Nicholas Malfitano Jan. 13, 2016, 2:13pm


PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has upheld a trial court’s dismissal of state law and civil conspiracy claims levied against a municipal judge and other defendants in the city’s legal and medical communities.

Judges Thomas L. Ambro, Thomas M. Hardiman and Richard L. Nygaard ruled Thursday that Karen Sarpolis’ appeal of the U.S. District Court’s dismissal of her aforementioned claims would not proceed.

In 2005, Sarpolis filed a complaint in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, alleging her daughter died as a result of medical malpractice in Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill Hospital. 

In December 2008 and January 2009, some pre-trial motions in the case were assigned to Judge Allan Tereshko, who ordered the parties to attend a settlement conference. When the Court was informed the parties reached a settlement, Tereshko issued an order stating the case would no longer be on the list for trial, except if any party requested so by written motion.

According to court records, Sarpolis or her then-counsel filed no such motion.

Sarpolis filed another suit in 2013 against Tereshko, charging he was part of a “wide-ranging conspiracy to defraud her and devalue her malpractice claim," along with alleged co-conspirators consisting of his wife, Heather Tereshko, her employer law firm Post & Schell in Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Community Health Network and Community Health Systems, Inc. Heather Tereshko was dismissed from the case in June.

Sarpolis alleged the above medical defendants were guilty of “tampering with evidence, witnesses and judges in the pending malpractice cases” and Tereshko conspired with his spouse and her firm to have the case transferred to his jurisdiction, for the express purpose of steering the case in the defense’s favor.

According to Sarpolis, these counts amounted to alleged violations of Pennsylvania state law (with fraud as the object of the conspiracy per that count) and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) Act. Citation of the RICO Act saw the case removed to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The District Court denied all of Sarpolis’ claims, stated the fraud claim was barred by the two-year statute of limitations and she was not entitled to statutory tolling due to not exercising diligence in her filings. But, the Court did not explain its decision to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state-law civil conspiracy and fraud claims. 

After a motion to reconsider the case and remand it was denied, Sarpolis retained counsel and appealed to the Third Circuit. However, the Third Circuit found Sarpolis’ arguments on the trial court’s use of supplemental jurisdiction as “unpersuasive”.

Ambro said, “Sarpolis’ primary argument is that the District Court erred in exercising supplemental jurisdiction and dismissing her claims without addressing the merits of her claims for fraudulent misrepresentation and fraud in the inducement.”

The Third Circuit believed Sarpolis’ amended complaint did not list any counts of fraudulent misrepresentation, nor explain how that same claim is different from the general claim of fraud already decided by the District Court.

“The Court was not required to give a supplemental jurisdiction analysis before dismissing the fraudulent inducement claim,” Ambro said.

The Third Circuit posited an affirmative justification for the trial court exercising supplemental jurisdiction was found in their analysis of Sarpolis’ fraud claim being time-barred.

Ambro added, “The interest of judicial economy thus justified the District Court’s retaining jurisdiction over the fraudulent inducement claim”, and a remand would have “wasted judicial resources” by mandating the defendants make identical arguments in state court.

Sarpolis also claims that the District Court erred in dismissing her civil conspiracy claim because the element of malice was adequately pleaded – but the Third Circuit replied even if Sarpolis correctly pleaded said malice, “She failed to state a civil conspiracy claim because, as the District Court held, the underlying claim of fraud is time-barred.”

Ambro stated the trial court acted correctly in its decisions and ruled to affirm them.

The plaintiff’s counsel listing in this matter was not available.

The defendants are represented by Mary E. Butler of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts and John M. Myers and Jessica L. Richman of Montgomery, McCracken, Walker & Rhoads, all in Philadelphia; plus Stuart Turville O’Neal III of Burns White, in West Conshohocken.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 14-3291

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:13-cv-05521

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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