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Geness v. Cox

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

March 21, 2017

CRAIG A. GENESS
v.
JASON COX, et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          KEARNEY, J.

         A mentally impaired man alleges state actors deprived him of constitutional rights resulting in years of custody in a state jail based on several orders delaying a decision on whether he was competent to defend criminal charges. Following discovery, he now moves to amend his complaint to sue the Commonwealth under the Americans with Disabilities Act arguing state court judges repeatedly issued orders retaining him in custody based on the possibility of him regaining competency to stand trial when medical evidence demonstrated a permanent disability. He also argues the state court judges failed to hear or rule on his four habeas corpus petitions and the court's later nolle prosequi Order violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. While the Supreme Court removed the Commonwealth's immunity from suit over a decade ago, the mentally impaired plaintiff still cannot sue the Commonwealth under this Act challenging state court orders and procedures as violating his civil rights as a disabled man. He does not argue the state failed to provide physical accommodations or proper professional assistance to him as a disabled defendant; rather, he asks us to hold a disabled person can state a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act because state court judges' rulings and procedures adversely affected him. We find no basis for this requested unprecedented expansion of disabilities law effectively obviating the Rooker-Feldman doctrine when the defendant is disabled.

         I. Plead facts.

         The 2006 conduct leading to the charges in state court.

         Craig Geness is mentally impaired since birth. He resided at a personal care home where on October 27, 2006, Ronald Fiffak, another resident fell off the porch. Mr. Fiffak's wife told treating medical personnel her husband fell from the porch steps. The initial police report also reports Mr. Fiffak fell from the porch.

         On November 16, 2006, Detective Jason Cox interviewed the owner of the personal care home. The owner of the personal care home told Detective Cox he heard Mr. Geness yell “shut up” and slam the door right before Mr. Fiffak fell. Police detectives began investigating Mr. Geness. On or about November 16, 2006, the owner involuntarily committed Mr. Geness to Highlands Hospital.

         On November 16, 2006, Detective Cox interviewed Mr. Geness about Mr. Fiffak's fall in a psychiatric ward at Highlands Hospital without an attorney present. Allegedly based on this interview, he charged Mr. Geness with aggravated assault and placed him in custody. Mr. Fiffak died on November 17, 2006. On November 20, 2006, Detective Cox charged Mr. Geness with homicide and incarcerated him in Fayette County Prison.

         Mr. Geness' long delayed resolution in the state court.

         Mr. Geness remained in custody until 2015 without a trial. On June 18, 2007, Fayette County Judge Wagner found Mr. Geness incompetent to stand trial and committed him to Mayview State Hospital for no more than 60 days to evaluate Mr. Geness' fitness to stand trial.

         On August 21, 2007, Fayette County Judge Warman found Mr. Geness incompetent to stand trial and directed his attorney to move for trial when Mr. Geness is found competent.

         On September 25, 2007, Mayview conducted a psychiatric evaluation of Mr. Geness and deemed Mr. Geness incompetent to stand trial. Mayview opined Mr. Geness may be “decompensating.” After this Mayview evaluation, the Commonwealth transferred Mr. Geness back to Fayette County Prison.

         Mr. Geness remained in Fayette County Prison with no legal action on his case until November 29, 2010 when Judge Wagner ordered Mr. Geness transferred from prison to Torrance State Hospital for a period of 90 days to determine Mr. Geness' competency to stand trial and the likelihood Mr. Geness will ever be competent to stand trial. Inexplicably, the parties took no action based on Judge Wagner's November 29, 2010 Order for ten months.

         On August 17, 2011, Fayette County Judge Solomon ordered the parties to determine if Mr. Geness is then competent to function in society. Mr. Geness underwent a forensic psychiatric assessment at Fayette County Prison on or about September 4, 2011. On or about September 21, 2011, Judge Wagner found Mr. Geness not competent to stand trial and involuntarily committed Mr. Geness to a Long Term Structured Residence (“LTSR”). LTSR prohibits contact with the general public, requires an ankle monitor, and Mr. Geness is to be returned to Fayette County Prison upon completing his therapeutic program or found competent to stand trial.

         During his period in custody, Mr. Geness filed four petitions for habeas corpus relief. The Fayette County Court of Common Pleas never held a hearing or ruled on Mr. Geness' petitions.

         Sometime before June 18, 2014, Mr. Geness' new pro bono defense counsel requested discovery from the Fayette County District Attorney. On May 27, 2015, Mr. Geness' new lawyer moved to compel discovery. On June 2, 2015, Judge Leskinen ordered the District Attorney and Public Defender provide Mr. Geness with all psychiatric and psychological reports within ten days; on June 10, 2015, Judge Wagner granted Mr. Geness' motion to compel discovery and ordered the District Attorney to provide all discovery to Mr. Geness by June 30, 2015. On June 17, 2015, Judge Wagner ordered the District Attorney to provide information on all eyewitnesses within ten days.

         On December 10, 2015, Fayette County Judge Leskinen granted Fayette County's request to nolle prosequi all charges against Mr. Geness.

         Mr. Geness seeks federal civil rights remedies.

         On June 17, 2016, Mr. Geness sued Fayette County in this Court for violating his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“Act”) by “depriving him of normal benefits of criminal procedure and due process of law.”[1] On November 10, 2016, Mr. Geness voluntarily dismissed his claims against Fayette County.[2] On December 2, 2016, we entered the scheduling Order closing discovery on March 3, 2017.[3]

         On March 6, 2017, Mr. Geness moved to amend his complaint to dismiss the bankrupt personal care owner and now sue the Commonwealth. Mr. Geness cites “recently discovered case law” supporting an Americans with ...


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