications that have previously been expunged by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Provider Defendants argue that the proposed discovery will demonstrate that any harm or damage suffered by Juvenile Plaintiffs as a result of the denial of their constitutional rights was caused by their own conduct, and not as a consequence of Provider Defendants' participation in the alleged conspiracy. Provider Defendants also claim that the proposed discovery is relevant to their defense to class certification.

Because causation and damages can be evaluated in this civil rights action based on Defendants' conduct and role in the alleged conspiracy without reconsideration on the merits of each Juvenile Plaintiff's criminal proceeding, Provider Defendants' proposed discovery related to Juvenile Plaintiffs' underlying adjudications will not be permitted as the requests are irrelevant and inconsistent with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's expungement orders. Furthermore, because Juvenile Plaintiffs' family, social, educational, psychological and court histories (the "Juveniles' Histories") are not relevant to the issues for which class certification will be sought, Provider Defendants' proposed discovery of the Juveniles' Histories in defense of class certification will not be permitted.*fn1

I. Background

As set forth in greater detail in my July 3, 2012 Memorandum, this civil action arises out of the alleged conspiracy related to the construction of juvenile detention facilities, and subsequent detainment of juveniles in these facilities, orchestrated by two former Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas judges, Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella. See Wallace v. Powell, No. 09-cv-286, 2012 WL 2590150, at *1 (M.D. Pa. July 3, 2012). Plaintiffs in this action, juveniles or the parents of juveniles who appeared before Ciavarella, seek redress from the former judges, as well as the individuals and business entities involved in the construction and operation of these facilities, for the alleged unlawful conspiracy and resulting deprivations of Juvenile Plaintiffs' rights.

On August 21, 2012, Provider Defendants and Plaintiffs submitted a joint letter to the Court in an effort to resolve various discovery disputes. (Doc. 1180.) Specifically, Plaintiffs oppose Provider Defendants' proposed requests for admission, interrogatories, and requests for production of documents directed to four named Juvenile Plaintiffs. (Id.) In total, Provider Defendants seek 1,057 requests for admission from these four Plaintiffs. (Id.) Provider Defendants intend to submit similar requests to each named Plaintiff in this action. (Id.) Provider Defendants' discovery requests implicate issues relating to Juvenile Plaintiffs' stays at the detention facilities and the facts and circumstances surrounding Juvenile Plaintiffs' underlying adjudications. According to Provider Defendants, the discovery requests are pertinent to oppose class certification and to the issues of causation, injuries, and damages. (Id.) In opposition, Plaintiffs emphasize that the Juveniles' Histories and the delinquency adjudication records are irrelevant to causation, damages, and class certification.

Thereafter, on September 5, 2012, a conference was held in an effort to resolve the discovery dispute. At the September 5, 2012 conference, the parties requested the opportunity to fully brief their positions in support of and against the proposed discovery. Subsequently, on October 19, 2012, oral argument was heard as to the parties' respective positions. Now, as Plaintiffs' opposition to Provider Defendants' proposed discovery has been fully briefed, the issue is ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

A. Section 1983 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides that "[e]very person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen . . . or any other person . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured." Section 1983 "is not itself a source of substantive rights, but a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred by those parts of the United States Constitution and federal statutes that it describes." City of Monterey v. Del Monte Dunes, 526 U.S. 687, 749 n. 9, 119 S. Ct. 1624, 143 L. Ed. 2d 882 (1999) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n. 3, 99 S. Ct. 2689, 61 L. Ed. 2d 433 (1979)). "To establish liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must show that the defendants, (1) acting under color of law, (2) violated the plaintiff's federal constitutional or statutory rights, (3) and thereby caused the complained of injury." Elmore v. Cleary, 299 F.3d 279, 281 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Sameric Corp. of Del., Inc. v. City of Phila., 142 F.3d 582, 590 (3d Cir. 1998)).*fn2

A § 1983 plaintiff may raise three categories of due process claims under the Fourteenth Amendment: (1) claims incorporating "specific protections defined in the Bill of Rights"; (2) substantive due process claims "bar[ring] certain arbitrary, wrongful, government actions regardless of the fairness of the procedures used to implement them"; and (3) procedural due process claims concerning the absence of procedural remedies where an individual is "depriv[ed] by state action of a constitutionally protected interest in life, liberty, or property." Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 125, 110 S. Ct. 975, 108 L. Ed. 2d 100 (1990) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

In their submissions, Provider Defendants contend that: (1) Plaintiffs do not assert any substantive due process claims; and (2) the proposed discovery is relevant to (a) § 1983 causation, and (b) § 1983 damages. (Docs. 1196; 1206.) These issues will be addressed in seratim.

