698 F.2d 52 (1st Cir. 1983), 82-1467, Siano v. Justices of Massachusetts

Docket Nº:82-1467.
Citation:698 F.2d 52
Party Name:Louis SIANO, Plaintiff, Appellant, v. JUSTICES OF MASSACHUSETTS, et al., Defendants, Appellees.
Case Date:January 21, 1983
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

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698 F.2d 52 (1st Cir. 1983)

Louis SIANO, Plaintiff, Appellant,


JUSTICES OF MASSACHUSETTS, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

No. 82-1467.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

January 21, 1983

Argued Nov. 5, 1982.

Rehearing Denied Feb. 4, 1983.

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John Cavicchi, Boston, Mass., for plaintiff, appellant.

Roberta Thomas Brown, Asst. Atty. Gen., Boston, Mass., Chief, Torts Division, with whom Francis X. Bellotti, Atty. Gen., Boston, Mass., was on brief, for Justices of Mass., et al.

John T. McDonough, Springfield, for Matthew J. Ryan, Jr.

Before COFFIN, Chief Judge, BOWNES and BREYER, Circuit Judges.

BOWNES, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiff-appellant Louis Siano appeals the dismissal of his action against the Justices of Massachusetts and Matthew J. Ryan, Jr., District Attorney of Hampden County, Massachusetts, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), "for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In our review we must therefore accept the allegations in the complaint as true. Conley v. Gibson, 335 U.S. 41, 45-46, 78 S.Ct. 99, 101-102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80 (1957); O'Brien v. DiGrazia, 544 F.2d 543, 545 (1st Cir.1976), cert. denied, 431 U.S. 914, 97 S.Ct. 2173, 53 L.Ed.2d 223 (1977).

The complaint alleges that the

action arises under the United States Constitution, particularly under the provisions of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, under federal law, particularly Title 28 of the United States Code, Section 2201, 2202, and Title 42 of the United States Code, Sections 1983, 1985. 1

Jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C. Secs. 1331 and 1343. The factual background of the case, which is inextricably intertwined with prior proceedings in the Massachusetts' courts, is important for an understanding of the issues.

The State Proceedings

In 1972, Siano was a concessionaire at the Eastern States Exposition Fair Grounds and a member of a committee which investigated the Exposition's income. In his role as committee member, Siano charged that defendant Ryan and others were defrauding the Exposition of certain income. According to Siano, Ryan told him that he would be sorry.

On July 3, 1972, a garage owned by Siano and his mother was destroyed by an explosion followed by a fire. Siano was present when the explosion and fire occurred and

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observed several youngsters standing near the garage. He filed a "proof of loss" form with his insurer, United States Fidelity and Guarantee Co. (USF&G), claiming $2,500 for damage to the building and $5,000 for contents. This form was filled out in longhand, notarized by Siano's attorney, and signed by both Siano and his mother. Before submitting the form to USF&G, Siano made a photocopy of it and stored it in a freezer at his family restaurant.

Siano alleges that before signing the form he added the following language (the "disclaimer clause"):

I have reason to believe that the night before and the morning of the fire that the garage was broken into and a lot of material was stolen. I do not want to cheat the insurance company so I am willing to compromise so it will be fair to the insurance co and me. Thank you.

The proof of loss form relied on by USF&G (hereinafter referred to as "Exhibit # 16," its designation in the state court proceedings) contained no such disclaimer, and USF&G did not honor Siano's claim. Instead, it turned the "proof of loss" over to the Hampden County District Attorney. Siano was subsequently indicted for arson and for filing a false claim in an attempt to defraud his insurance company. 2

The prosecutor at Siano's state court trial was an assistant district attorney. According to Siano, Ryan was present in the courtroom each day of the trial, and "was like an animal in the hallway in the presence of the jurors of the court, the court officers and wittnesses [sic]." After a private investigator had testified on Siano's behalf, Ryan allegedly yelled at this witness, swearing that he had no right to testify. Siano further alleged that the presiding judge and three of the jurors were friends of Ryan. 3

The trial judge directed a verdict in Siano's favor on the arson charge. Siano was, however, convicted by the jury of having filed a fraudulent insurance claim, and sentenced to a three-year probation term. He filed a bill of exceptions, all of which were overruled by a rescript opinion.

