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O'Donnell v. Yanchulis

argued: January 26, 1989.

O'DONNELL, WILLIAM E., APPELLANT,
v.
YANCHULIS, JOHN INDIVIDUALLY AND AS CHAIRMAN OF THE WEST MAHANOY TOWNSHIP SUPERVISORS AND LETCAVAGE, JOHN INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A MEMBER OF THE WEST MAHANOY TOWNSHIP SUPERVISORS, AND GRIFFIN, WILLIAM INDIVIDUALLY AND AS A MEMBER OF THE WEST MAHANOY TOWNSHIP SUPERVISORS, AND THE TOWNSHIP OF WEST MAHANOY



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 86-1561.

Gibbons, Chief Judge, Seitz and Greenberg, Circuit Judges.

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

SEITZ, Circuit Judge

Plaintiff William E. O'Donnell appeals from the final order of the district court granting summary judgment in favor of the defendants, township supervisors John Yanchulis, John Letcavage, and William Griffin, and the Township of West Mahanoy. O'Donnell brought this action alleging that his termination by the township supervisors violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by depriving him of his first amendment right to free speech. O'Donnell also alleged that the circumstances of his termination gave rise to a pendent state claim for defamation. O'Donnell seeks only damages, actual and punitive, on both claims.*fn1 This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

I.

As this case is an appeal from the grant of a motion for summary judgment, the facts and reasonable inferences therefrom on the issues decided will be viewed in favor of O'Donnell as the nonmoving party. See Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d Cir. 1976), cert. denied 429 U.S. 1038, 97 S. Ct. 732, 50 L. Ed. 2d 748 (1977).

We first summarize the allegations of O'Donnell's amended complaint. William O'Donnell served as chief of police for the Township of West Mahanoy from September 1976 to May 1985. His duties included issuing traffic and non-traffic citations and initiating criminal complaints for offenses occurring within the township; he supervised subordinate police officers employed by the township who performed the same duties.

In his complaint, O'Donnell alleged that during May and June 1984, the township supervisors asked O'Donnell and his subordinates to "fix" or withdraw certain citations issued by them. He was told that if he refused to comply with the supervisors' requests he would be fired. O'Donnell refused to "fix" or withdraw the citations and informed a local television station of the demands of the supervisors. He was then fired in May 1985.

O'Donnell alleged that his firing at a special meeting of the supervisors was in retaliation for his exercise of his free speech rights in informing a local television station of his allegations against the individual defendants. He further alleged that he was defamed in false statements made by the supervisors at the same special meeting of the township, and later released to the public. They asserted that his firing was based on insubordination and an assault on another officer, as well as the fact that he had slandered and maligned everyone associated with the township.

The defendants filed an answer that may be characterized as denying all material allegations of wrongdoing asserted in the complaint. It also contained numerous other defenses.

Thereafter O'Donnell's deposition was taken and it was filed along with affidavits executed by or on behalf of the opposing parties. Generally speaking, the deposition put in issue, inter alia, the dispute as to the factual basis for O'Donnell's discharge by the defendants. O'Donnell indicated in his deposition testimony that he contacted the local district attorney, the Pennsylvania Treasury Department, and the Pennsylvania State Police, White Collar Crime Unit, asking them to intervene; no prosecutions of the supervisors resulted.

O'Donnell repeated his allegation that he contacted a local television station on February 23, 1985, and disclosed to the public the alleged illegal acts of the township supervisors. During a public meeting of the township supervisors in March 1985, O'Donnell was told by the supervisors that he would be fired if he did not stop making public statements about their actions. O'Donnell continued publicly to expose the actions of the supervisors.

In their affidavits, defendants denied O'Donnell's charges and asserted, inter alia, that his discharge was for reasons other ...


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