Lokuta v. Sallemi

Decision Date09 October 2013
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 3:CV-13-0288
CourtU.S. District Court — Middle District of Pennsylvania



Presently before the Court are motions to dismiss Plaintiff Ann H. Lokuta's Complaint filed by Defendants William T. Sharkey, Sr. (Doc. 17), Joseph A. Massa, Jr. and Francis J. Puskas, II (Doc. 14), and Angela Sallemi and Jill Moran (Doc. 10). Plaintiff Lokuta, a former Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas judge, asserts claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for civil conspiracy and violations of her First, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Moving Defendants argue that the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, that the claims are barred by the applicable statute of limitations, that the claims and requests for relief are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and/or that preclusion law prevents Lokuta from re-litigating the claims and issues in this action. Additionally, Defendants Massa and Puskas contend that they are entitled to prosecutorial and quasi-judicial immunities. Because Lokuta seeks relief that is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine; preclusion law prevents her from re-litigating issues decided in the state-court judicial discipline proceeding; prosecutorial immunity bars many of Lokuta's claims against Defendants Massa and Puskas; the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted; and since many of the claims are barred by the statute of limitations;the motions to dismiss will be granted.

I. Background

Plaintiff Ann H. Lokuta ("Lokuta") was elected as a judge to the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania in 1991. (Compl., ¶ 12.) Lokuta was retained for a second ten-year term in 2001. (Id.) In 2006, the Pennsylvania Judicial Conduct Board ("JCB") filed disciplinary charges against Lokuta. See In re Ann H. Lokuta, 11 A.3d 427, 431 (Pa. 2011) (hereinafter Lokuta IV). On January 14, 2011, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Judicial Discipline's sanction that Lokuta be removed from office. See id. at 449-50.1

Defendants in this action are Angela Sallemi ("Sallemi"), Joseph A. Massa, Jr. ("Massa"), Francis J. Puskas, II ("Puskas"), Michael T. Conahan ("Conahan"), Mark Ciavarella ("Ciavarella"), William T. Sharkey, Sr. ("Sharkey"), and Jill Moran ("Moran"). (Compl., ¶¶ 5-11.) Sallemi was a court reporter for Luzerne County, and shortly after Lokuta was removed from office, Sallemi was promoted to Chief Court Reporter by Ciavarella. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Massa was Chief Counsel of the JCB. (Id. at ¶ 6.) Puskas was the prosecuting attorney for the JCB for the judicial discipline charges brought against Lokuta. (Id. at ¶ 7.) Conahan is a former Court of Common Pleas judge, and for several years he was the President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Luzerne County. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Ciavarella is also a former Court of Common Pleas judge, and he also served several years as President Judge. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Conahan and Ciavarella are both currently serving federal prison sentences. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.) Sharkey was the Court Administrator for Luzerne County.(Id. at ¶ 10.) Moran was the Luzerne County Prothonotary. (Id. at ¶ 11.)

The facts as set forth in the Complaint are as follows:

During Lokuta's tenure as a judge on the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, both Conahan and Ciavarella served terms as President Judge responsible for the administration of the Court. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Lokuta was subject to relentless intimidation and retaliation by Conahan and Ciavarella during this time. (Id. at ¶ 13.)

Prior to the public exposure of Conahan and Ciavarella's influence over the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, Lokuta attempted to develop a record detailing Conahan and Ciavarella's misconduct. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Lokuta brought information about Conahan and Ciavarella to the attention of federal authorities; she met with the FBI; she filed an Emergency Application with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to address Conahan's corrupt influence; and she notified the Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Courts of Conahan's conduct. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-26.)

Conahan became aware of Lokuta's discussions with federal authorities and orchestrated a scheme to discredit her and have her removed from the bench. (Id. at ¶ 28.) Conahan's knowledge of Lokuta's discussions with the FBI were verified by a JCB Complaint that was sealed from public view based on acts of Massa and Puskas. (Id. at ¶ 29.)

