Federal judge dismisses suit against Pa. magisterial district judge

Jon Campisi Jan. 26, 2012, 4:05pm

A federal judge in Philadelphia has granted a local judge’s motion to have a complaint against him by two property owners dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Thomas O’Neill, Jr. dismissed the complaint against Magisterial District Judge William R. Householder that had been filed by Richard Giuliani, Sr. and Richard Giuliani, Jr.

The Giulianis had sued the municipal jurist, along with Springfield Township, the township’s board of commissioners, the local Zoning Hearing Board, the township manager and the township code enforcement officer, alleging “an unremitting campaign of harassment and discrimination, spanning the better part of fifteen years, aimed at divesting Plaintiffs of every economically viable use of their property,” according to the judicial ruling, which was filed at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The plaintiffs claimed that Householder, who owns an adjoining property, lodged complaints against the two and “unilaterally issued citations based on his own complaints and conducted the evidentiary hearings and imposed fines, thereby depriving Plaintiffs of an impartial determination of guilt or innocence,” background information in the ruling states.

The two men had also claimed that sometime between their purchase of their property in 1996 and Householder’s judicial election in 1996, the district judge, who at the time was a local police detective, visited their property while the two were cleaning up and questioned what they were doing.

O’Neill wrote that in deciding the case, he would have to determine whether or not Householder had judicial immunity, which would bar him from being sued in his official capacity.

A judge would be subject to liability, O’Neill wrote, only if he acted in the “clear absence of all jurisdiction.”

The plaintiffs had contended that judicial immunity didn’t apply to their claims against Householder because the complaint emphasized a “concerted pattern of conduct apart from official judicial acts.”

Householder counter-argued that aside from his alleged visitation to the plaintiffs’ property when he was a detective, the only other actions that he was alleged in the complaint to have undertaken were those solely in his role as a judge.

In the end, O’Neill agreed with Householder that he was subject to immunity.

“I agree with Householder and cannot characterize his role in the issuance of the complained of citations and fines as nonjudicial,” O’Neill wrote. “Indeed, in their Complaint plaintiffs themselves recognized that Householder ‘used his position as District Justice’ to enable the issuance of the complained of citations and fines.”

O’Neill also wrote that Householder’s decision not to recuse himself from any matters involving the plaintiffs’ property was protected by judicial immunity.

“Judicial immunity applies to bar plaintiffs’ claims against Householder with respect to his participation in the issuance of citations and fines against them even if, as alleged by plaintiffs, the proximity of Householder’s own residence caused him to hold a bias against industrial activity on plaintiffs’ property,” the ruling states. “I will grant Householder’s motion to dismiss to the extent that it seeks to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims relevant to the citations and fines issued against them.”

O’Neill also ruled that while judicial immunity wouldn’t apply to Householder’s alleged visit to the plaintiffs’ property before he was a district judge, the plaintiffs failed to state a claim in this allegation, another requirement for a suit to move forward.

“That Householder made an unannounced visit to plaintiffs’ property and asked ‘what they were doing,’ more than 12 years prior to the filing of plaintiffs’ Complaint, is not enough to support plaintiffs’ claims that their rights have been violated under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, that Householder participated in a conspiracy to violate their constitutional rights or that he is liable for tortious interference under Pennsylvania law,” O’Neill wrote.

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