Elia v. Powell et al
MEMORANDUM re 17 MOTION to Dismiss filed by Western PA Child Care, LLC, Mid Atlantic Youth Services Corp., PA Child Care, LLC, 18 MOTION to Dismiss filed by Mark A. Ciavarella Signed by Honorable A. Richard Caputo on 2/23/12. (jam, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:11-CV-465
ROBERT J. POWELL, MICHAEL T.
CONAHAN, MARK A. CIAVARELLA, PA
CHILD CARE, LLC, WESTERN PA
CHILD CARE LLC, ROBERT K.
MERICLE, MERICLE CONSTRUCTION,
INC., PINNACLE GROUP OF JUPITER,
LLC, BEVERAGE MARKETING OF PA,
INC., VISION HOLDINGS, LLC, MID
ATLANTIC YOUTH SERVICES CORP,
and PERSEUS HOUSE, INC. d/b/a
Presently before the Court are two motions to dismiss: one filed by Defendants MidAtlantic Youth Services Corp. (“MAYS”), PA Child Care, LLC (“PACC”), and Western PA
Child Care, LLC (“WPACC”) (collectively, the “Provider Defendants”); and one filed by
Defendant Mark Ciavarella. The Provider Defendants’ motion will be granted in part
because Plaintiffs’ § 1983, civil conspiracy, and false imprisonment claims are untimely; the
motion will be denied in part because Plaintiffs state a timely RICO claim. And because
judicial immunity only applies to Mr. Ciavarella’s acts outside the courtroom, his motion will
be granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiffs’ suit arises out of an alleged conspiracy involving judicial corruption on
the part of two former Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas (“LCCCP”) judges: Mark
Ciavarella and Michael Conahan. Several other cases arising out of this alleged
conspiracy have been consolidated in Wallace v. Powell, No. 3:09-cv-0286; Plaintiffs’
complaint here incorporates by reference the allegations from the Master Long Form
Complaint in Wallace.
The complaint alleges the following facts relevant to the motions under
Defendants Michael Conahan and Mark Ciavarella abused their positions as
judges of the Luzerne County Court of Commons Pleas by accepting compensation in
return for favorable judicial determinations. As part of this conspiracy, Mr. Conahan and
Mr. Ciavarella acted with Defendants Robert Powell, Robert Mericle, Mericle
Construction, Pennsylvania Child Care (“PACC”), Western Pennsylvania Child Care
(“WPACC”), Mid-Atlantic Youth Services Corp. (‘MAYS”), Pinnacle Group of Jupiter,
LLC, Beverage Marketing of PA, Inc., Vision Holdings, LLC, and Perseus House, Inc.
The basic outline of the conspiracy is that the two judges were paid approximately $2.6
million to use their influence as judicial officers to select PACC and WPACC as
detention facilities, and that they then intentionally filled those facilities with juveniles to
earn the conspirators excessive profits. The Provider Defendants participated in the
payments. Mr. Ciavarella, Mr. Conahan, Mr. Powell, and Mr. Mericle took actions directly
and through Pinnacle, Beverage Marketing, and Vision Holdings to conceal the
Mr. Powell, doing business as PACC, acquired land in Luzerne County and
entered into an agreement with Mr. Mericle to construct a juvenile detention center to be
operated by PACC and/or MAYS. Mr. Conahan took official actions to remove funding
from the Luzerne County budget from the Luzerne County facility, and he exerted
influence to facilitate the construction, expansion, and lease of the PACC facility. On
January 29, 2002, Mr. Conahan also signed a “Placement Guarantee Agreement” with
PACC on behalf of Luzerne County that provided that the Court would pay PACC an
annual rental fee. After the PACC facility was a success, with the involvement of the two
judges, Mr. Powell and Mr. Mericle constructed a second facility to be operated by
Mr. Ciavarella sentenced thousands of juveniles to detention in violation of their
constitutional rights such as the right to counsel, the right to an impartial tribunal, and the
right to a free and voluntary guilty plea. Both Mr. Conahan and Mr. Ciavarella pressured
court probation officers to make recommendations in favor of incarcerating juvenile
offenders, even when they would have otherwise recommended release also executed a
number of schemes to conceal the unlawful proceeds of this conspiracy. They also
failed to disclose their financial relationship with the other Defendants.
