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Ersek v. Township of Springfield

December 9, 1996

ELLEN ERSEK, *fn*

APPELLANT

v.

TOWNSHIP OF SPRINGFIELD, DELAWARE COUNTY; ANTHONY J. GROSSO; LEE J. JANICZEK; THOMAS V. MAHONEY; JOHN J. MCFADDEN; KITTY JURCIUKONIS; BERNARD E. STEIN; JAMES DEVENNEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES AS COMMISSIONERS OF THE TOWNSHIP OF SPRINGFIELD; GEORGE A. PAGANO, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS FORMER COMMISSIONER OF THE TOWNSHIP OF SPRINGFIELD; JO ANN HUNN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER CAPACITY AS FORMER COMMISSIONER OF THE TOWNSHIP OF SPRINGFIELD; MICHAEL T. LEFEVRE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS TOWNSHIP MANAGER OF THE TOWNSHIP OF SPRINGFIELD; JOSEPH STUMPF, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS CHIEF OF POLICE OF THE TOWNSHIP OF SPRINGFIELD; JOHN W. RYAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS POLICE DETECTIVE OF THE TOWNSHIP OF SPRINGFIELD; JAMES F. DEVANEY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS POLICE OFFICER OF THE TOWNSHIP OF SPRINGFIELD



On Appeal From the United States District Court For the Eastern District of Pennsylvania D.C. No. 92-cv-04673

Before: BECKER and MANSMANN, Circuit Judges, and BROTMAN, District Judge. *fn**

BECKER, Circuit Judge.

Amended per Court's order of 11/27/96.

Argued: June 3, 1996

Filed December 9, 1996

OPINION OF THE COURT

William Ersek, a golf professional who suffered employment reverses incident to adverse newspaper reports about an investigation of his stewardship at a Township-owned golf course, brought a federal civil rights action, 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983, against the Township and a number of its top officials on account of false statements made by one of the officials about the matter. Ersek's appeal from the grant of summary judgment in favor of the defendants raises a number of interesting questions under Section(s) 1983. However, his claim founders because there is insufficient evidence to show that the false statements themselves caused him harm. Accordingly, we will affirm the grant of summary judgment for defendants.

I.

From 1963 until the end of 1991, Ersek was employed as the golf professional at a municipally owned and operated golf course, the Springfield Country Club, in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. From 1963 until 1987, Springfield Township employed Ersek pursuant to successive one-year employment contracts. In 1987, Ersek signed a four-year contract. Ersek's duties as the Springfield golf pro were varied: he managed the pro shop and snack bar at the course, supervised the other employees at the course, and collected the fees for playing the course and renting the golf carts.

During the summer of 1989, a Township employee, responding to complaints by Ersek that construction on the golf course had resulted in a lower volume of paying golfers, counted the golfers on the course. The Township employee noticed that the number of golfers actually on the course did not correspond to the number of golfers Ersek reported to the Township. Michael Lefevre, the Township Manager and a defendant in the case, noticed the same discrepancies. The matter was referred to the Township police. After some investigation in the fall of 1989, the police decided to conduct surveillance during the spring and summer of 1990. The police inspection uncovered further discrepancies.

In August 1990, the police and Township employees notified the Township Board of Commissioners ("the Board"), a defendant in the case, of the results of their probe. Until that time, no member of the Board knew of the investigation. Bernard Stein, the President of the Board and also a defendant, informed the police that the Board would be willing to prosecute Ersek criminally if there were sufficient evidence to do so. After obtaining a search warrant, the police carried out a search of the pro shop and seized records stored therein. Ersek volunteered to the police that he kept additional records at his home. The police obtained a second search warrant and then made a search of Ersek's home, seizing documents stored there as well.

The Board discussed the Ersek case at a public meeting six days after the police searches. Stein read a public statement, earlier approved by the entire Board in executive session, concerning the case. Lefevre had also attended the executive session. The statement falsely claimed that the Board had not only been aware of the investigation since its outset but also had directed the entire undertaking. The admitted reason for the fabrication was to mislead the Township residents into believing that the Board had been pro-active in overseeing the golf course. The statement did not, however, refer to Ersek nor contain other false claims. After the Township meeting, local newspapers, and also The Philadelphia Inquirer, reported on the investigations and ran stories referring to Ersek by name. *fn1

Ersek had been suffering from health problems and, in the wake of the searches, did not return to work for several months. Although the Township continued to pay him for the time he spent away from the course, it moved to restructure the management of the course. For instance, the Township took control of the pro shop and responsibility for course employees.

Nearing the contract's expiration in 1991, the Township offered to renew Ersek's contract, but under substantially altered terms. The salary under the proposed contract would have been significantly less than that of the existing contract. Ersek refused to accept the terms of the proposed contract, and the Township hired a different golf professional. *fn2 Ersek then sought job interviews with other country clubs in the area, but to no avail. Ersek claims that the ...


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