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Ex-lawmaker not immune from civil action, court says



Published: Thu, January 3, 2008 @ 2:00 a.m.

The nursing home buyers claim the lawmaker’s interference killed the deal.

By LAURE CIOFFI

VINDICATOR PENNSYLVANIA BUREAU

HARRISBURG — A former Lawrence County lawmaker is not immune from a civil lawsuit filed by people involved in the failed sale of the former county nursing home.

The Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court issued a ruling Wednesday denying former state Rep. Frank LaGrotta’s claim that he was immune from the civil action because he was a member of the state Legislature when the actions alleged in the lawsuit occurred.

He is being sued by Sylvan Heights Realty Partners and Americare Management, two companies involved in the sale of Hill View Manor, Lawrence County’s nursing home. The deal fell through in 2005 and the nursing home was eventually closed.

Americare had been managing the nursing home for the county, and Sylvan Heights Realty Partners was interested in buying the home. Both had some common partners.

Sylvan and Americare officials contend in their lawsuit that LaGrotta’s interference caused Lawrence County commissioners to withdraw from the sales and management deals.

This isn’t the only court battle being waged against the former state representative.

LaGrotta, 49, of Ellwood City, was charged late last year by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, alleging he put his sister and niece in jobs for which no work was actually done. The 10-term lawmaker is awaiting trial in that matter.

The civil lawsuit was filed before LaGrotta lost his seat in 2006 to political newcomer Jaret Gibbons of Ellwood City.

LaGrotta, in his court appeal, claimed to have been protected by the U.S. Constitution’s Speech and Debate Clause, which is meant to protect lawmakers while they are performing their duties.

The written court decision states that the nursing home buyers contend that LaGrotta made the allegedly damaging statements to the media and others and not on the state House floor.

The court decision noted that LaGrotta could bring up the immunity issue at a later date in the lawsuit.

LaGrotta did not return a call to comment on the matter.

The state court remanded the lawsuit back to Lawrence County Common Pleas Court.

cioffi@vindy.com


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