JUAN R. SÁNCHEZ, District Judge.
Pro se Plaintiff Diane R. Gochin alleges Defendants Thomas Jefferson University (TJU), Carianne Torrissi, Esquire, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and various federal judges within this Court and the Third Circuit conspired to violate federal and state racketeering statutes and Gochin's constitutional rights in connection with a separate, underlying employment discrimination case Gochin brought against TJU. Gochin generally alleges Defendants committed abuse of process and engaged in a conspiracy during the course of the underlying litigation. The Government, in a Statement of Interest, urges the Court to sua sponte dismiss Gochin's claims against the federal Defendants for failure to state a claim, asserting Gochin's claims against them are barred by judicial immunity. TJU and Torrissi—TJU's attorney in the underlying action—move to dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. Because the majority of Gochin's Complaint collaterally attacks prior judgments of the District Court and Third Circuit in the underlying case, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to consider those claims. Further, any new claims brought by Gochin are barred by judicial immunity or do not state a viable claim for relief. The Court will therefore grant Defendants' Motions.
In 2014, Gochin, a former employee at TJU, filed an employment discrimination action against TJU, which came before the Honorable District Court Judge Paul S. Diamond. Gochin claimed she was given inadequate raises and unsuccessfully applied for 53 other jobs at TJU during the course of her employment there. On August 20, 2014, TJU moved for summary judgment, and in March 2015, Judge Diamond denied the motion without prejudice, directing TJU to provide additional discovery. The following month, TJU renewed its motion for summary judgment. In response, Gochin filed a motion for default judgment and for sanctions based on TJU and Torrissi's alleged misconduct during the litigation proceedings.
According to Gochin, in September 2015, she filed a disciplinary complaint against Judge Diamond for his delay in issuing an order deciding TJU's motion, and Judge McKee dismissed the complaint for lack of merit. In November 2015, Judge Diamond granted TJU's renewed motion for summary judgment, finding Gochin's claims either time-barred or having "no evidentiary basis." See Gochin v. Thomas Jefferson Univ., No. 13-7559, Order at 9-11 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 3, 2015). Judge Diamond also denied Gochin's motion for default judgment and sanctions as "frivolous," noting Gochin alone acted improperly. Id. at 6.
Gochin sought relief from the grant of summary judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b), arguing Judge Diamond violated her constitutional rights, conspired with the underlying Defendants and was complicit in their misconduct, and retaliated against her for filing a disciplinary complaint. The District Court denied the motion. Gochin appealed the grant of TJU's motion for summary judgment, which the Third Circuit dismissed as untimely. She also appealed the denial of her 60(b) motion, and the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court's order.
Gochin now brings the instant action against Defendants, asserting violations of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1964, Pennsylvania's racketeering statute, 18 Pa. C.S. § 911, and various federal civil rights statutes, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, as well as a claim for common law abuse of process. In a Statement of Interest, the Government argues the Court should dismiss all claims against the federal Defendants under the doctrine of judicial immunity. TJU and Torrissi move the Court to dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim.
In considering a Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court may treat the motion "as either a facial or factual challenge to the court's subject matter jurisdiction." Gould Elecs. Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000) holding modified by Simon v. United States, 341 F.3d 193 (3d Cir. 2003). Where the motion is a facial attack, "the court must only consider the allegations of the complaint and documents referenced therein and attached thereto, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Id. "Thus, a facial attack calls for a district court to apply the same standard of review it would use in considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6)[.]" Const. Party of Pa. v. Aichele, 757 F.3d 347, 358 (3d Cir. 2014). In reviewing a factual attack, the court may consider evidence outside the pleadings, as the movant argues "there is no subject matter jurisdiction because the facts of the case . . . do not support the asserted jurisdiction." Id. In other words, "a facial attack contests the sufficiency of the pleadings, whereas a factual attack concerns the actual failure of a [plaintiff's] claims to comport [factually] with the jurisdictional prerequisites." Id. (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (alterations in original).
In order to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for a failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks removed). A claim is facially plausible when the facts pleaded "allow the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Id. The "plausibility" standard is not a "probability requirement" but rather a requirement of more than a "sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Id. A complaint which "pleads facts that are `merely consistent with' a defendant's liability . . . `stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'" Id. (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 557 (2007) (internal quotation marks omitted)). In evaluating a complaint's sufficiency under these standards, the court must first "tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim." Santiago v. Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Next, the court should "identify allegations that, `because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth.'" Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). Finally, where there are well pleaded allegations, the court "should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).
