On April 27, 2011, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania agreed with Elliott Greenleaf and denied the Plaintiffs’ motion to amend their complaints to add allegations against a Luzerne County Commissioner in connection with ongoing litigation arising for investigations into an alleged scheme by Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas judges to accept bribes from developers of juvenile detention facilities in exchange for the County’s award of a lease to operate the facilities.
The Legal Intelligencer reported on May 3, 2011 that “[t]he ruling is a victory for Luzerne County’s defense team led by attorney Timothy T. Myers of Elliott Greenleaf & Siedzikowski because the plaintiffs are unable to establish liability on the part of the county if they cannot establish that county officials shared responsibility for the scandal.” Elliott Greenleaf’s defense team also consists of veteran civil rights litigators John G. Dean and Deborah H. Simon.
In Belanger v. Ciavarella, the court found that the allegations lodged against a former Luzerne County Commissioner “remain in the hazy realm of innuendo, conjecture, and implication….” In the proposed amended complaint, plaintiffs lawyers alleged that this same former commissioner either participated in the conspiracy to pay kickbacks to two former Luzerne County judges — Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. and Michael T. Conahan — in return for placing juveniles in private, for-profit facilities, or, at a minimum, that the former commissioner “knew that something was improper, did nothing to address it and, in fact, actively worked to facilitate it.” The court agreed with Elliott Greenleaf’s arguments that the allegations against the former commissioner “are too nebulous to state a claim for relief” and “provide no facts connecting any of the actions of the Luzerne County defendants to the underlying conspiracy in any meaningful way.”
The court also rejected the plaintiffs’ new allegations against another former county commissioner and the former county manager and chief clerk as “also too speculative and are therefore similarly insufficient as the basis for a claim.” The court found that, even if the allegations were true, the plaintiffs “have failed to establish any concrete causal links between the decision of the county to fund the prisons and the constitutional violations alleged by the plaintiffs.”
Elliott Greenleaf had previously successfully argued that other proposed amendments are legally futile because Plaintiffs could never state a claim against Luzerne County, because the judges, district attorneys, public defenders and probation officers are all state actors – not County actors – while they are inside the court room.