Plaintiff Andrew Elia was a juvenile who appeared before Mr. Ciavarella for an
adjudication hearing in 2004. As a result of that hearing, Mr. Elia was incarcerated in the
PACC facility. His mother, Plaintiff Loretta Elia, had to pay for his detention, lodging, and
incarceration in the facility. Mr. Elia asserts that as a result of his unlawful incarceration,
he suffered physical injuries and emotional distress.
Plaintiffs filed their complaint on March 11, 2011. The complaint alleges a
violation of the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”), 18
U.S.C. §§ 1961-68; a conspiracy to violate RICO; procedural and substantive due
process violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; civil conspiracy; and false imprisonment. The
Provider Defendants moved to dismiss on May 24, 2011. Mr. Ciavarella moved to
dismiss on May 25, 2011. Both motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for
II. Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint,
in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a
plaintiff has not pleaded “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face,” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual
allegations “‘to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of’”
each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir.
2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The pleading standard of Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 8 does not require “detailed factual allegations,” but “[a] pleading that
offers ‘labels and conclusions’ or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action will not do.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1959 (2009) (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 555). “While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint,
they must be supported by factual allegations.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950
Thus, when determining the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must undertake a
three-part inquiry. See Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). The
inquiry involves: “(1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to
strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the
complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry
are sufficiently alleged.” Id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a
plaintiff’s complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d
169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000). Under Rule 12(b)(6), a dismissal based on the statute of
limitations is appropriate only where the untimeliness of the claim is clear on the face of
the complaint. Bethel v. Jendoco Const. Corp., 570 F.2d 1168 (3d Cir. 1978) (citations
A. Judicial Immunity
Mr. Ciavarella’s motion to dismiss on judicial immunity grounds will be granted in
part and denied in part. In his motion, Mr. Ciavarella incorporated his arguments from his
motion to dismiss in Wallace v. Powell. In my order denying that motion in part and
granting it in part, I held that Mr. Ciavarella was shielded by judicial immunity only for his
courtroom conduct. Wallace v. Powell, No. 09-286, 2009 WL 4051974, at *6-10 (M.D.
Pa. Aug. 24, 2010). Because the motion to dismiss and the underlying facts are the
same in both cases, my analysis is also the same: Mr. Ciavarella is entitled to partial
B. Plain Statement of the Claim
The Provider Defendants’ motion to dismiss for failure to plainly state a claim will
be denied. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) requires that “a pleading that states a
claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim.” The Provider
Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s manner of incorporating the Long Form Complaint is
confusing and that it is unclear whether they are alleging unconstitutional false
imprisonment, unconstitutional malicious prosecution, or both. However, Plaintiffs’
complaint contains a clear list of the claims in the case. As stated above, the complaint
asserts state tort claims for false imprisonment and civil conspiracy, § 1983 claims for
both substantive and procedural due process violations, and civil RICO claims. This is
sufficient to meet the standard of Rule 8, and so the complaint will not be dismissed on
B. Statutes of Limitations
Plaintiffs’ § 1983, civil conspiracy, and false imprisonment claims must be
dismissed for as untimely. Actions brought under §§ 1983 and 1985 are governed by the
state statute of limitations for tort actions. Sameric Corp. of Del., Inc. v. City of Phila.,
142 F.3d 582, 599 (3d Cir. 1998). Thus, in Pennsylvania, a plaintiff is subject to a twoyear statute of limitations on any §§ 1983 claims. Id. There is also a two-year statute of
limitations for false imprisonment and civil conspiracy claims in Pennsylvania. 42 Pa.
Cons. Stat. Ann. § 5524(1). The limitations period runs from the date when the plaintiff
knew or should have known about the alleged civil rights violation, Sameric, 142 F.3d at
599, but the doctrine of equitable estoppel allows that a statute of limitations may be
tolled where there has been either intentional or unintentional deception by the
defendant, Nesbitt v. Erie Coach Co., 204 A.2d 473, 476 (Pa. 1964) (quoted in Wallace,
2010 WL 3398995 at *15). In Wallace, I determined that based on the doctrine of
equitable estoppel, the statute of limitations on bringing claims regarding this alleged
conspiracy could be tolled until January 26, 2009, the date the U.S. Attorney filed a
criminal information outlining the Defendants’ alleged conspiracy. Wallace, 2010 WL
3398995 at *15. The Provider Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiffs’ complaint because
it was not filed until March 11, 2011, which is more than two years after the tolling date.