A. Defendants TJU and Torrissi
Gochin alleges TJU and Torrissi's law firm engaged in corruption through their political contributions. She also alleges TJU and Torrissi committed various discovery abuses throughout the underlying case, such as altering documents, sending Gochin excessive discovery documents, and concealing evidence and witnesses. TJU moves to dismiss Gochin's Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, arguing this case impermissibly collaterally attacks a prior judgment. TJU also argues Gochin's claims are barred by collateral estoppel.
A court lacks subject matter jurisdiction where a plaintiff seeks to "relitigate a previously decided (and appealed) action" because it constitutes a "collateral challenge over [a] final judgment." Pondexter v. Pa. Human Relations Comm'n, 556 F. App'x 129, 131 (3d Cir. 2014); see Gagliardi v. Standish, 431 F. App'x 117, 117-18 (3d Cir. 2011) (affirming dismissal of complaint that alleged bias of judges in underlying actions, as district court "lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate collateral challenges in the nature of appeals and alleged violations of the codes of judicial conduct"). The Third Circuit—not this Court—has subject matter jurisdiction over challenges to a final decision of a district court. See Pondexter v. Pa. Human Relations Comm'n, No. 13-732, 2013 WL 3305232, at *1 (W.D. Pa. June 28, 2013) (citing 28 U.S.C. §§ 1291, 1292). To the extent Gochin seeks further review of the underlying case, her Complaint must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
Further, Gochin's claims, having been raised in the underlying case, are barred by collateral estoppel. Collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, "prevents parties from litigating again the same issues when a court of competent jurisdiction has already adjudicated the issue on its merits, and a final judgment has been entered as to those parties and their privies." Witkowski v. Welch, 173 F.3d 192, 198 (3d Cir. 1999). The Court must find four requirements are met before barring Gochin's claims as collaterally estopped: "(1) the issue decided in the prior adjudication must be identical with the one presented in the later action; (2) there must have been a final judgment on the merits; (3) the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted must have been a party or in privity with the party to the prior adjudication; and (4) the party against whom collateral estoppel is asserted must have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in question in the prior adjudication." Id. at 199.
The majority of Gochin's Complaint repeats allegations against TJU, Torrissi, and the federal judges that have been litigated in the underlying action, although Gochin couches some of those allegations in new theories of relief under federal and state racketeering and conspiracy statutes. Throughout the underlying litigation, Gochin filed numerous motions and letters accusing defense counsel of bad faith and misconduct, and Judge Diamond of bias, conspiring with the defendants, and denying her due process. See Gochin v. Thomas Jefferson Univ., No. 13-7559, Order (E.D. Pa. Nov. 3, 2015). Judge Diamond denied each of Gochin's motions seeking relief from the alleged misconduct.
Gochin appealed Judge Diamond's Order, but the Third Circuit dismissed the appeal as untimely. See id. Gochin also filed a motion seeking reconsideration of Judge Diamond's Order pursuant to Rule 60(b)(3),
Gochin filed a petition for en banc review of the Third Circuit's Orders dismissing and denying her appeals, asserting the Third Circuit abused its discretion and the appellate judges violated the code of conduct by failing to recuse themselves. See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. 9, Pet. for En Banc and Panel Review of Mot. 60(b). The Third Circuit denied both petitions. See Gochin v. Thomas Jefferson Univ., No. 15-3924, Order (3d Cir. July 1, 2016); Gochin v. Thomas Jefferson Univ., No. 15-4059, Order (3d Cir. August 31, 2016).
Gochin's allegations of abuse of process and conspiracy before this Court reiterate claims she previously brought against the same parties in the prior adjudication, and because Gochin had a "full and fair opportunity to litigate" those issues, her claims are also barred by collateral estoppel.
TJU also argues the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Gochin's racketeering claim brought under 18 Pa. C.S. § 911. The Court agrees. See Malley-Duff & Assocs., Inc. v. Crown Life Ins. Co., 792 F.2d 341, 348 (3d Cir. 1986), aff'd sub nom. Agency Holding Corp. v. Malley-Duff & Assocs., Inc., 483 U.S. 143 (1987) ("Pennsylvania's RICO-type statute, 18 Pa. [C.S.] § 911 . . . does not provide for a private cause of action.); see also Siegel Transfer, Inc. v. Carrier Exp., Inc., 54 F.3d 1125, 1139 (3d Cir. 1995) ("[T]he existence of a private cause of action is a jurisdictional requirement." (citing Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc. v. Thompson, 478 U.S. 804 (1986))). Gochin's 18 Pa. C.S. § 911 claim against TJU and Torrissi is therefore dismissed.
