claims which are cognizable under the Constitution or laws of the United States. Additionally, the defendants maintain that they are immune from suit under the doctrines of absolute or qualified immunity and that
any state law claims made by Puricelli are barred by the statute of limitations.
Between 1979 and 1989, Puricelli, worked as a part time police officer for Wrightstown Township and the Boroughs of Yardley and Morrisville. Puricelli alleges that the causes of action arose while he was employed by these police departments.
Puricelli worked as a part time police officer for the Borough of Morrisville ("Morrisville") from 1979 to 1984 when he was discharged.
When he applied for employment with Morrisville, Puricelli stated on his employment application that he had been arrested, convicted and had served a term of probation for possessing a controlled substance.
Chief Merker ("Merker") of the Morrisville police force investigated and fleshed out the circumstances surrounding Puricelli's arrest.
In February 1984, after his discharge from the Morrisville police force, Puricelli applied for and received a part time position with the Wrightstown Township ("Wrightstown") police force. (Puricelli Depo. of 7/2/91 at 82-83.) During his tenure with the Wrightstown police force Puricelli and Chief Walter Hughes ("Hughes") became embroiled in several disputes.
Despite their differences, Puricelli worked for Wrightstown until September 1988 when he moved to Michigan to begin law school.
The Wrightstown police force disbanded on December 31, 1988.
During the last six months of his employment with Wrightstown, Puricelli became the subject of a criminal investigation involving an investigatory grand jury. This investigation, conducted by Dale Reichley, an assistant district attorney for Bucks County and Detectives Brosha and Armitage, also of the Bucks County District Attorney's office, centered upon Puricelli's possible involvement in the alleged mishandling of abandoned cars in the area.
The investigation did not result in the filing of any charges against Puricelli or in his arrest, and the investigatory grand jury disbanded without indicting him. However, during the course of the investigation, Hughes, Reichley, Brosha and Armitage interviewed law enforcement officers and other members of the community about Puricelli and discussed with them Puricelli's criminal record and his status as the subject of a grand jury investigation.
In 1987, Puricelli obtained part time employment with the Borough of Yardley ("Yardley") police force. (Puricelli Depo. of 7/2/91 at 182.) He worked for Yardley until July 1989 when he was suspended because of a complaint filed against him by Susan Taylor, a defendant in this action and then a member of the Yardley Borough Council.
During 1988, Puricelli again sought employment with the Morrisville police force. (Puricelli Depo. of 7/2/91 at 55.) Although he received the top score on the civil service examination, Puricelli failed the psychological examination and consequently did not receive a position with the police force. (Puricelli Depo. of 10/22/91 at 193.)
I. Section 1983
Puricelli's responses to the motions for summary judgment categorize the numerous allegations made in his complaint into five basic claims brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983: (1) harm to his reputation; (2) invasion of his privacy; (3) "malicious prosecution/abuse of process;" (4) deprivation of procedural due process under the Pennsylvania Police Tenure Act and Pennsylvania Borough Code;
and (5) conspiracy to deprive him of his constitutional rights and to convene a grand jury.
In order to state a viable claim for relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 Puricelli must prove (1) "that the defendant has deprived him of a right secured by the 'Constitution and laws' of the United States"; and (2) "that the defendant deprived him of this constitutional right 'under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory.'" Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 150, 90 S. Ct. 1598, 1602, 26 L. Ed. 2d 142 (1970). There does not appear to be any dispute between the parties that this "under color of" prong has been met. Rather, the issue is whether Puricelli has shown that the defendants deprived him of any right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States. Puricelli does dispute that the various defendants are entitled to absolute and qualified immunity defenses.
As stated in the companion case of Garner v. Township of Wrightstown, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 90-CV-1228 at 12:
Comporting with the directive of Siegert v. Gilley, 114 L. Ed. 2d 277, 111 S. Ct. 1789 (1991), I begin my analysis by determining whether plaintiff has identified any facts on which he can assert a cognizable Section 1983 claim for relief. Although it is conceivable that these same facts might give rise to one or more state law causes of action, these facts do not give rise to any claim that defendants violated any recognized constitutionally protected right. Because the federal constitution is not intended to serve as a font of tort law creating remedies for private citizens against state action in the absence of a violation of a specific constitutional safeguard, see, e.g, Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 701 (1975), I must enter summary judgment in favor of defendants and against plaintiff on his Section 1983 claims.
This analysis compels the same result in the instant case.
a. The defendants did not injure any constitutionally protected interest in plaintiff's reputation when they disclosed information about his criminal record and made statements about his involvement in activities under investigation by the county grand jury.
My first inquiry regarding Puricelli's harm to his reputation claim is whether the defendants deprived him of any rights secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States when they made false criminal accusations about him and when they disseminated information about his prior criminal record and the grand jury investigation. In his responses to the motions for summary judgment, Puricelli states that the basis of his reputation claim is the United States Supreme Court's decision in Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 96 S. Ct. 1155, 47 L. Ed. 2d 405 (1976)
In Paul v. Davis, the plaintiff brought an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 after the Louisville, Kentucky police department circulated a flyer to area merchants to alert them to possible shoplifters in the area. This flyer contained the plaintiff's photograph and name. Earlier that year, the police arrested the plaintiff for shoplifting but he never was convicted. This flyer came to the attention of the plaintiff's work supervisor who issued him a warning. The plaintiff maintained that the publication of his name and face in the flyer deprived him of his liberty interest accorded under the Fourteenth Amendment because he would suffer impairment to his future employment prospects and because he feared that other shopkeepers would think he was a shoplifter.
The Supreme Court recognized the stigma imposed upon plaintiff by his inclusion in the flyer and the defamatory nature of the publication, however, it refused to hold that an individual's reputation interest deserved procedural due process protection under the liberty or property provisions of the Due Process Clause. Paul, 424 U.S. at 712. Rather, the plaintiff's reputation interest "is simply one of a number which the State may protect against injury by virtue of its tort law... ." Id. at 712. "Petitioners' defamatory publications, however seriously they may have harmed respondent's reputation, did not deprive him of any 'liberty' or 'property' interests protected by the Due Process Clause." Id.
As I stated in Garner at 12-16:
Mr. Garner argues that reputation is a fundamental
liberty interest shielded by procedural due process protections -- an argument that plaintiff predicates on Paul v. Davis, supra, which held that the federal constitution does not extend protection to an individual's reputation alone in the absence of other "tangible" injuries or damages. 424 U.S. at 712 (reputation alone, no matter how seriously harmed, does not implicate any "liberty" or "property" interests protected by the due process clause); see also Siegert v. Gilley, supra, 111 S. Ct. at 1794.