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Deitrick v. Costa

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 30, 2019

DONNA DEITRICK, Plaintiff
v.
MARK COSTA, et al., Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          William I. Arbuckle U.S. Magistrate Judge

         Jane Acri's Motions for Sanctions (Docs. 538, 596) and Status Report (Doc. 643)

         I. INTRODUCTION

         In 1989, 20th Century Fox released “The War of the Roses” a cautionary tale told by Hollywood divorce lawyer Gavin D'Amato (Danny Divito) to a potential young client considering divorce. The film, based upon the 1981 novel by Warren Adler, follows a wealthy couple with a seemingly perfect marriage. When their marriage begins to fall apart, material possessions become the center of an outrageous and bitter divorce battle. In both the novel and the film, the married couple's family name is Rose, and the title is an allusion to the battles between the Houses of York and Lancaster at the end of the Middle Ages. Finishing his story, Gavin presents his new client with two options: either proceed with the divorce and face a horrific bloodbath in court or go home to his wife to settle their differences properly. The client chooses the latter. In the case now before the Court the parties chose the bloodbath.

         No fewer than seven different Courts and at least five judges from this court have been called upon to decide some portion of this war. From minor skirmishes to pitched battles this marriage breakup and the conduct of the parties has been examined by: the minor judiciary of Northumberland County; the Court of Common Pleas of Northumberland County (criminal, civil, and family divisions); the Middle District Bankruptcy Court; this court; the Third Circuit Court of Appeals (twice); and, now back to this court. Donna Deitrick, the former wife in this saga, seeks a measure of justice here by accusing all who have touched this case with various forms of misconduct, cast in the legal language of violation of her civil rights, infliction of emotional distress, conspiracy, trespass to chattels, conversion, and negligence. A jury found that the ex-husband and his family members conspired to steal her property and keep it from her, awarding her $3, 200, 530.00 in damages (Doc. 602). A separate jury found the two police officers that did not obtain summary judgment were not liable on the merits (Doc. 636).

         In a much earlier Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 175) the Court was called upon to decide if Jane Acri, Esq., divorce lawyer for the husband, was shown to be a willing participant in the admitted misconduct of her client. Based on the evidence the Court found that she was not.[1] Nothing brought to the Court's attention since then has changed that opinion. Attorney Acri did nothing illegal, improper, or unethical. She zealously represented a client.[2] She has been exonerated from any claim of misconduct in this case.

         Having been exonerated, Attorney Acri seeks sanctions against the Plaintiff and the lawyers that accused her in the pleadings. The case against Attorney Acri was apparently based upon the suspicion of the wife (Donna Deitrick) and a single police report. In that report (Doc. 247, pp. 34-35) Trooper Foura briefly recounted interviews with Jeff and Marianne Adams (represented by other counsel) on February 5, 2005, pursuant to a grant of immunity. They admitted their involvement in the burglary and theft of the safe. He reports that they both told him that “Acri knew that Robert took the safe and where it was buried.” (Doc. 247, p. 35). The report does not indicate how they came to know that. This report was dated February 25, 2005, ten days after the Adams' interviews. This report was uncontradicted when the complaint in this case was filed by Attorney Wilson on August 10, 2006, only two days before the running of any two-year statute of limitations. However, during depositions in 2012 both Mr. & Mrs. Adams stated they did not have direct knowledge of what Attorney Acri knew at the time.[3] Trooper Foura was never deposed or called as a witness in this case. The Adams were not questioned about Attorney Acri or their 2005 statements during the trial.

         Attorney Jane Acri (“Amicus Acri”)[4] was originally named as a Defendant in this case in seven separate counts:

1. Count Six (Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress);
2. Count Seven (Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress);
3. Count Eight (Negligence);
4. Count Nine (Negligence Per Se);
5. Count Twelve (Civil Conspiracy);
6. Count Thirteen (Conversion); and,
7. Count Fourteen (Trespass to Chattels). (See Doc. 1).

