Federal Court Dismisses Trump's Suit Against Gaming Control Board
Concludes that Board is entitled to absolute, quasi-judicial immunity
HARRISBURG, PA: The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit today reversed an earlier decision of the district court and dismissed all counts against the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board alleged by Keystone Development Redevelopment Partners, LLC, Donald Trump's losing applicant in 2006 for a Category 2 casino license in Philadelphia.
This is the second court ruling on the 2006 decision of the Board. The licensing decision to award and deny licenses in Philadelphia had previously been upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2007.
In issuing its ruling, the Court concluded that Gaming Control Board members are entitled to absolute, quasi-judicial immunity from lawsuits brought against them in their individual capacities based on the exercise of their duties. Quasi-judicial immunity recognizes that certain government officials who act in a capacity similar to a judge are immune from suits for money damages to assure that those individuals can perform their functions without harassment or intimidation and fear of liability.
As background, on March 18, 2009, Keystone filed an amended complaint in the District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against the members of the Gaming Board -- those currently serving as well as those serving on December 2006 when the licensing decision was made -- seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of its constitutional rights under the Commerce Clause of Article I, Section 8, the First Amendment, and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
The district court dismissed the counts against the current Board members who did not participate in the 2006 decision but held against those members who did vote on the license in the counts for damages.
Today's decision by the Court of Appeals reversed that ruling and dismissed the entire case.
In doing so, the Board's Chief Counsel R. Douglas Sherman said the majority opinion unequivocally held that the Board members function in a quasi-judicial capacity when ruling on matters affecting applicants and license.
"This finding was premised on the institutional safeguards and processes which the Board has built and implemented to project the impartiality and integrity of the decision-making process," Sherman said. "The Board has been resolute in its determination to avoid partisanship and inappropriate influence in its decisions, and believes that the Court's decision today is an affirmation that its processes are accomplishing the goal."
A copy of the court ruling can be downloaded from the Board's web site, www.pgcb.state.pa.us. A link to the document is on the home page under the "What's New" section.
About the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board
The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board was established in 2004 with the passage of Act 71, also known as the Race Horse Development and Gaming Act. Pennsylvania's first new state agency in nearly 40 years, the Gaming Control Board is tasked to oversee all aspects of the state's casino industry. To date, with ten casinos in operation, legalized gaming in the Commonwealth has created, or helped race track facilities retain, nearly 14,000 living wage jobs, provided property tax reduction in each of the past three years for all homeowners, produced revenue that has reinvigorated Pennsylvania's horse racing industry, and provided a new stream of tax revenue to local governments that has funded scores of community projects. A wealth of information about the Gaming Control Board and Pennsylvania's gaming industry can be found at www.pgcb.state.pa.us. At this web site, visitors can view videos of Board meetings and on the operation of the PGCB, obtain information on identifying a gambling problem and gaining assistance, look up future meeting schedules and past meeting transcripts, access an interactive map of casino locations, request a speaker for their group, along with much more information.
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