On November 20, 2009, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania denied the Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend their Complaint, and held that the Plaintiffs could not state a claim as against Luzerne County. The ruling effectively paves the way for Luzerne County to be dismissed from the lawsuit, and is a significant win for the taxpayers and insurers of Luzerne County.
The Class Action Plaintiffs argued that Luzerne County should be held liable because the district attorneys, public defenders and probation officers observed the state court juvenile judge sentence juvenile offenders to private correctional facilities at an unusually high rate without properly telling them about their Constitutional right to counsel. The Individual Plaintiffs argued that Luzerne County should be held liable for the budgetary actions of the state court Juvenile Judge and the state court President Judge and for providing funding to the state court juvenile system that enabled the judges to engage in an alleged conspiracy to receive kickbacks for sending juvenile offenders to private detention facilities.
The Elliott Greenleaf trial team, Timothy T. Myers, John G. Dean and Deborah H. Simon, opposed Plaintiffs’ Motion to Amend their Complaints, and argued that the amendments are legally futile because Plaintiffs could never state a claim against Luzerne County, because the judges are state actors, and because the district attorneys, public defenders and probation officers are all state actors – not County actors – while they are inside the court room.
After an extensive oral argument, the Court agreed that only a majority of the County Commissioners are the final policy-makers for the County.
Mr. Dean, the Managing Shareholder of Elliott Greenleaf’s Wilkes-Barre and Scranton offices, was extensively interviewed by the media about the case. “Judge Caputo’s decision specifically held there is no liability against the county,” Dean said. “This was a well-reasoned, detailed, 33-page opinion that shows the judge thoroughly analyzed the legal implications of conduct of the two judges, the district attorney and the public defenders office.” Mr. Myers added that “the bottom line is that the County and its taxpayers are the victims of the alleged conspiracy, not the perpetrators of it. As a result of the Court’s ruling, the taxpayers will not be victimized twice.”