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Meenan v. Harrison

April 4, 2006

TPR. SHAWN S. MEENAN AND BRENDALEE MEENAN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CARL M. HARRISON, JR., DAVID SIST, ROBERT SEBASTIANELLI, JOHN RICE, THOMAS TRAISTER, KATHLEEN SERAFIN AND ROBERT J. FOOSE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendant, Kathleen Serafin (Doc. 46) and Commonwealth Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 50). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant both motions. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Shawn S. Meenan is a Pennsylvania State Trooper and Plaintiff Brendalee Meenan is his wife. At the relevant time, Plaintiffs' minor children attended Monsignor McHugh Elementary School. Plaintiffs submitted evidence that in approximately fall of 2002, they met with officials at Monsignor McHugh Elementary School to discuss information they had received about misconduct of a teacher employed by the school. (Doc. 25, ¶ 14.) Plaintiffs further submitted evidence that their child's teacher exhibited violent behavior and required students to massage her shoulders. (Doc. 25, ¶¶ 16, 17.)

Plaintiffs contacted the Department of Education, the Diocese of Scranton, Monroe County Children and Youth Services as well as Defendant Kathleen Serafin, the principal at Monsignor McHugh Elementary School. (Doc. 25, ¶¶ 20, 23, 24, 29.)

Plaintiffs subsequently initiated a criminal investigation into the alleged teacher misconduct. (Doc. 25, ¶ 26.) After the Pennsylvania State Police conducted an investigation into the alleged teacher misconduct, Plaintiffs were told that there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the teacher. (Doc. 25, ¶ 27.) As a result, Plaintiffs engaged in what they characterize as constructive criticism of the investigation. (Doc. 25, ¶ 28.) Plaintiffs wrote to numerous parties within the Pennsylvania State Police and engaged in further correspondence with the Diocese of Scranton. (Doc. 25, ¶ 29.) Plaintiff Shawn Meenan also spoke with a television reporter about his concerns regarding the investigation into the allegations of teacher misconduct at Monsignor McHugh Elementary School. (Doc. 25, ¶ 34.)

Plaintiffs argue that as a result of their efforts in initiating a public dialogue about the alleged teacher misconduct and ensuing investigation, Defendant Serafin conspired with Defendants Trooper Daniel Sist, Trooper John Rice, and Trooper Robert Sebastianilli to shift the focus of the investigation away from the conduct of the teacher at Monsignor McHugh Elementary School and towards Plaintiff Shawn Meenan. (Doc. 25, ¶ 32.) Plaintiffs further argue Defendants Sist, Rice, Sebastianilli and Serafin sought to quiet Plaintiff Shawn Meenan through the Pennsylvania State Police disciplinary process in retaliation for Plaintiffs speaking out about the alleged teacher misconduct. (Doc. 25, ¶ 32.) Plaintiffs also argue that Plaintiff Shawn Meenan was singled out for retaliation by Defendants Trooper Robert Foose, Trooper Thomas Traister, Trooper Carl Harrison, and Trooper Daniel Sist. (Doc. 25, ¶ 33.) Defendants submitted evidence that Defendant Sist initiated an internal investigation into Plaintiff Shawn Meenan's conduct after parents complained that they were being harassed by Plaintiff. (Doc. 51, ¶¶ 34-36.)

Plaintiffs also arguethat as a result of their speaking out, Defendant Harrison suspended Plaintiff Shawn Meenan without pay, Defendant Sist lodged baseless complaints against Plaintiff Shawn Meenan and Defendants Foose and Traister engaged in a course of conduct that was both harassing and intimidating towards Plaintiff Shawn Meenan. (Doc. 25, ¶ 36.). Defendants submitted evidence that Plaintiff Shawn Meenan was recommended for discipline by Lieutenant Stacy J. Schmidt for interfering with the investigation into the alleged teacher misconduct, and that Defendant Harrison's sole role was to determine the appropriate level of discipline. (Doc. 51, ¶¶ 55-59.) Further, Defendants submitted evidence that the actions taken by Defendants Sist, Foose and Traister were not related to Plaintiff Shawn Meenan's speaking out. (Doc. 51, ¶¶ 37, 68-86.)

Plaintiffs originally instituted this action on August 4, 2003, arguing that as a result of the alleged retaliatory conduct by Defendants, Plaintiffs were deprived of the rights afforded to them by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. Plaintiffs subsequently filed the Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 25) which, for the first time, asserted claims against Defendants Serafin, Rice, Traister, and Sebastianelli. On May 2, 2005, Defendant Serafin filed a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 46). That same day, the remaining Defendants filed the Commonwealth Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 50). These motions are fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate 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 a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. See id. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERALPRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2D § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-257.

The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

DISCUSSION

1. Section 1983

42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 ...


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