1. Plaintiffs allege claims relating to all three categories of due process identified by the Supreme Court in Zinermon and liability is not dependent on the underlying adjudications.

Initially, Provider Defendants argue that the proposed discovery is relevant in this action based on the type of § 1983 claims asserted by Plaintiffs. Specifically, Provider Defendants argue that this action involves claims relating to procedural due process and the denial of constitutional protections set forth in the Bill of Rights. (Doc. 1206.) Provider Defendants further contend that substantive due process is not at issue in this action. Thus, Provider Defendants dispute my previous statement that "Juvenile Plaintiffs allege not only a deprivation of procedural due process, but also a significant denial of substantive due process rights." Wallace v. Powell, No. 09-286, 2012 WL 2007294, at *3 (M.D. Pa. June 5, 2012).

Here, a review of Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims demonstrates that the allegations in this action include claims for procedural due process violations, denial of specific rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, and claims under the "substantive" prong of the Due Process Clause. (Individual Plfs.' Master Long Form Compl., Count III.) First, Plaintiffs allege procedural due process violations because they were denied a fair procedure prior to the deprivation of their liberty interests. Second, Plaintiffs assert violations of their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights- protections guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. These "rights protected via incorporation are technically part of the Fourteenth Amendment's substantive due process protection." John Corp. v. City of Houston, 214 F.3d 573, 577 n.3 (5th Cir. 2000) ("one form of substantive due process is the substantive protections in the Bill of Rights that have been incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment to limit the power of the States"). Lastly, Plaintiffs assert a claim under the "substantive" prong of the Due Process Clause, as they allege Provider Defendants engaged in conscience shocking, arbitrary behavior resulting in the deprivation of Juvenile Plaintiffs' liberty interests. (Individual Plfs.' Master Long Form Compl., Count III.)

With respect to liability for these claims, guilt or innocence is not relevant to the determination of whether a constitutional right has been violated. If someone were subjected to a search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment, the fact that the the search produced incriminating evidence and may even have resulted in a criminal conviction, would not nullify the violation of the Fourth Amendment or necessarily bar a § 1983 claim for damages. Indeed, this is the hypothetical posed by the Supreme Court in Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 487 n.7, 114 S. Ct. 2364, 129 L. Ed. 2d (1994):

For example, a suit for damages attributable to an allegedly unreasonable search may lie even if the challenged search produced evidence that was introduced in a state criminal trial resulting in the § 1983 plaintiff's still-outstanding conviction. Because of doctrines like independent source and inevitable discovery, and especially harmless error, such a § 1983 action, even if successful, would not necessarily imply that the plaintiff's conviction was unlawful. In order to recover compensatory damages, however, the § 1983 plaintiff must prove not only that the search was unlawful, but that it caused him actual, compensable injury, which, we hold today, does not encompass the "injury" of being convicted and imprisoned (until his conviction has been overturned).

See id. (internal citations omitted). This is the result here. Whether Plaintiffs' constitutional rights were violated is not dependent on the past conduct of Plaintiffs, it is dependent on the conduct of Provider Defendants. Moreover, given the nullification of their proceedings by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, the exercise of examining whether these Plaintiffs were delinquent in any event would be to nullify the nullification of the constitutionally defective determination of delinquency (as discussed in more detail below).

2. The proposed discovery is not relevant to the issue of § 1983 causation or damages.

Provider Defendants next assert that "due to the Juvenile's own actions and their family, social, educational, psychological and court histories ('Juveniles' Histories'), the Juveniles would have been detained and adjudicated, and would have received the same dispositions notwithstanding the alleged payments and alleged violations of constitutional rights." (Doc. 1196.) The Juveniles' Histories, according to Provider Defendants, will demonstrate that Juvenile Plaintiffs committed the crimes they were charged with, and, as a result, they are responsible for their own injuries and damages they suffered regardless of Provider Defendants' participation in the denial of Juvenile Plaintiffs' constitutional rights.

a. Causation as to the § 1983 claims hinge on the conduct of Powell and Provider Defendants, not the guilt or innocence of Juvenile Plaintiffs.