TJU argues Gochin's RICO claim must also be dismissed for failure to state a claim. The civil RICO statute allows "[a]ny person injured in his business or property by reason of a violation of section 1962 . . . [to] sue therefor." 18 U.S.C. § 1964(c). Thus, a "plaintiff only has standing if, and can only recover to the extent that, he has been injured in his business or property by the conduct constituting the violation [of RICO]." Maio v. Aetna, Inc., 221 F.3d 472, 483 (3d Cir. 2000) (citation omitted) (alteration in original). The "injury to business or property" requirement must be satisfied by "proof of a concrete financial loss and not mere injury to a valuable intangible property interest." Id.
Here, Gochin lacks standing to pursue a RICO claim, as she fails to allege she has suffered a concrete financial loss.
Finally, TJU and Torrissi assert dismissal of Gochin's federal civil rights claims, which she brings pursuant to §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, is warranted. The Court agrees.
"To establish a right to relief under § 1981, a plaintiff must show (1) that he belongs to a racial minority; (2) an intent to discriminate on the basis of race by the defendant; and (3) discrimination concerning one or more of the activities enumerated in § 1981." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n., 288 F.3d 548, 569 (3d Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted). Gochin has failed to allege any of these three elements and her § 1983 claim will be dismissed.
To state a claim under § 1983, "a plaintiff must plead a deprivation of a constitutional right and that the constitutional deprivation was caused by a person acting under the color of state law." Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 235 (3d Cir. 2008). Because TJU and Torrissi are not state actors, the § 1983 claim fails. See Brown v. Philip Morris Inc., 250 F.3d 789, 806 (3d Cir. 2001) (affirming district court's dismissal of § 1983 claim where plaintiff failed to demonstrate defendants should be regarded as state actors). Gochin argues that because the "legal industry is regulated by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court," TJU and Torrissi's conduct is fairly attributable to the state. Resp. 13. However, TJU is a private university with no state involvement,
Gochin's conspiracy claim under § 1985 claim also fails. Although Gochin fails to identify the particular subsections of § 1985 under which she brings suit, the Court construes her claims to allege violations under §§ 1985(2) and (3). Both § 1985(2) and § 1985(3) require "the conspirators' actions be motivated by an intent to deprive their victims of the equal protect of the laws" and a "class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus." Kush v. Rutledge, 460 U.S. 719, 725 (1983); see also Brawer v. Horowitz, 535 F.2d 830, 840 (3d Cir. 1976). Gochin, however, fails to plead any facts supporting her § 1985 claims beyond vague allegations that Defendants conspired to "abuse the process." Compl. 11. She has also failed to plead facts establishing any "class-based discriminatory animus" behind TJU and Torrissi's actions. The § 1985 claim therefore fails. See Robinson v. McCorkle, 462 F.2d 111, 113 (3d Cir. 1972) (affirming district court's dismissal of § 1985(3) claim against judge, attorney, and clerk where plaintiff's conspiracy allegations were "unsupported by any specific facts" and the complaint "fail[ed] to make a sufficient showing under [§ 1985(3)] that [plaintiff] was denied equal protection of the law").
B. Federal Defendants
Gochin generally alleges "there is a network of judges who are selling outcomes of cases to the highest bidder." Compl. 5. With respect to Judge Diamond, Gochin alleges the Judge substantially delayed the underlying matter, was biased against her, conspired with the other Defendants, and issued a legally insufficient opinion dismissing the case. Gochin also alleges certain judges in the Third Circuit violated the judicial disciplinary procedures in handling her disciplinary complaint and violated her rights in handling her appeals from the District Court's orders. The Government argues Gochin's claims against the federal Defendants are barred by judicial immunity.
"It is well-settled that a judicial officer in the performance of his or her duties has absolute immunity from suit for damages and will not be liable for his or her judicial acts." Rush v. Wiseman, No. 09-4385, 2010 WL 1705299, at *7 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 27, 2010) (citing Azubuko v. Royal, 443 F.3d 302 (3d Cir. 2006)). In determining whether judicial immunity applies, a court conducts a two-party inquiry: (1) whether the challenged actions were taken in the judge's judicial capacity; and (2) whether the actions, even if judicial in nature, were taken in the complete absence of jurisdiction. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991); see Gallas v. Supreme Ct. of Pa., 211 F.3d 760, 768 (3d Cir. 2000).
