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Gochin v. Thomas Jefferson University

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 17, 2017

DIANE R. GOCHIN
v.
THOMAS JEFFERSON UNIVERSITY, et al.

          MEMORANDUM

          Juan R. Sánchez, J.

         Pro se Plaintiff Diane R. Gochin alleges Defendants Thomas Jefferson University (TJU), Carianne Torrissi, Esquire, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and various federal judges within this Court and the Third Circuit conspired to violate federal and state racketeering statutes and Gochin's constitutional rights in connection with a separate, underlying employment discrimination case Gochin brought against TJU. Gochin generally alleges Defendants committed abuse of process and engaged in a conspiracy during the course of the underlying litigation. The Government, in a Statement of Interest, urges the Court to sua sponte dismiss Gochin's claims against the federal Defendants for failure to state a claim, asserting Gochin's claims against them are barred by judicial immunity. TJU and Torrissi-TJU's attorney in the underlying action-move to dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. Because the majority of Gochin's Complaint collaterally attacks prior judgments of the District Court and Third Circuit in the underlying case, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to consider those claims. Further, any new claims brought by Gochin are barred by judicial immunity or do not state a viable claim for relief. The Court will therefore grant Defendants' Motions.[1]

         BACKGROUND[2]

         In 2014, Gochin, a former employee at TJU, filed an employment discrimination action against TJU, which came before the Honorable District Court Judge Paul S. Diamond. Gochin claimed she was given inadequate raises and unsuccessfully applied for 53 other jobs at TJU during the course of her employment there. On August 20, 2014, TJU moved for summary judgment, and in March 2015, Judge Diamond denied the motion without prejudice, directing TJU to provide additional discovery. The following month, TJU renewed its motion for summary judgment. In response, Gochin filed a motion for default judgment and for sanctions based on TJU and Torrissi's alleged misconduct during the litigation proceedings.

         According to Gochin, in September 2015, she filed a disciplinary complaint against Judge Diamond for his delay in issuing an order deciding TJU's motion, and Judge McKee dismissed the complaint for lack of merit. In November 2015, Judge Diamond granted TJU's renewed motion for summary judgment, finding Gochin's claims either time-barred or having “no evidentiary basis.” See Gochin v. Thomas Jefferson Univ., No. 13-7559, Order at 9-11 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 3, 2015). Judge Diamond also denied Gochin's motion for default judgment and sanctions as “frivolous, ” noting Gochin alone acted improperly. Id. at 6.

         Gochin sought relief from the grant of summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), arguing Judge Diamond violated her constitutional rights, conspired with the underlying Defendants and was complicit in their misconduct, and retaliated against her for filing a disciplinary complaint. The District Court denied the motion. Gochin appealed the grant of TJU's motion for summary judgment, which the Third Circuit dismissed as untimely. She also appealed the denial of her 60(b) motion, and the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's order.[3]

         Gochin now brings the instant action against Defendants, asserting violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18 U.S.C. § 1964, Pennsylvania's racketeering statute, 18 Pa. C.S. § 911, and various federal civil rights statutes, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, as well as a claim for common law abuse of process. In a Statement of Interest, the Government argues the Court should dismiss all claims against the federal Defendants under the doctrine of judicial immunity. TJU and Torrissi move the Court to dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim.

         DISCUSSION

         In considering a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court may treat the motion “as either a facial or factual challenge to the court's subject matter jurisdiction.” Gould Elecs. Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000) holding modified by Simon v. United States, 341 F.3d 193 (3d Cir. 2003). Where the motion is a facial attack, “the court must only consider the allegations of the complaint and documents referenced therein and attached thereto, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Id. “Thus, a facial attack calls for a district court to apply the same standard of review it would use in considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)[.]” Const. Party of Pa. v. Aichele, 757 F.3d 347, 358 (3d Cir. 2014). In reviewing a factual attack, the court may consider evidence outside the pleadings, as the movant argues “there is no subject matter jurisdiction because the facts of the case . . . do not support the asserted jurisdiction.” Id. In other words, “a facial attack contests the sufficiency of the pleadings, whereas a factual attack concerns the actual failure of a [plaintiff's] claims to comport [factually] with the jurisdictional prerequisites.” Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (alterations in original).

         In order to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for a failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, “a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks removed). A claim is facially plausible when the facts pleaded “allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The “plausibility” standard is not a “probability requirement” but rather a requirement of more than a “sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. A complaint which “pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability . . . ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'” Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted)). In evaluating a complaint's sufficiency under these standards, the court must first “tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Next, the court should “identify allegations that, ‘because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, where there are well pleaded allegations, the court “should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).

         A. Defendants TJU and Torrissi

         Gochin alleges TJU and Torrissi's law firm engaged in corruption through their political contributions. She also alleges TJU and Torrissi committed various discovery abuses throughout the underlying case, such as altering documents, sending Gochin excessive discovery documents, and concealing evidence and witnesses. TJU moves to dismiss Gochin's Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing this case impermissibly collaterally attacks a prior judgment. TJU also argues Gochin's claims are barred by collateral estoppel.

         A court lacks subject matter jurisdiction where a plaintiff seeks to “relitigate a previously decided (and appealed) action” because it constitutes a “collateral challenge over [a] final judgment.” Pondexter v. Pa. Human Relations Comm'n, 556 F. App'x 129, 131 (3d Cir. 2014); see Gagliardi v. Standish, 431 F. App'x 117, 117-18 (3d Cir. 2011) (affirming dismissal of complaint that alleged bias of judges in underlying actions, as district court “lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate collateral challenges in the nature of appeals and alleged violations of the codes of judicial conduct”). The Third Circuit-not this Court-has subject matter jurisdiction over challenges to a final decision of a district court. See Pondexter v. Pa. Human Relations Comm'n, No. 13-732, 2013 WL 3305232, at *1 (W.D. Pa. June 28, 2013) (citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 1291, 1292). To the extent Gochin seeks further review of the underlying case, her Complaint must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         Further, Gochin's claims, having been raised in the underlying case, are barred by collateral estoppel. Collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, “prevents parties from litigating again the same issues when a court of competent jurisdiction has already adjudicated the issue on its merits, and a final judgment has been entered as to those parties and their privies.” Witkowski v. Welch, 173 F.3d 192, 198 (3d Cir. 1999). The Court must find four requirements are met before barring Gochin's claims as collaterally estopped: “(1) the issue decided in the prior adjudication must be identical with the one presented in the later action; (2) there must have been a final judgment on the merits; (3) the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted must have been a party or in privity with the party to the prior adjudication; and (4) the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted must have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in question in the prior adjudication.” Id. at 199.

         The majority of Gochin's Complaint repeats allegations against TJU, Torrissi, and the federal judges that have been litigated in the underlying action, although Gochin couches some of those allegations in new theories of relief under federal and state racketeering and conspiracy statutes. Throughout the underlying litigation, Gochin filed numerous motions and letters accusing defense counsel of bad faith and misconduct, and Judge Diamond of bias, conspiring with the defendants, and denying her due process. See Gochin v. Thomas Jefferson Univ., No. 13-7559, Order (E.D. Pa. Nov. 3, 2015). Judge Diamond denied each of Gochin's motions seeking relief from the alleged misconduct.[4] In his November 3, 2015, Order granting TJU's renewed motion for summary judgment and denying Gochin's motion for ...


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