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Skrutski v. Marut

March 29, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Muir, District Judge.

Complaint Filed 12/15/03


I. Introduction

On December 15, 2003, Plaintiff Thomas C. Skrutski, a Corporal with the Pennsylvania State Police, filed a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against four other individuals employed by the Pennsylvania State Police. On April 15, 2005, Skrutski filed an amended complaint. Named as defendants in the amended complaint are the following individuals: (1) Joseph Marut, who at the time of the filing of the amended complaint was a Captain with the Pennsylvania State Police;*fn1 (2) Michael L. Brice, who is employed by the Pennsylvania State Police as the station commander at the Gibson barracks; (3) Rebecca S. Warner, a criminal investigator with the Pennsylvania State Police; and (4) Wanda Gilbert. who was a Lieutenant with the Pennsylvania State Police.*fn2

In the amended complaint Skrutski alleges that his rights under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution were violated when he was retaliated against for reporting violations of State Police regulations and possible criminal acts by other individuals employed by the State Police. He contends the retaliation took the form, inter alia, of improper discipline and reassignment. He further contends that he was denied procedural due process and equal protection of the law as a result of being subjected to an arbitrary and capricious standard different from the standard to which other Pennsylvania State Police officers are held. The "Operative Facts" section of Skrutski's amended complaint states in part as follows:

8.) The defendant Marut is involved in a personal relationship with the defendant Warner.

9.) The defendant Warner is a close personal friend of the defendant Gilbert, who, upon information and belief, vacations with Warner, and frequently sleeps over at her house.

10.) Warner exercises significant control over Marut who does what Warner tells him to do.

11.) On or about February 2003 Marut ordered Skrutski to pack his personal belongings and immediately transferred him to Honesdale from Gibson where he had worked for a number of years.

12.) There had been no investigation, no charges, no factual determination of any type, it was arbitrary and capricious transfer by Marut.

13.) In addition to the arbitrary and unlawful disciplinary transfer of the plaintiff Marut also effected a number of other adverse employment actions against the plaintiff.

14.) Marut severely admonished plaintiff because he had issued Warner a supervisory notation for what was, in effect, insubordinate misconduct.

15.) Warner brought a totally vacuous, false, and frivolous complaint against the plaintiff for creating a hostile work environment. In fact, it was Marut, Brice, Warner and Gilbert who had decided to work together and create a hostile environment within the Pennsylvania State police for plaintiff because he would not alter investigations falsely, refused to avoid the proper enforcement of PSP regulations, reported misconduct, and placed his responsibility to follow the established requirements of the Pennsylvania State police above blind loyalty to his immediate supervisors.

16.) The above named defendants unlawfully agreed to work together to conduct a false and unlawful investigation into the plaintiff in an effort to destroy his career with the Pennsylvania State Police.

17.) The above named defendants enlisted the support and assistance of other officers in the department including department disciplinary officers . . . in their efforts to destroy the career of Thomas

C. Skrutski

18.) Upon information and belief it is averred by plaintiff that the above named defendants purposely composed and improperly conducted a pretextual investigation characterized in part by unlawful actions.

a.) Marut selected Gilbert to do the investigation because she was a personal friend of Warner's and a confidant of his and hers. The selection of Gilbert was also in violation of [administrative regulations].

b.) Reached back more than 10 years and solicited vague general negative comments about plaintiff in order to justify their pretextual investigation.

c.) Distorted facts and circumstances intentionally to place plaintiff in a false light, in effect intentionally skewering and distorting the investigation to harm plaintiff.

d.) Initiated and conducted false and baseless investigations and accusation into and about the plaintiff.

e.) Conspired to create a baseless and unlawful disciplinary action against the plaintiff to cover-up the unlawful disciplinary transfer by defendant Marut which was itself based upon false and baseless accusations by Warner who wished to demonstrate her internal influence with her lover Captain Marut.

19. The actions of the defendants were unlawful and were directed at the plaintiff because he spoke out and spoke up about the criminal misconduct of PSP members who were friends of certain defendants, and because he properly fulfilled his supervisory responsibilities in citing Warner as per PSP regulations.

Doc. 37, Amended Complaint. Skrutski further alleges as a result of his reporting misconduct he received poor employee performance evaluations. Id. Skrutski claims that the defendants not only individually violated his rights under the First Amendment but conspired with each other to do so.

The amended complaint also sets forth, inter alia, allegations of witness manipulation by Brice and Marut after the original complaint was filed. Skrutski alleges that this violated his First Amendment right of access to the courts.

Pending before the court is a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants on July 5, 2005. The motion became ripe for disposition on September 1, 2005, when Defendants filed a reply brief.*fn3 Defendants' motion for summary judgment only addresses Skrutski's First Amendment and conspiracy claims.

II. Legal Standard

The court will consider the motion under the well-known and accepted standards to be considered in determining whether or not to grant summary judgment. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986); Celotex Corporation v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986); Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) requires that the court render summary judgment "forthwith if 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 judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). If, however, "the evidentiary matter in support of the motion does not establish the absence of a genuine issue, summary judgment must be denied even if no opposing evidentiary matter is presented." Advisory Committee Notes to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)(1963 Amend.). Furthermore, the evidence and inferences therefrom must be viewed in a light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. Ltd., 475 U.S. at 585.

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corporation, 477 U.S. at 323. This may be met by the moving party pointing out to the court that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element as to which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Id. at 325.

Rule 56 provides that, where a summary judgment motion is made and properly supported, the adverse party must show by affidavits, pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file that there is a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The United States Supreme Court has commented that this requirement is tantamount to the non-moving party making a sufficient showing as to the essential elements of its case that a reasonable judge or jury could find in its favor. Celotex Corporation, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

When addressing a motion for such a judgment, our inquiry focuses on "whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require [a trial] or whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. at 251-52(emphasis added).

As summarized by the Advisory Committee on Civil Rules, "[t]he very mission of the summary judgment procedure is to pierce the pleadings and to assess the proof in order to see whether there is a genuine need for trial." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, Advisory Committee Note to 1963 Amendment. In light of the above legal ...

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