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.

Wallace v. Powell

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 9, 2014

FLORENCE WALLACE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
ROBERT J. POWELL, et al., Defendants. WILLIAM CONWAY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MICHAEL T. CONAHAN, et al., Defendants. H.T., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MARK A. CIAVARELLA, JR., et al., Defendants. SAMANTHA HUMANIK, Plaintiff,
v.
MARK A. CIAVARELLA, JR., et al., Defendants. RAUL CLARK, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MICHAEL T. CONAHAN, et al., Defendants. WAYNE DAWN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MARK A. CIAVARELLA, JR., et al., Defendants. ANGELA RIMMER BELANGER, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
MARK A. CIAVARELLA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment of Liability on Impartial Tribunal Claims Against Defendant Ciavarella. (Doc. 1459.)[1] Plaintiffs seek summary judgment against Mark Ciavarella, a former Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas judge, for his non-judicial conduct which Plaintiffs assert set in motion and furthered a conspiracy that deprived them of their constitutional right to an impartial tribunal. Because the undisputed facts establish that Ciavarella's non-judicial acts subjected Plaintiffs to a deprivation of their constitutional right to an impartial tribunal, the motion for partial summary judgment will be granted.

I. Relevant Factual Background

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 ("Conahan") and Mark Ciavarella ("Ciavarella"). Plaintiffs in this action 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. The alleged conspiracy and resulting injury to Plaintiffs are described in the two operative complaints, the Master Complaint for Class Actions ("CAC") filed by Class Plaintiffs in H.T. and Conway (Doc. 136), and the Master Long Form Complaint ("IC") filed by Individual Plaintiffs in Wallace and Humanik. (Doc. 134.)

The Complaints assert the following claims against Ciavarella: (A) violation of Juvenile Plaintiffs' right to an impartial tribunal (CAC Count I; IC Count III); (B) conspiracy to violate Juvenile Plaintiffs' right to an impartial tribunal (CAC Count II; IC Count III); (C) violation of Juvenile Plaintiffs' right to counsel and/or to a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary guilty plea (CAC Count III; IC Count III); (D) conspiracy to deprive Juvenile Plaintiffs of their right to counsel and/or to a knowing, intelligent, and voluntary guilty plea (CAC Count IV; IC Count III); (E) violation of the civil RICO Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c) (CAC Count V; IC Count I); (F) conspiracy to violate the civil RICO Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1962(d) (CAC Count VII; IC Count II); and (G) civil conspiracy (IC Count VIII). On July 27, 2009, Ciavarella filed a motion to dismiss the Complaints in their entirety as to him on the basis of judicial immunity.[2]

By Memorandum and Order dated November 20, 2009, Ciavarella's motion to dismiss was granted in part and denied in part. See Wallace v. Powell, No. 9-286, 2009 WL 4051974 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 20-2009). In that Memorandum, I noted that "[b]ecause the law requires that judges no matter how corrupt, who do not act in the clear absence of jurisdiction while performing a judicial act, are immune from suit, former Judge Ciavarella will escape liability for the vast majority of his conduct in this action." Id. at *9. Specifically, I held that Ciavarella's courtroom acts, namely, the "determinations of delinquency and the sentences imposed, " were judicial acts shielded by judicial immunity. Id. at *8. Thus, Ciavarella's motion to dismiss was granted as to his "courtroom conduct." Id. at *10.

However, because not "every act of [Ciavarella] was judicial in nature, " the remainder of his motion to dismiss based on judicial immunity was denied. Id. at *8 (emphasis in original). In particular, the doctrine of judicial immunity did not provide Ciavarella protection for the allegations relating to non-judicial acts. Id. at *10. For instance, Ciavarella's role "in coercing probation officers to change their recommendations is outside the role of a judicial officer" and not protected by judicial immunity. Id. at *8. Thus, as to Ciavarella's non-judicial conduct, his motion to dismiss was denied. See id. at *10.

On September 8, 2010, Ciavarella filed his Answers with Affirmative Defenses to the Complaints. (Docs. 578; 579.) Thereafter, the actions proceeded to discovery. Additionally, by Memorandum and Order dated May 14, 2013, the motions filed by Plaintiffs in H.T. and Conway for class certification as to all issues of Defendants' liability was granted, (Docs. 1409; 1410), and a dispositive motion deadline was set for November 4, 2013. (Docs. 1420; 1437.)

On November 4, 2013, Plaintiffs filed the instant motion for partial summary judgment as to liability on their impartial tribunal claims against Ciavarella, a statement of facts, and brief in support of the motion. Plaintiffs, while reserving their rights to appeal, "seek summary judgment against Ciavarella in the context of the Court's immunity ruling." (Doc. 1460, 3 n.2.) Ciavarella's brief in opposition was due on November 29, 2013. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 5(b)(2)(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(d); M.D. Pa. L.R. 7.6. Ciavarella has failed to file a brief in opposition or otherwise oppose Plaintiffs' motion. As such, Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment is ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

Summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). "Summary judgment is appropriate when the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.'" Wright v. Corning, 679 F.3d 101, 103 (3d Cir. 2012) (quoting Orsatti v. N.J. State Police, 71 F.3d 480, 482 (3d Cir. 1995)). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Edelman v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 83 F.3d 68, 70 (3d Cir. 1996). Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See 2D Charles Alan Wright & Arthur R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 2727 (2d ed.1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the non-moving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the court that "the non-moving party has failed to make a sufficient showing on an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 106 S.Ct. 2548, 91 L.Ed.2d 265 (1986).