Conahan relied on a number of individuals to orchestrate his scheme to discredit Lokuta. (Id. at ¶¶ 30-44.) Susan Weber, Lokuta's former secretary, filed a JCB complaint against Lokuta in April 2004. (Id. at ¶ 31.) After submitting the complaint, Weber was immediately appointed by Conahan as court reporter/secretary, despite her lack of training as a court reporter. (Id. at ¶ 32.) And, the JCB, through Massa and/or Puskas, first interviewed Conahan, not Weber, about the complaint at a meeting attended by Sharkey. (Id. at ¶ 33.) Sharkey then leaked the investigation of Lokuta to the press, but he was neversanctioned for such conduct by the JCB. (Id.) A second complaint against Lokuta was prepared by Conahan and filed through Massa. (Id. at ¶ 34.) During this time, Conahan passed out between fifty and one-hundred of Massa's business cards to anyone who would consider complaining about Lokuta. (Id. at ¶ 36.) Moreover, during their interviews with the JCB, Moran, Sharkey, Sallemi, and other court reporters alleged that Lokuta was mentally ill. (Id. at ¶ 39.) Lokuta disproved these claims. (Id. at ¶¶ 40-41.)

Once the JCB could no longer establish that Lokuta suffered from a mental illness or condition of dependency, Puskas began prosecuting her based on pattern evidence relating to past dismissed complaints and non-verified information. (Id. at ¶ 42.) Massa and Puskas repeatedly denied that Conahan orchestrated the conspiracy against her, as the three painted her as a recalcitrant and ineffective jurist. (Id.)

Many Defendants in this action shared a close relationship with each other. Sallemi and Conahan had a history of working together to accomplish mutually beneficial results. (Id. at ¶ 43.) Sharkey and Moran had a history of working closely with Conahan and/or Ciavarella, and Moran, Conahan, and Ciavarella shared a business interest. (Id. at ¶ 44.) During Ciavarella's federal criminal trial, Sallemi testified that she received money from Conahan. (Id. at ¶ 47.) Sallemi and Conahan also worked together to provide an attorney to represent the Luzerne County court reporters in a salary dispute, and Sallemi visited Conahan's condominium in Florida. (Id. at ¶¶ 48-50.) Moran also testified during Ciavarella's criminal trial that she delivered bags of cash to Conahan's chambers. (Id. at ¶ 52.) Conahan, though, denied the existence of relationships with courthouse staff. (Id. at ¶¶ 45, 53.) And Massa and Puskas prevented Lokuta from exploring these relationships during the judicial conduct proceeding. (Id. at ¶ 54.)

Ciavarella's criminal trial in February 2011 brought to light what had previously been withheld from the public, proving what Lokuta unsuccessfully alleged for years in her judicialconduct proceeding. (Id. at ¶ 55.) This included Sallemi's receipt of money from Conahan, Moran's delivery of cash to Conahan's chambers, and testimony that a bookkeeper for Conahan's business interests made false accounting entries to hide payments, including the payments to Sallemi. (Id. at ¶¶ 47, 52, 56.)

Massa and Puskas became obsessed with prosecuting Lokuta and refused to pursue a complaint filed against Conahan during the course of her judicial conduct proceeding. (Id. at ¶ 61.) Massa and Puskas also continued to harass Lokuta following her removal as judge by processing three stale complaints against her. (Id. at ¶ 62.)

Based on these factual allegations, Lokuta filed the Complaint in this action on February 5, 2013. Lokuta alleges claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants for civil conspiracy and violations of her First, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Lokuta requests the following relief:

a. That this Honorable Court reinstate Lokuta to the Court of Common Pleas;
b. That this Honorable Court reinstate her pension, health benefits, and insurances;
c. That this Honorable Court award actual and compensatory damages;
d. That this Honorable Court award reasonable attorney's fees in pursuit of this Action;
e. That this Honorable Court allow Lokuta to run for future judicial office; and
f. That this Honorable Court award such other relief as is just and equitable.

(Id. at Wherefore Clauses.) Lokuta also seeks punitive damages. (Id. at ¶¶ 83, 88, 92.)

On March 22, 2013, Defendants Moran and Sallemi (collectively, "County Defendants") filed a motion to dismiss the Complaint. (Doc. 10.) On March 26, 2013, Defendants Massa and Puskas (collectively, "JCB Defendants") moved to dismiss the Complaint. (Doc. 14.) And, on March 28, 2013, Sharkey filed his motion to dismiss Lokuta'sComplaint. (Doc. 17.)2 The motions to dismiss3 have now been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.

II. Legal Standard

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. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of their claims. See Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See 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...

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