Provider Defendants first argue that the proposed discovery is relevant to § 1983 causation.*fn3 According to Provider Defendants, "they had no motive to pay the judges" and "the alleged bribes were needless because police would have delivered the juveniles to detention, and Ciavarella would have detained and adjudicated them and rendered the same dispositions because of the Juveniles' Histories." (Doc. 1196.) Provider Defendants elaborate that:

These Juveniles' Histories demonstrate that the Juveniles would have been detained, adjudicated and sentenced anyway, whether or not the judges received any payments, and prove that Provider Defendants had no motive to conspire to bribe the judges. Powell had no more incentive to bribe the judges in his alleged capacity as an agent for Provider Defendants than did the Provider Defendants. The Juveniles' Histories discredit Powell's testimony that he paid the judges because he feared that they would stop sending Juveniles to the PACC and WPACC facilities, while they simultaneously support Provider Defendants' evidence that Powell acted instead for his own purposes to enhance his own law practice, to purchase or rent a condominium, to rent a boat dock, or to hide his assets from his wife. (Id.) Provider Defendants also argue that what former judge Ciavarella did is essentially of no consequence. Likewise, they contend that Plaintiffs' loss of liberty would have occurred regardless of whether they received a fair tribunal or not, simply because of their past histories.

It does not follow that Juvenile Plaintiffs' past behavior would demonstrate that Provider Defendants had no motive to pay the former judges. It appears the argument is that because Plaintiffs were "bad" (and would have been declared delinquent in any event) Provider Defendants had no motive to pay the judges money. This, of course, begs the question of whether Provider Defendants wanted to assure the right result in the adjudicatory court.*fn4 This question can also be answered without reference to Juvenile Plaintiffs' past behavior. The past behavior has no bearing on whether the tribunal was fair and whether Provider Defendants were involved in that violation.

This, along with the necessity of retrying Juvenile Plaintiffs' underlying criminal cases has been addressed before:

More importantly, the Provider Defendants have failed to convincingly demonstrate that an investigation into the factual background of each Juvenile Plaintiff's adjudication is necessary to their defense on the issues of causation and damages. The question of causation in this case does not appear to turn on whether the Defendants' actions caused the incarceration of the Juvenile Plaintiffs, but rather whether the Defendants' actions caused a deprivation of the Juvenile Plaintiffs' rights to a fair trial. Moreover, in view of the expungement of the records of all of the juvenile plaintiffs because they were denied due process and a fair tribunal, they have, ipso facto, been damaged. Determining damages by the degree of culpability a plaintiff had regarding the delinquency allegations would involve a trial of each plaintiff on the delinquency allegations, which would effectively nullify the determination that the proceedings conducted by former Judge Ciavarella violated the rights of those juveniles. Neither causation nor damages are appropriately evaluated by resurrecting the expunged records of each juvenile plaintiff. For these reasons, the promotion of fairness does not require the granting of a modification to or relief from the Protective Order.

Wallace v. Powell, No. 09-CV-286, 2012 WL 1191607, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Apr. 10, 2012). This position was further discussed in the same opinion:

Finally, I must emphasize that I am hesitant to grant any order that would result in the unnecessary reopening and reinvestigation of the Juvenile Plaintiffs' prior convictions. Whether a particular juvenile would have been declared delinquent if given due process would require a fair retrial of the juvenile. Such an exercise is inconsistent with the expungement on the basis that the juvenile was denied due process. Therefore, the reconsideration of the merits of each juvenile plaintiff's case on the issue of causation and/or damages is inappropriate, and discovery of their records for those purposes will note [sic] be permitted.

Id.

Thereafter, Provider Defendants sought reconsideration of the April 10, 2012 Memorandum and Order. By Memorandum and Order dated June 5, 2012, Provider Defendants' request for reconsideration was denied, and I reiterated my ruling regarding reconsideration ...


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