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SHIGLE v. MOUNT PLEASANT BOROUGH

November 15, 2005.

JOHANNA SHIGLE, Plaintiff,
v.
MOUNT PLEASANT BOROUGH, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMAS HARDIMAN, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Johanna Shigle (Shigle) filed this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, against the Mount Pleasant Borough (Borough), the Mount Pleasant Borough Council (Council), and Michael Tabita (Tabita). Shigle alleges that the Borough, the Council, and Tabita violated her rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Defendants have filed a motion for summary judgment, which is the subject of this Memorandum Opinion.

  II. Standard of Review

  Summary judgment is required on an issue or a claim when "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250-52 (1986); Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 231-32 (3d Cir. 2001). An issue is "material" only if the factual dispute "might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248.

  "Summary judgment procedure is properly regarded not as a disfavorable procedural shortcut, but rather as an integral part of the Federal Rules as a whole, which are designed to secure the just, speedy and inexpensive determination of every action." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 327 (1986) (internal quotation marks omitted). The parties have a duty to present evidence; neither statements of counsel in briefs nor speculative or conclusory allegations satisfy this duty. Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. for M.E., 172 F.3d 238, 252 (3d Cir. 1999). After the moving party has filed a properly supported motion, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). The non-moving party must make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of each element essential to his case on which she will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. The facts derived from the evidence of record must be taken in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Schnall v. Amboy Nat'l Bank, 279 F.3d 205, 209 (3d Cir. 2002).

  II. Facts

  Plaintiff Shigle is a lifelong resident of Mount Pleasant Borough. She has an avid interest in the activities of the Borough and has attended many Council meetings to listen and comment on the affairs of the Borough, sometimes critically. The Council meetings are held on the first Monday of every month and are open to the public.

  Although she previously attended Council meetings regularly, Shigle admits that she did not attend any Council meetings in either 2003 or 2004. She also admits that the only meetings that she attended in the two years prior to filing her complaint were held on October 1, 2001 and March 4, 2002. In her deposition, Shigle was agnostic regarding what occurred at the October 1, 2001 meeting, nor has she since proferred any evidence regarding what transpired there. For their part, Defendants provided the minutes of the October 1 meeting, which indicate merely that Shigle made a statement about a local matter. The minutes do not evidence that Defendants precluded Shigle from speaking or otherwise vexed her in any way. Accordingly, there is no record evidence to suggest that Shigle was deprived of any rights at the October 1, 2001 meeting.

  The second meeting Shigle attended was held on March 4, 2002. At that meeting, Shigle spoke during the public comment section at the beginning of the meeting and Tabita interrupted her because he believed that her comment related to old business. Tabita allowed Shigle to finish her statement, however, in spite of the interruption, as indicated in the transcript:
Tabita: So, please, if you have any comments, please rise and state your name.
Shigle: My name is Johanna Shigle, 341 Washington Street, and I am back. I have two questions and one remark. My questions are in regard to a motion made by Mr. Tabita some months ago concerning the hiring of Mr. Miele as a consultant landscaper for the borough. Why was this job created? What does he do? What are his qualifications as a landscaper? Why was this employment not advertised? Did you make this job available to Mr. Miele so that he could receive the borough medical hospitalization plan for him and his family?
Tabita: Mrs. Shigle, I'll stop you right there. Comments are to current comments, topical issues, subjects to be brought before this council for motions at council meetings and not past history.
Shigle: Well, you can —
Tabita: And that's old business.
Shigle: — rescind the motion. My second question is, in an anonymous donation to the borough for $2,000, is it legal that an anonymous donation be paid back by definition of free money? Is a donation — and by the definition of free money is that a donation, is the borough paying this back to annual payments of a thousand dollars to Mr. Miele?
Now, my remark is to this council body, is, it is a travesty of justice and an abuse of power when a council person makes false innuendos and accusations to try and deny citizens of their civil and constitutional rights and their freedom of speech. With these goings on, the people of Mt. Pleasant are in trouble. Thank you.
Tabita: Thank you for your comments. Would anyone else like to speak?
(Meeting continues).
  Near the end of the March 4, 2002 meeting, Shigle rose to speak again, and the following exchange occurred:
 
Shigle: I have a question with our consultant landscape —
Tabita: Please be seated. We're not going to entertain that question again tonight.
Shigle: Has he come —
Tabita: Please be seated.
Shigle: Before this borough with regard to trimming (inaudible) before the spring?
Tabita: Be seated.
Shigle: That's the question I have.
First Unidentified Male Speaker: Motion to adjourn.
Second Unidentified Male Speaker: Second the Motion.
Tabita: Moved and seconded. Ready for the question.
(Meeting concludes).
  Other than the two exchanges discussed above, there is no evidence of any interaction between Shigle and the Council or Tabita. During the March 4, 2002 meeting, Council passed a rule limiting public comments to three minutes. Shigle acknowledged in her deposition that the rule was not in place prior to March 4, 2002 and admitted that she has never been subject to that three minute limitation.

  Shigle gave deposition testimony twice during discovery, and there were several assertions made in her initial deposition that conflict with her later testimony. In her first deposition, Shigle stated that she was prohibited from speaking at several meetings, but could not remember the dates of the meetings in question. In her subsequent deposition, however, Shigle testified that she could not remember a meeting where she was refused the opportunity to speak and, in fact, spoke at every meeting she attended. During her fist deposition, Shigle stated several times that she was harassed at almost every meeting, and referenced interactions that she alleged happened at several different meetings. Nevertheless, in response to the Defendant's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, Plaintiff admitted that she had attended only two meetings in the two years prior to this action, the October 1, 2001 and March 4, 2002 meetings referenced above.

  Contrary to the transcript of the March 4, 2002 meeting, Shigle claimed in her second deposition that she was never asked to curtail old business. Shigle also insisted that she never attempted to speak at any time other than the public comment section at the beginning of meetings, ...


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