Plaintiffs respond that the statute of limitations should be tolled until one of two later
dates: either (1) March 26, 2009, when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered the
vacation and expungement of the adjudications of all juveniles who appeared before Mr.
Ciavarella between 2003 and 2008; or (2) July 23, 2010, when Mr. Conahan pleaded
guilty to racketeering conspiracy. But although the two suggested dates perhaps
constituted some official recognition of wrongdoing by the Defendants, they were not the
first moment when potential plaintiffs knew or should have known about the existence of
the conspiracy. That moment remains, as I held in Wallace, the date of the criminal
information. Thus, the Provider Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiffs’ § 1983, civil
conspiracy, and false imprisonment claims as untimely will be granted.
Plaintiffs’ RICO claims, however, are timely. Civil claims under RICO are subject
to a four-year statute of limitations. Rotella v. Wood, 528 U.S. 549 (2000). In the Third
Circuit, the four-year period begins at the time “when the plaintiffs knew or should have
known of their injury.” Forbes v. Eagleson, 228 F.3d 471, 484 (3d Cir. 2000).1 Based on
the doctrine of equitable estoppel, as discussed above, Plaintiffs had four years from
January 26, 2009 to file their civil RICO claims. Because Plaintiffs filed on March 11,
The Supreme Court has not yet determined when a civil RICO claim accrues.
Rotella v. Wood, 528 U.S. 549, 554 n.2 (2000).
2011, the motion to dismiss the civil RICO claims as untimely must be denied.
The Provider Defendants also move to dismiss the complaint on the basis that it
fails to state a proper civil RICO claim. Plaintiffs allege violations of § 1962 of RICO, 18
U.S.C. §§ 1961-68. Section 1962(c) of RICO makes it unlawful “for any person
employed by or associated with any enterprise engaged in, or the activities of which
affect, interstate or foreign commerce, to conduct or participate, directly or indirectly, in
the conduct of such enterprise’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity.”
Section 1962(d) makes it unlawful “for any person to conspire to violate” § 1962(c). Id. §
1962(d). “Any person injured in his business or property” by a violation of § 1962 may file
a civil action against the violator. Id. § 1964(c). To plead a civil RICO claim, “the plaintiff
must allege (1) conduct (2) of an enterprise (3) through a pattern (4) of racketeering
activity.” In re Ins. Brokerage Antitrust Litig., 618 F.3d 300, 362 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting
Lum. v. Bank of Am., 361 F.3d 217, 223 (3d Cir. 2004)). If a plaintiff fails to allege an
substantive RICO violation, any conspiracy claim under § 1962(d) must also be
dismissed. Id. at 364.
The RICO claims will not be dismissed. The Provider Defendants move to dismiss
on three grounds. First, they argue that the allegations do not establish any actions on
their part. Second, they argue that Plaintiffs’ injuries are too indirect and remote to
establish standing. Finally, they argue that Plaintiffs fail to allege sufficient facts to
establish a conspiracy under § 1962(d). WPACC raised the same arguments in its
motion to dismiss in Gillette v. Ciavarella, No. 3:11-cv-658, 2012 WL 279471 (M.D. Pa.
Jan. 31, 2012), another case arising out of this same set of facts. Because Plaintiffs
here make nearly identical allegations as those in Gillette, the reasoning in that case
applies here as well. Plaintiffs may attempt to prove predicate acts on the part of the
Provider Defendants under a respondeat superior theory by showing that the individual
Defendants were acting on behalf of the corporations and in the scope of their
employment. See id. at *5-6. Plaintiffs have shown a direct injury and they, not Luzerne
County, are the appropriate party to assert RICO claims against WPACC. See id. at *6.
Finally, the facts are sufficient to plead a conspiracy. See id. at *7. For these reasons,
the Provider Defendants’ motion to dismiss the RICO claims will be denied.
For the reasons stated above, both Mr. Ciavarella’s and the Provider Defendants’
motions to dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part. An appropriate order follows.
February 23, 2012
/s/ A. Richard Caputo
A. Richard Caputo
United States District Judge
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