"When considering whether there exist genuine issues of material fact, the court is required to examine the evidence of record in the light most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment, and resolve all reasonable inferences in that party's favor." Wishkin v. Potter, 476 F.3d 180, 184 (3d Cir. 2007). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888, 110 S.Ct. 3177, 111 L.Ed.2d 695 (1990).

"To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party must show specific facts such that a reasonable jury could find in that party's favor, thereby establishing a genuine issue of fact for trial." Galli v. New Jersey Meadowlands Comm'n, 490 F.3d 265, 270 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e)). "While the evidence that the non-moving party presents may be either direct or circumstantial, and need not be as great as a preponderance, the evidence must be more than a scintilla." Id. (quoting Hugh v. Butler County Family YMCA , 418 F.3d 265, 267 (3d Cir. 2005)). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

III. Discussion

As noted, Plaintiffs filed their motion for partial summary judgment against Ciavarella, statement of undisputed facts, and brief in support on November 4, 2013. Ciavarella, however, has failed to oppose Plaintiffs' motion. Plaintiffs' motion for partial summary judgment is thus deemed unopposed. Moreover, because Ciavarella failed to file a statement of material facts controverting Plaintiffs' properly filed statement of facts, all material facts set forth in Plaintiffs' Statement (Doc. 1459-2) will be deemed admitted pursuant to Middle District of Pennsylvania Local Rule 56.1. See M.D. Pa. L.R. 56.1 (providing, in pertinent part, that "[s]tatements of material fact in support of, or in opposition to, a motion shall include references to the parts of the record that support the statements. All material facts set forth in the statement required to be served by the moving party will be deemed to be admitted unless controverted by the statement required to be served by the opposing party."). Ciavarella likewise failed to submit any evidence in response to that submitted by Plaintiffs. Nontheless, I must still analyze the merits of Plaintiffs' motion to determine whether summary judgment is appropriate. See Lorenzo v. Griffith, 12 F.3d 23, 28 (3d Cir. 1993); Anchorage Associates v. Virgin Islands Board of Tax Review , 922 F.2d 168, 174-75 (3d Cir. 1990); Moultrie v. Luzerne Cnty. Prison, No. 06-1153, 2008 WL 4748240, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 27, 2008).

A. Undisputed Facts

Plaintiffs' Statement of Facts (Doc. 1459-2) as to which there is no genuine issue of dispute and supporting Exhibits (Doc. 1459, Exs. 1-30) establish the following:

1. The Conspiracy

At all relevant times to this litigation, Ciavarella and Conahan were judges of the Court of Common Pleas for Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. ( Plaintiffs' Statement of Material Facts ("Plfs.' SMF"), Doc. 1459-2, ¶ 20.) Conahan served as president judge of the court between 2002 and 2007. ( Id. at ¶ 21.) Ciavarella served as judge of the juvenile court from 1996 until September 2001, then again from January 2002 through June 2008. ( Id. at ¶ 22.)

In late 1999, Ciavarella approached Conahan and suggested that they bring together a team that had the financial ability to build a new juvenile detention facility. ( Ciavarella Test., 13:1-7.) At Ciavarella's initiative, Conahan assembled a meeting of individuals, including Robert Powell ("Powell"), that potentially had the financial resources to construct a new facility. ( Ciavarella Test., 13:10-18.) Ciavarella subsequently contacted Robert Mericle ("Mericle") about becoming involved in the project at the suggestion of Conahan. ( Ciavarella Test., 16:4-12.) Ultimately, Mericle acquired property for the juvenile detention facility in Pittston, Pennsylvania, and Powell and his partner formed PA Child Care ("PACC") to build the juvenile detention facility. ( Plfs.' SMF, ¶¶ 27-28.)

Constructing the detention facility initially proved difficult for PACC's owners because they faced hurdles acquiring financing. ( Id. at ¶ 29.) In particular, the lenders they approached indicated that they were unwilling to loan money unless they had a concrete agreement ensuring repayment. ( Id. ) On or around July 11, 2001, Powell informed Conahan that unless there was an agreement with either Luzerne County or some other entity that could promise that children would be sent to PACC, they would not be able to build the facility. ( Id. at ¶ 30.) Powell then developed a plan which called for the president judge to sign a placement guarantee to show to lenders. ( Powell Test., 119:7-16.) Because Conahan would not become president judge until January 2002, the parties waited to go forward with the plan to build the facility. ( Plfs.' SMF, ¶ 31.) After Conahan became president judge, he signed a placement guarantee agreement stating ...


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.