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MCKNIGHT v. SEPTA

October 4, 1977

LEROY McKNIGHT
v.
SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, JAMES C. McCONNON, FRANCIS P. DESMOND, G. ROGER BOWERS, PHILIP R. T. CARROLL, HAROLD E. KOHN, WELDON B. HEYBURN, JOSEPH L. PYLE, JR., ELLEN ANN ROBERTS, ISADORE M. SCOTT, LAWRENCE R. STOLTZ, JOSEPH TRACEY sued Individually and in their official capacities as members of the Transportation Board of the SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, WILLIAM EATON, Individually and in his capacity as General Manager of SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, FRANK X. HUTCHINSON, Individually and in his capacity as Director of Industrial Relations of SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, ROBERT KING, Individually and in his capacity as Director of Security of SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY, KEVIN DUFFY, Individually and in his capacity as Manager of Personnel of SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LUONGO

 Plaintiff, Leroy McKnight, has brought this civil rights action to redress an alleged denial of due process of law during his discharge from the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA). The action arises under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Jurisdiction is based on 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(3)-(4). The defendants are SEPTA, the eleven individuals who comprise the SEPTA Transportation Board, and SEPTA's General Manager and Chief Executive Officer, William Eaton; Director of Industrial Relations, Frank X. Hutchinson; Director of Security, Robert King; and Personnel Manager, Kevin Duffy.

 The complaint alleges: Plaintiff was employed from September 17, 1970 until November 22, 1975 as a special investigator for SEPTA's security division. He was not provided with rules and regulations specifying his duties and responsibilities or stating offenses for which he could be disciplined or discharged. On November 22, 1975, King, the director of security, discharged plaintiff "on the alleged grounds that he [plaintiff] had been intoxicated while at work and that he had failed to perform his designated duties." Plaintiff denied the allegations, offering to take a sobriety test. Defendants refused the offer and would not let plaintiff discuss the discharge with his supervisor. They did not give plaintiff a written statement of the reasons for his discharge or the facts on which it was based and gave him no opportunity to contest the charges made against him. Plaintiff asserts further that at a later unemployment compensation proceeding, defendants arbitrarily changed their reasons for the discharge because of their inability to prove intoxication. As a result of the discharge plaintiff has sustained "loss of reputation in the community and the loss of opportunity for other employment" and "loss of income, economic hardship and emotional distress." He also claims that he lost accumulated vacation pay and retirement fund benefits.

 The complaint charges the defendants with denial of procedural and substantive due process and asserts pendent state claims against them for violation of § 25 of the Metropolitan Transportation Authorities Act of 1963 and breach of the employment contract. Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and costs; a judgment declaring SEPTA's procedures and practices unconstitutional (see Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201-2202); and an order compelling defendants to provide him with a hearing and other procedural rights regarding his discharge, reinstating him to his former position with SEPTA, and granting him back pay, accumulated vacation and retirement benefits, and other equitable relief.

 All of the defendants have moved to dismiss all of plaintiff's claims on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction (Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1)) and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted (Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6)).

 SEPTA moves to dismiss the claims against it because it has been excluded from liability under the Civil Rights Act of 1871. That Act only imposes liability on "persons", *fn1" and it is now firmly established that a state governmental entity such as SEPTA *fn2" is not a "person" within the meaning of the Act. See City of Kenosha v. Bruno, 412 U.S. 507, 37 L. Ed. 2d 109, 93 S. Ct. 2222 (1973); Moor v. County of Alameda, 411 U.S. 693, 706-10, 36 L. Ed. 2d 596, 93 S. Ct. 1785 (1973); Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 187-92, 5 L. Ed. 2d 492, 81 S. Ct. 473 (1961); United States ex rel. Gittlemacker v. County of Philadelphia, 413 F.2d 84, 86 & n. 2 (3d Cir. 1969), cert. denied, 396 U.S. 1046, 24 L. Ed. 2d 691, 90 S. Ct. 696 (1970). Since SEPTA is not liable under the Act, jurisdiction over claims against SEPTA may not be based on 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3)-(4), a provision limited to claims under the 1871 Act. See City of Kenosha, supra.

 Plaintiff seeks to assert claims against SEPTA directly under the Fourteenth Amendment, § 1 of which provides:

 
"No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."

 Jurisdiction for such a claim is based on 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which confers jurisdiction over claims arising under the Constitution if the amount in controversy exceeds $10,000. *fn3" See Mt. Healthy City School District Board of Education v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 277-79, 50 L. Ed. 2d 471, 97 S. Ct. 568 (1977); Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 90 L. Ed. 939, 66 S. Ct. 773 (1946); Gagliardi v. Flint, 564 F.2d 112, 114-116 (3d Cir. 1977); Jones v. McElroy, 429 F. Supp. 848, 855 (E.D. Pa. 1977). SEPTA contends that a cause of action may not be brought directly under the Fourteenth Amendment and that, in any event, plaintiff has failed to meet the $10,000 amount in controversy requirement of § 1331.

