Criminal Investigation • Wiretap Act • County District Attorney • Collateral Estoppel

Guarrasi v. Gibbons, PICS Case No. 14-1128 (Pa. Super. July 17, 2014) (memorandum) Jenkins, J. (17 pages).

The Superior Court exercised jurisdiction over this appeal involving alleged violations of 16 P.S. §§1405 and 4405 by the district attorney, as there were no objections, and found that under collateral estoppel principles, plaintiff was precluded from arguing that there were any Wiretap Act violations. Affirmed.

On March 2, 2004, plaintiff was arrested and charged with attempted murder, solicitation to commit murder and numerous related offenses. Thereafter, he entered a plea of nolo contendere to attempted murder and guilty pleas to multiple counts of attempted aggravated assault, attempted kidnapping and several other offenses.

In 2007, plaintiff filed this action against the Diane Gibbons, the District Attorney of Bucks County, for willful and gross negligence under 16 P.S. §§1405 and 4405.

In 2009, plaintiff filed an action in the Commonwealth Court, demanding that Chief Deputy District Attorney Gambardella and two detectives involved in the investigation of his criminal activity be removed from office for alleged violations of the Wiretap Act. After a bench trial, the Commonwealth Court found in favor of the county detectives. The Supreme Court affirmed.

In April 2011, plaintiff filed an amended complaint in this action – he no longer demanded criminal prosecution against Gibbons. Rather, he only requested that she be censored, suspended and expelled from office under §§1405 and 4405 for violating the Wiretap Act and disclosing intercepted information to the public even though such information was under court seal.

Gibbons moved for summary judgment, asserting that the final disposition in the Commonwealth Court defeated plaintiff’s action against her under the doctrine of collateral estoppel. The trial court granted Gibbons’s motion for summary judgment and plaintiff filed this appeal.

The Superior Court noted that an appeal from the dismissal of an action under §§1405 and/or 4405 lies within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Commonwealth Court. However, even when an appeal falls within the Commonwealth Court’s jurisdiction, the Superior Court may exercise jurisdiction over the appeal when the parties do not object. Since Gibbons did not object, the court accepted jurisdiction over this appeal.

The Superior Court explained that plaintiff had no right to relief under §1405 since this statute does not apply to district attorneys in second class A counties, such as Gibbons. Plaintiff’s appeal under §4405 also failed, as his challenge was moot. Under the mootness doctrine, “an actual case or controversy must be extant at all stages of review[.]“

In this matter, there was no longer any live dispute, the court observed. When plaintiff filed his action, a live controversy existed under §4405 because Gibbons was still the district attorney of Bucks County. However, Gibbons resigned at the end of 2007; thus, the remedy sought by plaintiff became moot. In addition, plaintiff abandoned his original demand for Gibbons’s criminal prosecution.

Moreover, even if plaintiff’s action under §4405 was not moot, the trial court properly entered summary judgment, the court reasoned. The Commonwealth Court had already determined that no Wiretap Act violations had occurred. Thus, under collateral estoppels principles, plaintiff was precluded from arguing here that there were any Wiretap Act violations. Accordingly, the court affirmed.