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CENTRELLA v. BARTH

April 8, 1986

DOMINIC CENTRELLA
v.
FREDERIC C. BARTH, individually and as Director of Domestic Relations Section, Court of Common Pleas, Berks County; THE BOARD OF JUDGES, Court of Common Pleas, Berks County; DONALD W. BAGENSTOSE, individually and as Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners, Berks County; ANTHONY J. CARABELLO and VERNON K. SHAFFER, individually and as Commissioners, Berks County; and COUNTY OF BERKS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: TROUTMAN

 TROUTMAN, S.J.

 On March 3, 1982, plaintiff Dominic Centrella was hired as an enforcement officer for the Domestic Relations Section of the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County. His appointment was initially for a three-month probationary period. He expected to receive a permanent appointment at the end of that time. Instead, Centrella's probation was extended for three more months and his duties were modified. In September, 1982, Centrella was notified that he was not eligible for a permanent appointment and was discharged.

 Alleging that the termination of his employment violated various federal constitutional rights and state laws, Centrella filed suit against Frederic Barth, his immediate supervisor, the Board of Judges of the Court of Common Pleas of Berks County, the County Commissioners in their official and individual capacities, and the County of Berks. All defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). At plaintiff's invitation, we have considered certain documents outside of the pleadings in reaching our decision. (Exhibits A-E to Plaintiff's Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant Board of Judges' Motion to Dismiss, Doc. #7). Accordingly, we will treat the outstanding motions as motions for summary judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

 Plaintiff's federal claims are based upon the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986. He alleges violations of First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. Pendent state claims include breach of contract, wrongful discharge, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The gravamen of plaintiff's complaint is that he was discharged because he refused to violate state law and both state and federal case-law in connection with the duties he was performing as an enforcement officer. He also alleges "retaliation" for complaining about the allegedly illegal procedures he was instructed to follow.

 At the time of his employment by Berks County, Centrella had recently graduated from the Delaware School of Law of Widener University and was awaiting admission to the bar. *fn1" On the basis of plaintiff's legal interpretations of the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure and the applicability of various federal and state constitutional provisions, he concluded that his duties as defined by defendant Barth, under certain circumstances and at various times, required him to violate the law. During his six months of employment, plaintiff communicated his legal conclusions to the defendants, both informally and through the employee grievance procedures.

 Defendant Barth responded to plaintiff's concerns by giving him other duties within the Domestic Relations Section. Barth also concluded, at the end of the three-month probationary period, that plaintiff was not satisfactorily performing his duties and on that basis extended his probation for another three months. He indicated at that time that plaintiff would be dismissed if he did not show substantial improvement. (Exhibit A to Doc. #7). By September, 1982, Barth concluded that plaintiff had not improved sufficiently and denied him a permanent appointment. The other defendants refused to reinstate Centrella upon his request that they do so.

 The legal standards applicable in deciding a motion to dismiss are both long-standing and well-known. A case will not be dismissed unless plaintiff can prove no set of facts which would entitle him to relief, Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957), and the Court will accept as true the well-pleaded allegations of plaintiff's complaint. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 40 L. Ed. 2d 90, 94 S. Ct. 1683 (1974). Summary judgment standards require that there be no genuine issue of fact in dispute and that the moving party be entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). Both forms of pre-trial termination require that the non-moving party be given the benefit of all reasonable inferences from undisputed facts. Thus, defendants may generally prevail only if plaintiff's version of the facts reveals that they are entitled to judgment.

 There are, however, some limitations placed upon these general principles. In this Circuit, plaintiffs are required to be specific in their allegations of unconstitutional conduct in the context of suits based upon the Civil Rights Acts. Rotolo v. Borough of Charleroi, 532 F.2d 920 (3d Cir. 1976). Moreover, the Court is not required to accept as true conclusions, deductions or opinions simply because they are alleged in the complaint. Only factual averments are entitled to the presumption of truthfulness. See, 2A Moore's Federal Practice, 12-64 (2d Ed. 1985).

 It is in light of these principles that we consider plaintiff's amended complaint. The record upon which we base our decision consists of the amended complaint and the exhibits attached to plaintiff's original brief in response to a motion to dismiss. *fn2" We accept as true the allegations of the complaint insofar as they are specific, factual and not contradicted by plaintiff's exhibits.

 Turning first to Centrella's federal claims, it is apparent that those based upon §§ 1985 and 1986 must be dismissed. Initially, we note that there are no allegations of class-based discrimination in the complaint. Second, even if we were to consider the arguments raised in plaintiff's Brief in Opposition to the Board of Judges' Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (Doc. #14) to the effect that political discrimination is the basis for this claim, it still must fail. This Circuit's consistent position has been that § 1985 is available to redress only those claims arising out of a conspiracy which results from defendants' class-based animus when the composition of the class is determined by an immutable characteristic, such as race. See, e.g., Dudosh v. City of Allentown, et al., 629 F. Supp. 849 (E.D. Pa. 1985), and cases cited therein.

 Finally, were we to accept plaintiff's position that a conspiracy based upon political discrimination is a proper claim under § 1985, or agree to consider the issue, this is not the proper case in which to allow that claim to proceed. Plaintiff asks the Court to consider him a member of a class which includes obligors subject to support enforcement orders issued by the Court, whose rights, privileges and immunities he allegedly sought to protect while an enforcement officer of the Domestic Relations Section. He has, however, failed to specify the nature of the politically-motivated discriminatory animus purportedly harbored by the defendants against this class. More important, he is patently not a member of the class. Nowhere in the complaint, or otherwise, does plaintiff contend that he was at any time an obligor whose rights were abridged. The most he can claim is that he was a collateral victim of the unidentified conspiracy against obligors in which the defendants allegedly participated. Moreover, the allegations of conspiracy themselves are neither specific nor factual. They are conclusions of law based entirely upon plaintiff's own interpretations of statutory and case law. Because we can find no basis for plaintiff's § 1985 claim, his § 1986 claim must be dismissed as well. Brawer v. Horowitz, 535 F.2d 830 (3d Cir. 1976).

 Next, we examine plaintiff's § 1983 claims, considering first the defendant Board of Judges' contention that it is not a suable entity, *fn3" as well as defendants' County of Berks and County Commissioners argument that plaintiff seeks to hold them liable on the theory of respondeat superior.

 Under Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978), a local government may be held liable for § 1983 violations only in limited circumstances when the plaintiff complains about a municipal policy that is not itself unconstitutional. City of Oklahoma v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 53 U.S.L.W. 4639, 85 L. Ed. 2d 791, 105 S. Ct. 2427 (1985; plurality opinion). Here, it is uncertain which policy pursued by the Board of Judges and the County Commissioners is being questioned by the plaintiff. Ordinarily in such a situation, the Court would consider allowing the plaintiff an opportunity to amend the complaint in order to clarify or identify the precise issue. In this ...


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