         On October 2, 2014, I issued a Report recommending that Summary Judgment be granted in Amicus Acri's favor on all counts. (Doc. 362). That Report was adopted by the District Judge on April 9, 2015. (Doc. 414).

         During the life of this case, Amicus Acri filed a total of six Motions for Sanction. (Docs. 132, 267, 331, 470, 538, 596). Some of these Motions were dismissed without prejudice to renewing them after the trial. (Docs. 465, 466, 467). Rather than waiting until trial had concluded, Amicus Acri filed three of those six Motions before trial-which concluded on October 17, 2019.

         Currently Pending before the Court are Amicus Acri's Fifth Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 538), Sixth Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 596), and Motion for Clarification (Doc. 643).

         For the reasons that follow, the Motions for Sanctions will be denied. The denial of the motions should not be interpreted in any way as endorsing the idea that Attorney Acri committed misconduct in her representation of Robert Yoncuski. I state emphatically that she did not.

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's Complaint concerns two incidents that transpired in August 2004: (1) the alleged taking of a safe and jewelry contained within the safe (Friday, August 11, 2004); and (2) an alleged assault that took place between Plaintiff, Vanessa Yoncuski and Robert Yoncuski at a local police station (Monday, August 13, 2004).

         Amicus Acri represented Plaintiff's now ex-husband, Robert Yoncuski, in the divorce. Plaintiff alleged in the original complaint (Doc. 1) that Amicus Acri had some involvement in the taking of and concealment of the safe. Specifically, she alleged:

119. The Defendant, Jane Acri, knew of should have known that the safe was going to be stolen before it was stolen, and the Defendant, Jane Acri, should have known its location after it was stolen. The Defendant, Jane Acri, represented the Defendant, Robert Yoncuski, in divorce proceedings opposite the Plaintiff. In that capacity, she was paid between $50, 000.00 and $70, 000.00 by the Defendant, Robert Yoncuski, and it is believe [sic] that some of the said proceeds from the stolen safe were used to pay the Defendant, Jane Acri, for those divorce representation services. Under the Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers in Pennsylvania, as well as other law, the Defendant, Jane Acri, had a duty to third persons such as the Plaintiff and was ethically obligated not to assist her client, the Defendant, Robert Yoncuski, in the perpetration of a fraud or crime; nevertheless, during the Defendant, Jane Acri's representation of the Defendant, Robert Yoncuski, the Defendant Robert Yoncuski, lied under oath about his knowledge of the whereabouts of the safe, failed to disclose the contents, despite being legally obligated to do so. Furthermore, the Defendant, Jane Acri, could have revealed the safe's whereabouts, which would have resulted in a greater recovery of the contents and less damages to be suffered by the Plaintiff.
121. The Defendants, Costa, Miner, Nichols, Zelinski, Jeff Adams, Marianne Adams, Thomas Yoncuski, Balascik, Robert Yoncuski, Vanessa Long, Linda Long, Brown, Searls, Moore and Acri, all of them, or in combination, conspired to steal the safe and its contents, provide a distraction so that others could do so, cover up the theft, and conceal the whereabouts of the safe and its contents.

(Doc. 1, ¶¶ 119, 121). The Complaint was signed by Attorney Richard A. Wilson (“Attorney Wilson”) and filed on August 11, 2006, two (2) days before the running of any two-year statute of limitations. Attorney Wilson represented Plaintiff in this court from August 2006 through November 2006. (See Docs. 1, 30, 46).

         III. DETAILED PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On October 26, 2006, Amicus Acri-who was representing herself at that time-filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 12). The Motion, however, was deemed withdrawn by Judge Muir because no brief in support was filed. (Doc. 33).

         Attorney Peter Loftus (“Attorney Loftus”) entered his appearance in on November 15, 2006. (Doc. 22). Attorney Wilson and his association Richard Jennings moved to withdraw as Plaintiff's Counsel on November 27, 2006 (Doc. 30).