Two and one-half years after his conviction, Siano went to his attorney's office to review his case. He was shown a copy of Exhibit # 16, the proof of loss form introduced at his trial. Siano then realized that this form did not contain the disclaimer clause, and that the signatures on the form were neither his nor his mother's. Siano retrieved his copy of the proof of loss from his freezer, and on the basis of the two documents filed a motion for a new trial. This motion was denied by the Superior Court, and affirmed upon appeal to the Appeals Court. On June 2, 1980, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court denied Siano's application for further appellate review.

Siano commenced his first civil action in the Massachusetts courts in April 1979. In this civil action, he sought multimillions of dollars in damages against USF&G, alleging that the insurance company had caused a forged proof of loss to be delivered to Ryan. Siano's suit was based on intentional infliction of emotional distress. Ten special questions were submitted to the jury, which found: that the signatures of Siano and his mother on Exhibit # 16 were forged; that USF&G knew that the signatures were forged; that USF&G voluntarily delivered the forgery to the district attorney; that USF&G's conduct was "so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency"; and that, although USF&G did not intend to inflict emotional distress upon Siano, it should have known that its conduct was likely to have such an effect. As compensation for the emotional distress suffered, the jury awarded Siano $22,500 damages.

Following the jury award, USF&G filed a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict on the ground that Siano's tort

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claim was time-barred by the applicable statute of limitations. The motion was granted. The court found that Siano, in the exercise of ordinary diligence, should have become aware of the alleged forgery when Exhibit # 16 was both read and shown to him at his criminal trial more than five years earlier. In dicta, the court gave two additional reasons for granting USF&G's motion. First, because Siano had twice before litigated and lost the forgery issue--at the criminal trial and subsequently on his motion for a new trial--the doctrine of collateral estoppel would prevent Siano from again litigating this issue. Second, the court expressed grave reservations as to the sufficiency of the evidence to sustain the jury's finding that USF&G knew that Exhibit # 16 was a forgery.

The Federal Proceedings

On July 21, 1980, while USF&G's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict was still pending, Siano filed this civil action in federal district court against USF&G, District Attorney Ryan, and the Justices of Massachusetts. Siano alleged that Ryan and the insurance company conspired together to use forged evidence to obtain a criminal conviction against him. Ryan's alleged motivation was retaliation for the fraud accusations which Siano had made against him. Siano sought damages of $104,000,000 against these defendants. As against the Justices, Siano alleged that they repeatedly affirmed his conviction, knowing that it was based on forged evidence and sought a declaratory judgment that his state conviction was invalid.

A United States magistrate recommended dismissal of the complaint as to all defendants. Siano filed objections, which were reviewed by the district court. The district court accepted the recommendation of dismissal as to the Justices and Ryan, directed entry of final judgment on behalf of these two defendants, and denied Siano's motion for summary judgment. It is this order which is before us.

The Claim Against The Justices

Siano's suit against the Justices of Massachusetts does not seek monetary damages as compensation for the alleged violations of his constitutional rights. 4 Rather, Siano attempts to use the section 1983 claim as a method of challenging the validity of his state court conviction and seeking a new trial. The relief sought by Siano is more akin to that provided in a habeas corpus action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec. 2254. Siano is precluded from filing a habeas petition since he has served out his parole term, and thus no longer satisfies the "in custody" requirement of federal habeas relief. Siano's claim against the Justices presents an issue of first impression in this circuit: Does a 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 action lie to attack the validity of a state court conviction when state avenues of appeal have been exhausted and the petitioner is no longer in custody.

The district court below, in dismissing Siano's action against the Justices, relied on the view expressed in earlier Fifth and Seventh Circuit opinions--"a view which I believe the First Circuit Court of Appeals would adopt if squarely presented the issue--that an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983 cannot be used to attack the validity of a state court conviction. Hanson v. Circuit Court of First Judicial Circuit, 591 F.2d 404, 410-11 (7th Cir.) cert. denied, 444 U.S. 907[, 100 S.Ct. 220, 62 L.Ed.2d 143] (1979); Cavett v. Ellis, 578 F.2d 567, 568-69 (5th Cir.1978)." While Siano's case squarely poses the issue, and the Fifth Circuit's rule is likely to be recognized as the law, we do not presently rest our decision on this point. 5

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Siano's case is easily disposed of on other grounds. Therefore, for purposes of this appeal, we will assume, without deciding, that an individual in Siano's situation could sustain a...

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