Burrell v. Lackawanna Recycling Ctr.

Decision Date06 August 2021
Docket NumberCivil Action 3:14-CV-1891
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania

Saporito, Magistrate Judge.


Robert D. Mariani, United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

Here the Court considers the Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) issued by Magistrate Judge Joseph F Saporito addressing the four pending motions to dismiss (Docs. 99, 101, 102, 103) with which all Defendants seek dismissal of Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 77). This case arises in relation to Plaintiffs' incarceration pursuant to Lackawanna Court of Common Pleas civil contempt orders. Magistrate Judge Saporito recommends granting the motions in part and denying them in part. (Doc. 120 at 27-28.) For the reasons discussed below, the Court will adopt the R&R in part and will grant Defendants' motions to dismiss.

II. Background

Plaintiffs were child support debtors who were sentenced to serve a period of incarceration after they failed to pay overdue child support. (Doc. 77 ¶¶ 18-96.) While Plaintiff Stuckey may have had overlapping criminal sentences (see Doc. 120 at 10 n.6), Plaintiffs Burrell and Huzzard could be released before the expiration of the imposed sentence upon payment of a monetary sum established by the Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas Order, a sum known as the “purge” amount. (Doc. 77 ¶¶ 26, 61.) As per Lackawanna County Prison staff directives, Plaintiffs could not participate in the work release program until they successfully completed a period of participation in the Lackawanna County Community Services Program, which in each case here resulted in working at the Lackawanna Recycling Center, Inc. for approximately eight hours a day at a pay rate of $5.00 per day paid into the inmate's prison commissary account. (Doc. 77 ¶¶ 32, 36, 42, 43, 66, 67, 70, 71, 87, 88, 91, 92.) Court orders for Plaintiffs Burrell and Huzzard accommodated and confirmed this arrangement. (Doc. 77 ¶¶ 33-35, 66.)

As set out in the R&R,

Since at least March 31, 2005, the [Lackawanna County Solid Waste Authority (“Authority”)] and [Lackawanna Recycling Center, Inc. (“LRCI”)] have been parties to a contract (the “Operating Agreement”) regarding the operations of the Lackawanna County Recycling Center (the “Center”), a recycling center owned by the Authority. Under the terms of the Operating Agreement, LRCI assumed responsibility for operation and management of the Center, including the hiring, supervision, training, and payment of personnel to staff the Center. Besides these employees of LRCI, however, the Operating Agreement also provided that the Authority would continue to “provide the same number of Prisoners from the Lackawanna County Prison that have historically worked at the Center as part of their work release program as security requirements dictate.”
In accordance with this last provision, county personnel-specifically prison guards-transport prisoners to the Center to work there. Prison guards remain on site at the Center to supervise prisoners, maintain security, and discipline prisoners. Some number of the prisoners supplied by the Authority to work at the Center are child support debtors sentenced to terms of incarceration following civil contempt proceedings for failure to pay child support.

(Doc. 120 at 3-4.)

Defendant Louis DeNaples is the president of LRCI. (Doc. 77 ¶ 11.) Defendant Dominick DeNaples is the vice president of LRCI. (Id. ¶ 12.) At the relevant time, Defendant Thomas Staff was an administrator employed by Defendant County who regulated the Work Release Program and the Community Service Program at the Lackawanna County Prison. (Id. ¶ 15.) Defendant Staff is sued only in his official capacity. (Id.)

Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint contains seven counts. In Count I, Plaintiffs seek to hold all Defendants liable for unlawfully obtaining their labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”), 18 U.S.C. § 1589. (Doc. 77 ¶¶ 202-207.) In Count II, Plaintiffs seek to hold Lackawanna County (“County”), the Lackawanna County Solid Waste Management Authority (“Authority”), and Thomas Staff liable for subjecting them to involuntary servitude in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment, made actionable by 42 U.S.C. § 1983, by requiring them to work at the Lackawanna County Recycling Center, Inc. (“LRCI”) or remain incarcerated and ineligible for work release. (Id. ¶¶ 208-212.) In Count III, Plaintiffs assert that the Center, the County, and the Authority violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) by failing to pay them the federal minimum wage. (Id. ¶¶ 213-227.) In Count IV, Plaintiffs assert that the Center, the County, and the Authority violated the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (“PMWA”) by failing to pay them the state minimum wage. (Id. ¶¶ 228-232.) In Count V, Plaintiffs assert that the Center, the County, and the Authority violated the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law (“PWPCL”) by failing to pay them their wages “in lawful money of the United States or check.” (Id. ¶¶ 233-237.) In Count VI, Plaintiffs seek to hold all Defendants liable for violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c) made actionable by 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c). (Id. ¶¶ 228-243.) In Count VII, Plaintiffs assert a state law claim for unjust enrichment. (Id. ¶¶ 244-246.)

The Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 77) was filed after a panel of the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit considered an appeal of this Court's December 8, 2016, dismissal of Plaintiff Burrell's First Amended Complaint (Docs. 11, 44) and remanded the matter for further proceedings, Burrell v. Luongo, 750 Fed.Appx. 149 (3d Cir. 2018) (not precedential). The Circuit panel concluded that this Court had properly dismissed numerous claims contained in the First Amended Complaint, id. at 154-57, and identified several claims that could be pursued after remand including Thirteenth Amendment and 18 U.S.C. § 1589, Trafficking Victims Protection Act (“TVPA”), claims, civil RICO claims, and state law claims, id at 157-60.

The four pending motions are Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Second Amended Complaint by Defendants Lackawanna County and Thomas Staff (Doc. 99); Motion to Dismiss by Lackawanna County Recycling Center, Inc. (Doc. 101); Motion to Dismiss by Louis DeNaples and Dominic DeNaples (Doc. 102); and Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Second Amended Complaint Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6) by Defendant, Lackawanna County Solid Waste Management Authority (Doc. 103). The R&R recommends granting the motions in part and denying them in part: claims against Defendant Staff should be dismissed as redundant of the claims against his employer, Lackawanna County; FLSA, PMWA, and PWPCL claims (Counts III, IV, and V) should be dismissed for failure to state a claim; and RICO claims (Count VI) should be dismissed as to all Defendants except LRCI. (Doc. 120 at 27-28.) Based on the foregoing, the R&R recommends that the TVPA claims in Count I go forward as to all Defendants except Defendant Staff; Thirteenth Amendment claims in Count II go forward as to Defendant County and Defendant Authority; the RICO claim in Count VI go forward as to LCRI, and the unjust enrichment claims in Count VII go forward as to all Defendants except Defendant Staff. (Id. at 28.)

All parties except Defendant Staff have filed objections to the R&R. (Docs. 121129.) In sum, the parties raise objections to the R&R's recommendations as to each count contained in the Second Amended Complaint with Plaintiffs objecting to the recommendations that Counts III, IV, and V be dismissed and Defendants objecting to the recommendations that Counts I, II, VI, and VII go forward.

II. Legal Standards

A. Report and Recommendation

A District Court may “designate a magistrate judge to conduct hearings, including evidentiary hearings, and to submit to a judge of the court proposed findings of fact and recommendations for the disposition” of certain matters pending before the Court. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). If a party timely and properly files a written objection to a Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation, the District Court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” Id. at § 636(b)(1)(C); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); M.D. Pa. Local Rule 72.3; Brown v. Astrue, 649 F.3d 193, 195 (3d Cir. 2011). “If a party does not object timely to a magistrate judge's report and recommendation, the party may lose its right to de novo review by the district court.” EEOC v. City of Long Branch, 866 F.3d 93, 99-100 (3d Cir. 2017). The de novo standard applies only to objections which are specific. Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 6-7 (3d Cir. 1984). However, “because a district court must take some action for a report and recommendation to become a final order and because the authority and the responsibility to make an informed, final determination remains with the judge, even absent objections to the report and recommendation, a district court should afford some level of review to dispositive legal issues raised by the report.” City of Long Branch, 866 F.3d at 100 (internal citations and quotation marks omitted).

B. Motion to Dismiss Standard

A complaint must be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) if it does not allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550...

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