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The Middle District of Pennsylvania offers a database of opinions for the years 1999 to present, listed by year and judge. For a more detailed search, enter the keyword or case number in the search box above.

Judge Christopher C. Conner

Defendant Jonathan Lee Debus pled guilty on September 12, 2022, to one count of receiving child pornography in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 2252A(a)(2). Presently before the court are the parties’ memoranda in aid of sentencing. In addition to addressing the salient 18 U.S.C. § 3553(a) factors, Debus objects to application of a pair of five-level enhancements to his offense level. The first implicates defendants who “engaged in a pattern of activity involving the sexual abuse or exploitation of a minor,” see U.S.S.G. § 2G2.2(b)(5) (U.S. SENT’G COMM’N 2018); the second applies when the offense of conviction involves 600 or more images of child pornography, see id. § 2G2.2(b)(7)(D). We will sustain Debus’s objection to the pattern-of-activity enhancement and overrule his objection based upon the number of images attributed to him.

Although most memories fade over the years, certain events are so punctuated by overwhelming circumstances and emotions that no amount of time can erase their mark. Tragically, for many young citizens of our Commonwealth, the day they were adjudicated delinquent by former judge, now convicted felon, Mark A. Ciavarella (“Ciavarella”), is such an event. Last fall, this court received testimony from over 300 witnesses, who testified for the very first time about their experiences between January 2003 and May 2008 in Luzerne County juvenile court. Their collective testimony paints the portrait of justice derailed by a presiding judge who ruled with breathtaking arrogance and an unfathomable disregard of due process.
Ciavarella, along with his codefendant, former judge and fellow convicted felon, Michael T. Conahan (“Conahan”), orchestrated the shutdown of Luzerne County juvenile facilities in 2002 to make way for new detention centers. Unbeknownst to the public, however, both Ciavarella and Conahan received massive payouts for their assistance in the construction and eventual filling of the new detention centers. After these misdeeds came to light, plaintiffs initiated suit against various individuals and entities responsible for this scheme. Plaintiffs entered into a series of settlements with all culpable defendants except Ciavarella and Conahan. Our colleague, the late Judge A. Richard Caputo, previously entered judgment against Ciavarella and Conahan and, consequently, the only matter pending before the court is the issue of damages.
1 Having heard plaintiffs’ testimony and carefully considered the applicable law, we will award plaintiffs both compensatory and punitive damages.

Plaintiff Carlton Theodore Landis, a prisoner who was housed at all relevant times at the United States Penitentiary, in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (“USP Lewisburg”), filed an amended complaint against defendants Senior Officer Moyer and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (“BOP”), purporting to sue them under Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), state tort law, and the Administrative Procedures Act. Before the court are defendants’ motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment; Landis’s motion for reconsideration; and Landis’s motion for a preliminary injunction. For the reasons set forth below, we will grant defendants’ motion to dismiss. Because our analysis begins and ends with defendants’ dispositive motion, we do not consider the merits of Landis’s motions.

Plaintiff David E. Hill, an individual currently incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, commenced this action pursuant to Bivens v. Six Unknown Federal Narcotics Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971), alleging various constitutional violations during his incarceration at the United States Penitentiary in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania (“USP Lewisburg”). The remaining defendants are Warden B. Bledsoe and Lieutenants J. Hepner, M. Saylor, M. Edinger, and P. Carrasquilla. Hill’s two remaining claims arise under the Eighth Amendment: he contends that defendants subjected him to excessive force and unconstitutional conditions of confinement while he was in four-point restraints for a period of approximately 43 hours in June 2010. Defendants move for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, asserting that the court should decline to extend the Bivens remedy to Hill’s remaining claims. For the reasons set forth below, the court will grant defendants’ motion.

Plaintiff John Doe alleges 14 claims against several defendants, all arising out of denial of insurance coverage for his gender confirmation surgery. Doe alleges claims against his employer, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its Department of Human Services; the Pennsylvania Employees Benefit Trust Fund and its board and trustees; and several defendants representing his insurance company, Highmark Health Insurance. Doe asserts employment discrimination claims under various federal and state statutes, healthcare discrimination under federal law, and claims for violation of both the United States Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Plaintiffs Leonttayy Amir Pratt and Lamont Robinson filed this action seeking equitable and monetary relief for alleged violations of their civil rights committed by the Lebanon County Correctional Facility (“LCCF”) and various LCCF administrators. Specifically, plaintiffs allege that LCCF punished them for refusing to cut off their dreadlocks—an act which would violate plaintiffs’ sincerely held religious beliefs—and discriminated against them on the basis of race.

Presently pending before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant AFSCME Council 13, (“the Motion”). (Doc. 24). The instant claims arose when Plaintiffs, all public employees of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, attempted to resign their memberships in the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 13, (“the Union”). (Doc. 18 at ¶¶ 50-51). While, Plaintiffs allege, the Union does “not consider Plaintiffs [. . .] to be members of Council 13” at present, it has nevertheless continued to deduct union membership dues from each Plaintiff’s paycheck. (Id. at ¶ 54). Plaintiffs now aver that this conduct is in violation of the Supreme Court’s recent holding that unions cannot compel non-member public employees to pay dues or fees to a union as a condition of employment. (Id. ¶ 2 (citing Janus v. AFSCME, Council 31, 138 S. Ct. 2448, 2486 (2018))). The Union disagrees, arguing that Janus does not apply and asks us to dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint in its entirety. For the reasons that follow, we will grant the Motion.

Presently pending before the Court is the Motion of Commonwealth Defendants to Dismiss Plaintiffs’ Complaint, (“the Motion”), filed by Thomas W. Wolf, Michael Newsom, and Brian T. Lyman (collectively, “the Commonwealth Defendants”). (Doc. 22). The instant claims arose when Plaintiffs, all public employees of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, attempted to resign their memberships in the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 13, (“the Union”). (Doc. 18 at ¶¶ 50-51).

This case arises from the economic havoc wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic. Plaintiffs operated a restaurant that, like far too many businesses across the country, had no choice but to close its doors soon after the virus reached the United States last spring. Plaintiffs submitted a claim to their insurance company, hoping that their business losses would be covered in their all-risk policy.

Defendant United Natural Foods, Inc. (“UNFI”), a Rhode Island corporation, maintains a wholesale food distribution operation in York, PA. On December 16, 2019, UNFI hired Plaintiff Dennis Warner as a loader at that York location.

In the months immediately thereafter, the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. On March 6, 2020, Governor Wolf declared a state of emergency pursuant to 35 Pa. C.S. § 7301(c). (Id. at ¶ 10). On March 19, Governor Wolf issued an executive order prohibiting all non-life sustaining businesses from operating. (Id. at ¶ 11). For those essential businesses permitted to remain open, compliance with certain mitigation efforts, such as social distancing protocols, was mandated. (Id.). Because Defendant UNFI is a wholesale food distributor, it qualified as an “essential” business and was permitted to remain in operation subject to those mitigation standards. (Id. at ¶ 19).