 As I explained in a recent opinion, in my view an action for damages against a state governmental entity may not be asserted directly under the Fourteenth Amendment. See Jones v. McElroy, supra, at 853-60. This conclusion is based on an analysis of various policy factors and is in accord with what I perceive to be the recent trend among the cases (see id. at 856-57 & n.10). *fn4" I note, however, that many of the authorities which have refused to recognize a damage action under the Fourteenth Amendment nevertheless recognize a Fourteenth Amendment action against state governmental entities for declaratory or injunctive relief. See, e.g., Mahone v. Waddle, 564 F.2d 1018, slip op. at 69-70 (3d Cir. 1977) (Garth, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part); Crosley v. Davis, 426 F. Supp. 389, 396-97 (E.D. Pa. 1977) (dictum); Patterson v. Ramsey, 413 F. Supp. 523, 528-29 (D. Md. 1976), aff'd per curiam, 552 F.2d 117 (4th Cir. 1977); Bennett v. Gravelle, 323 F. Supp. 203, 216-18 (D. Md.), aff'd, 451 F.2d 1011 (4th Cir. 1971), petition for cert. dismissed, 407 U.S. 917, 92 S. Ct. 2451, 32 L. Ed. 2d 692 (1972). Contra, Pitrone v. Mercadante, 420 F. Supp. 1384, 1389-90 & nn. 14-15 (E.D. Pa. 1976), appeal pending, No. 76-2593 (3d Cir.). I did not consider the question of declaratory or injunctive relief in the Jones opinion, and, in view of my ultimate disposition of this case, I have no need to consider that issue at this time. For the limited purpose of determining the amount in controversy for § 1331 jurisdiction, however, I shall assume that declaratory and injunctive relief may be obtained against SEPTA in this action.

 As the Supreme Court stated in St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Red Cab Co., 303 U.S. 283, 288-89, 82 L. Ed. 845, 58 S. Ct. 586 (1938) --

 
"The rule governing dismissal for want of jurisdiction in cases brought in the federal court is that, unless the law gives a different rule, the sum claimed by the plaintiff controls if the claim is apparently made in good faith. It must appear to a legal certainty that the claim is really for less than the jurisdictional amount to justify dismissal. The inability of plaintiff to recover an amount adequate to give the court jurisdiction does not show his bad faith or oust the jurisdiction." (Footnote omitted.)

 Accord, Hunt v. Washington State Apple Advertising Commission, 432 U.S. 333, , 97 S. Ct. 2434, 2443-44, 53 L. Ed. 2d 383, 45 U.S.L.W. 4746, 4749-50 (1977); Mt. Healthy City School District, supra, 429 U.S. at 276-77. While in an action for damages the jurisdictional amount is determined by the sum of damages claimed, in a civil rights action for equitable relief, "the measure of jurisdiction is the value of the right sought to be protected by injunctive relief." Spock v. David, 469 F.2d 1047, 1052 (3d Cir. 1972), rev'd on other grounds after remand, 424 U.S. 828, 96 S. Ct. 1211, 47 L. Ed. 2d 505 (1976). Determination of this value often is difficult, but assessment can best be made in light of the more general rule that "the jurisdictional amount is to be tested by the value of the object to be gained by complainant." Glenwood Light and Water Co. v. Mutual Light, Heat and Power Co., 239 U.S. 121, 125, 60 L. Ed. 174, 36 S. Ct. 30 (1915); accord, Hunt, supra, 432 U.S. at 333, 97 S. Ct. at 2443, 45 U.S.L.W. at 4750; McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 80 L. Ed. 1135, 56 S. Ct. 780 (1936). See also Illinois v. City of Milwaukee, 406 U.S. 91, 98, 31 L. Ed. 2d 712, 92 S. Ct. 1385 (1972); Ronzio v. Denver & R.G.W.R.R., 116 F.2d 604, 606 (10th Cir. 1940). Part of the equitable relief requested by plaintiff in this action is reinstatement to his former position with SEPTA with full back pay plus interest. I cannot say at this stage of the litigation that as a matter of law plaintiff will not be entitled to that relief. Plaintiff has submitted an affidavit stating that his annual salary at the time of his November 22, 1975 discharge was approximately $11,000, and defendants have not contested that assertion. The claim for reinstatement itself has a value in excess of $10,000, therefore, without regard to the other relief plaintiff requests. As a result, the amount in controversy necessary for jurisdiction over plaintiff's claim against SEPTA under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 is present.

 II. Deprivation of Due Process

 As noted above, § 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits a state from depriving "any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." Plaintiff contends that he has been deprived of both procedural and substantive due process rights. Assessment of this claim requires a determination of whether plaintiff has been deprived of life, liberty, or property and, if so, whether the deprivation occurred without constitutionally required procedural safeguards or for reasons which do not comport with the substantive aspects of due process protection. See, e.g., Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 672, 97 S. Ct. 1401, 1413, 51 L. Ed. 2d 711, 45 U.S.L.W. 4364, 4369 (1977) (procedural due process); Moore v. City of East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494, 97 S. Ct. 1932, 52 L. Ed. 2d 531, 45 U.S.L.W. 4550 (1977) (substantive due process).

 A. Life, Liberty, or Property

 Plaintiff contends that termination of his employment with SEPTA constitutes a deprivation of property. In addition he asserts that the charge of intoxication affected his reputation in the community, depriving him of liberty.

 1. Property

 In Nelson v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, 420 F. Supp. 1374 (E.D. Pa. 1976), I considered a claim nearly identical to that made in this case. Nelson complained that he had been dismissed from SEPTA in violation of procedural and substantive due process guarantees. He contended that the termination of employment deprived him of a property interest, arguing that the provision in § 25(a) of the Metropolitan Transportation Authorities Act of 1963, 66 P.S. § 2025(a), stating that SEPTA employees can only be dismissed for "just cause" *fn5" established a property interest in employment under Pennsylvania law. Surveying Pennsylvania law on the property interest question, I noted that

 
"The Pennsylvania legislature has given no indication as to whether it intended to create a property interest in employment under the Metropolitan Transportation Act, and I have not found any decision of the Pennsylvania courts which decides, or even comments on, the interest in continued employment created by § 2025(a).
 
* * *
 
The absence of state interpretation, legislative or judicial, of that provision of the Act furnishes an unsteady foundation on which to predict how the Pennsylvania courts will ultimately resolve the 'property interest' issue."
 
420 F. Supp. at 1380, 1382.

 Reference to other Pennsylvania employment statutes did not help to ...


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