The opinion of the court was delivered by: TROUTMAN
BENCH OPINION PROCEEDINGS
THE COURT: This matter, having been called for trial and the defendants having presented certain motions which were responded to and argued before the court yesterday, we find it necessary, therefore, to forthwith dispose of the motion or motions pending before proceeding to the question of trial. Hence, we accomplish that result by virtue of a bench opinion which, unfortunately, is not sometimes presented with the same degree of care as a fully-written opinion which is reflected upon for several weeks and sometimes months.
Before considering the substantive bases of the motion or motions, we note and address plaintiff's contention that a 12(b) motion at this stage of the proceedings should not be entertained by the court because it was untimely made. Rule 12(b) allows certain defenses, among them failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, to be raised by motion before an answer is filed. Obviously, that procedure was not followed here. However, defendants' counsel noted in argument that the original answer was filed pro se before counsel was involved in the case and, therefore, contends that technical deficiencies in the timing of the motion or motions should not preclude the court's consideration thereof. However, there is an alternative basis upon which the court may consider defendants' motion at this time. Subdivision (h)(2) of Rule 12 permits the defense of failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted to be raised by a motion for judgment on the pleadings or at the trial on the merits. Additionally, subdivision (h)(3) of Rule 12 provides that the court shall dismiss an action "whenever it appears by suggestion of the parties or otherwise that the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject matter." This case having been called to trial and questions of the sufficiency of the claim and subject matter jurisdiction having been raised, we will treat the defendants' motion as one for judgment on the pleadings, looking beyond any technical deficiencies, to its substance.
Several issues have been raised in support of the contention that a 1985(3) claim cannot be supported by the facts of this case. Before considering those in appropriate detail, we will review the elements of a 1985(3) claim.
To establish a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), a plaintiff
must allege that the defendants did (1) "conspire to go in disguise on the highway or on the premises of another" (2) "for the purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any person or class of persons of equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws." [He] must then assert that one or more of the conspirators (3) did, or caused to be done, "any act in furtherance of the object of [the] conspiracy", whereby [he] was (4a) "injured in his person or property" or (4b) "deprived of having and exercising any right or privilege of a citizen of the United States." Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88, 102-103, 91 S. Ct. 1790, 29 L. Ed. 2d 338 (1971).
Although the statute reaches private action, it is not "intended to apply to all tortious, conspiratorial interferences with the rights of others." Griffin 403 U.S. at 101. Therefore, to ensure that the statute is not treated as a "general federal tort law," the courts have required as an element of the cause of action that there be "some racial, or perhaps otherwise class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus behind the conspirators' action." Griffin, supra, at 102. In addition, it is important to note that 1985(3) "provides no substantive rights itself; it merely provides a remedy for violation of the rights it designates." Great American Savings and Loan Association v. Novotny, 442 U.S. 366, 372, 60 L. Ed. 2d 957, 99 S. Ct. 2345 (1979).
Defendants have challenged the plaintiff's claim in the first instance by asserting that class-based animus was not alleged and that even if the complaint were amended, plaintiff could not show that he is a member of any class contemplated by the Supreme Court in Griffin. By way of answer, the plaintiff cites cases from the Fourth and Tenth Circuit Courts of Appeals to support his proposition that classes based on religious affiliation are properly covered by 1985(3), and further asserts that he is a member of an identifiable class of Amish Mennonites.
Defendants also contend that plaintiff's claim is more properly the subject of a Title VII action in that it is premised upon an unlawful discharge from employment on the basis of religion. The complaint alleges that the plaintiff was employed as an engineering machinist by the defendant Roy E. Ulrich Supply, Inc. (hereinafter "Ulrich Supply") beginning July, 1979. It further alleges that all employees of Ulrich Supply, including the individual defendants, are members of the Mennonite religious sect. Plaintiff, although born into the Mennonite religious sect, has not for many years, been affiliated with that sect and its members. As a consequence, plaintiff avers that he was subjected to proselytizing from a fellow employee throughout the course of his employment at Ulrich Supply. The persistent nature of this proselytizing forced plaintiff to initiate legal action for harassment against his fellow employee. Plaintiff alleges that he was thereafter threatened with termination of employment by defendant Roy Ulrich if he did not drop his lawsuit and, further, adhere to the Mennonite religious beliefs. His refusal to so act led the individual defendants, Roy Ulrich, Ross Ulrich and Lester Hershey, to conspire and deprive plaintiff of his right to practice his religious beliefs. It is alleged that this conspiracy manifested itself in plaintiff's termination from employment on August 14, 1981.
Defendants cite Great American Savings and Loan Association v. Novotny, 442 U.S. 366, 99 S. Ct. 2345, 60 L. Ed. 2d 957 (1979) in support of their position that a 1985(3) action is impermissible when the subject matter of the claim falls within the purview of Title VII.
In Novotny, plaintiff alleged he was discharged from his employment because he had spoken out against a policy of his employer and its directors to deny women equal employment opportunity. Said policy was in essence a conspiracy motivated by an invidious animus against women. The Supreme Court found that Novotny's claim really arose from a conspiracy to violate Section 704(a) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a). The question the Court faced, therefore, was "whether the rights created by Title VII may be asserted within the remedial framework of 1985(3)." Novotny, supra ...