The claims asserted against the federal Defendants arise solely from actions undertaken in the adjudication of the underlying matter; that is, in their capacity as judges in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, and within their jurisdiction. Gochin's conspiracy allegations, like those of bad faith and corruption, do not render the judges' actions non-judicial, and thus do not affect their immunity. See Rush, 2010 WL 1705299, at *8 ("Judicial immunity extends to situations where a plaintiff alleges that a judge took his or her actions as a result of a conspiracy between the judge and other lawyers in the case."). Because the federal Defendants acted within their judicial capacity and jurisdiction, they are immune from liability.
Gochin also seeks damages against the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Third Circuit, generally asserting the "U.S. Courts have failed to adequately protect its citizens[,] including herself, from judicial corruption," Compl. 33, and claiming the administrative offices of the District Court and Court of Appeals "refused to comply with [her] request for statistics, information and records on the outcomes of discrimination cases in Pennsylvania federal courts," Compl. 9. The offices and employees of the Courts, however, are also entitled to judicial immunity. See Turack v. Guido, 464 F.2d 535, 536 (3d Cir. 1972) (affirming dismissal of complaint against court administrator, as "judicial officers are immune from damage suits growing out of their official duties"); Marcedes v. Barrett, 453 F.2d 391 (3d Cir. 1971) (applying quasi-judicial immunity to clerk of courts, an administrative assistant to the president judge, and a court reporter). The doctrine of absolute judicial immunity therefore bars Gochin's claims for monetary damages against the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Third Circuit.
Gochin argues the federal Defendants are not protected by judicial immunity because, in addition to damages, she seeks declaratory and injunctive relief. See Compl. 38-39 (requesting a "declaratory judgment establish[ing] [the judges'] participation in a conspiracy against [Gochin]," and "against the laws of the United States"); Resp. 5 (seeking "a declaration that her civil rights ha[ve] been violated by being denied a jury trial and an impartial tribunal," and injunctive relief "that would provide justice in this matter, such as voiding the orders of the Defendant judges").
To obtain injunctive relief, a plaintiff must allege facts demonstrating the likelihood that she will suffer future injury. See O'Callaghan v. Hon. X., 661 F. App'x 179, 182 (3d Cir. 2016). Similarly, "[d]eclaratory judgment is inappropriate solely to adjudicate past conduct." Corliss v. O'Brien, 200 F. App'x 80, 84 (3d Cir. 2006); see O'Callaghan, 661 F. App'x at 182 (noting a declaratory judgment "is meant to define the legal rights and obligations of the named parties in anticipation of future conduct, not to proclaim their liability for past actions"). Although judicial immunity does not bar "prospective injunctive relief against a judicial officer acting in her judicial capacity," Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 541-42 (1984), judicial immunity bars suits for injunctive relief except in the "very limited circumstances" where "a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable." Rush, 2010 WL 1705299, at *10 (citing Azubuko v. Royal, 443 F.3d 302, 303-04 (3d Cir. 2006)).
Here, with respect to the requested equitable relief, Gochin essentially seeks reversal of the Courts' decisions in the underlying closed discrimination case. Such retrospective relief is unavailable. See Corliss, 200 F. App'x at 84 (denying requested declarations that plaintiff's constitutional rights had been violated and defendants' conduct violated state penal laws, as plaintiff was "not seeking declaratory relief in the true legal sense"); Rush, 2010 WL 1705299, at *11 (denying request for declaration that the judge "conspired with other defendants to violate [plaintiff's] . . . federal constitutional rights through her rulings and decisions," as plaintiff failed to ask for "declaratory relief in the legal sense"). Further, Gochin's "claim[s] for injunctive relief [are] barred by judicial immunity because a declaratory decree has not been violated and declaratory relief is not unavailable per se." Rush, 2010 WL 1705299, at *11; see Azubuko, 443 F.3d at 304 (holding requested injunctive relief barred where plaintiff had "not alleged that a declaratory decree was violated or that declaratory relief [was] unavailable" and "the injunctive relief sought by [plaintiff did] not address the actions of [the judge] other than in his judicial capacity"). Because Gochin's claims against the federal Defendants for damages and injunctive relief are barred, and her claims for declaratory relief are unavailable, the claims will be dismissed.
The Court finds amendment of Gochin's Complaint to cure the pleading deficiencies would be futile and therefore dismisses the Complaint with prejudice. See Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004) (indicating leave to amend a complaint is unnecessary where amendment would be futile).
An appropriate Order follows.
The Court finds Gochin's allegations of TJU and Torrissi's abuse of process— concealment of job openings, bad faith filing of their motion for summary judgment (which the District Court granted), and excessive discovery production—fail to show Defendants used the legal process primarily to accomplish an illegitimate purpose so as to pervert the litigation proceedings. See Gen. Refractories Co., 337 F.3d at 308.