         On February 22, 2007, Amicus Acri filed an Answer. (Doc. 62). Six days later, Amicus filed an Amended Answer. (Doc. 65).

         On February 26, 2007, this case was stayed pending the disposition of criminal charges brought against Defendant Robert Yoncuski. (Doc. 64). After the resolution of the criminal charges in August 2010, new case management deadlines were set. (Docs. 76, 87).

         On May 5, 2011, Defendants Jeff and Marianne Adams filed a Notice informing the Court that Plaintiff had filed for bankruptcy in January 2011. (Doc. 103). In light of this information, the case was stayed for a second time. (Doc. 108). On June 6, 2012, the stay was lifted. (Doc. 127).

         On September 27, 2012, Amicus Acri filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 175). Along with her Motion, Amicus Acri filed a Statement of Facts (Doc. 176), a series of exhibits (Docs. 177-188), and a Brief in Support (Doc. 189).

         On December 2, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Brief in Opposition to Amicus Acri's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 222), and a response to Amicus Acri's Statement of Facts (Doc. 222-1).

         On December 14, 2012, Amicus Acri filed a Reply (Doc. 242) and a Supplemental Statement of Facts (Doc. 243).

         On October 2, 2014, I issued a Report recommending that Amicus Acri's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted. (Doc. 362). On October 16, 2014, however, I issued an Order staying the response deadline to this Report upon notification that Plaintiff's counsel, Attorney Loftus, was listed by the disciplinary board as “retired” and attempts to contact him had been unsuccessful. (Doc. 368). On October 20, 2014, Attorney Loftus filed a letter advising the Court that Plaintiff was seeking new counsel and that he had given her all of her files. (Doc. 371). He reported that he was physically unable to continue in his representation due to significant health issues. Id. After a hearing, during which Plaintiff proceeded pro se, the Court set new deadlines for filing objections to the Report. (Doc. 380).

         On January 9, 2015, Attorneys Timothy Bowers and Kymberley Best entered their appearance on Plaintiff's behalf. (Doc. 388). After being granted additional time to do so, Plaintiff's attorneys filed objections to the Report recommending that Amicus Acri's Motion for Summary Judgment be granted. (Docs. 402, 403). Amicus Acri did not respond to Plaintiff's objections. On April 9, 2015, U.S. District Judge Matthew W. Brann addressed Plaintiff's objections, and issued an Order granting Amicus Acri's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docs. 413, 414). Judgment was issued in Amicus Acri's favor. (Doc. 415).

         On May 6, 2015, Plaintiff, through Attorneys Bowers and Best, filed a Notice appealing the Memorandum and Order granting Amicus Acri's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 429).

         On June 25, 2015, Plaintiff, through Attorneys Bowers and Best, filed a Motion requesting certification of final judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(b) in order to appeal the Order granting Amicus Acri's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 436). Along with her Motion, Plaintiff filed a Brief in Support. (Doc. 437). On July 16, 2015, Amicus Acri filed a Brief in Opposition. (Doc. 438).

         On August 18, 2015, Judge Brann filed a Memorandum and Order denying Plaintiff's Motion. (Docs. 441, 442).

         A. Attorney Acri's First Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 132)

         On July 6, 2012, Amicus Acri filed her First Motion for Sanctions. (Doc. 132). Along with her Motion, Amicus Acri filed a Brief in Support. (Doc. 133). Five months later, on December 2, 2012, Plaintiff, represented by Attorney Loftus, filed a Brief in Opposition. (Doc. 221). On December 12, 2012, Amicus Acri filed a Reply. (Doc. 240). In the First Motion for Sanctions, Amicus Acri argued that Attorneys Wilson and Loftus should be sanctioned for violating Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b)(2) and/or (3) for alleging and advocating the following inaccuracies:

(1) Amicus Acri should have known that the safe was going to be stolen;
(2) Amicus Acri should have known the location of the safe after it ...

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