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Graham v. Hoffer

December 28, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane


Before the Court are Defendants' Motions to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. Nos. 8, 11.) The motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.


This civil rights action originated from an April 2001 sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Barbara Varner ("Varner"), an employee with the Pennsylvania Ninth Judicial District ("Ninth District"), alleging that Plaintiff S. Gareth Graham, her supervisor at the time, sexually harassed her. (Doc. No. 1, at ¶ 20.) After EEOC exhaustion, Varner filed a civil action in this Court, captioned Varner v. Commonwealth of Pa., Ninth Judicial Circuit, et al., filed at 01-0725, against Plaintiff, the Ninth District, Cumberland County, and Joseph Osenkarski, Plaintiff's immediate supervisor at the time. (Doc. No. 1, at ¶ 17.) On April 28, 2004, the Ninth District and Cumberland County settled the lawsuit with Varner, against the wishes of Plaintiff and Osenkarski, who wanted to defend themselves. (Id. ¶¶ 27-28.) Varner agreed to withdraw all of her claims, and the Ninth District and Cumberland County agreed to take measures to limit contact between Varner and Plaintiff while at work. Plaintiff would never again supervise Varner, and during Judge Hoffer's tenure as President Judge or for one year and ten months, whichever time was longer, Plaintiff would be required to seek permission before entering the county courthouse and to submit to a full security screening by the sheriff and courthouse security when entering. (Id., Exhibit A, ¶¶ 7(c),14.) Plaintiff argues that, had he been given the chance to respond to Varner's allegations in court, he could have proven that the allegations of sexual harassment were spurious and the result of Plaintiff breaking off "an illicit consensual sexual affair [of] several years" between the two. (Id. ¶ 25.)

Plaintiff further alleges that he was demoted to an institutional probation officer in the Cumberland County Prison in 1998 and was refused a promotion in retaliation for his role in Varner's lawsuit. (Doc. No. 1, at ¶¶ 23, 44-48.) Plaintiff alleges he was unfairly excluded from a parole officer overtime program and that, when he was finally allowed to participate, Defendants instituted special security measures that applied only to him. Plaintiff was required to contact a supervisor by phone prior to entering the building and required to have security personnel "shadow" him at all times when he remained in the courthouse after hours. (Id. ¶¶ 49-59.) Plaintiff also claims that on April 14, 2004, he was unlawfully detained in the courthouse lobby by Sheriff Kline when Plaintiff attempted to enter for a union vote. (Id. ¶¶ 38-42.)

Plaintiff initiated the above-captioned action on December 28, 2005, wherein he names two sets of defendants. The "Commonwealth Defendants" include the Ninth District and Judges George E. Hoffer and Edgar B. Bayley. The "Cumberland County Defendants" include Cumberland County, County Commissioners Bruce K. Barclay, Gary L. Eichelberger, and Richard L. Rovegno ("Commissioner Defendants"), Sheriff R. Thomas Kline, and Parole Officers John H. Roller, Michael D. Varner, and Lyle M. Herr ("Parole Officer Defendants").

Plaintiff's Complaint comes in the form of a single count that includes broad allegations of deprivations of his "rights, privileges, and immunities guaranteed by the Fourth, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments." (Doc. No. 1.) Although Count I contains little specificity, it appears that Plaintiff raises four § 1983 claims, alleging that all of the defendants: (1) demoted him without due process of law; (2) denied him a promotion and overtime work on the basis of an impermissible consideration; (3) restricted his movements in the courthouse without due process of law; and (4) seized and detained him on April 14, 2004 without due process. Plaintiff also appears to assert § 1985(3) and § 1986 claims against each defendant.


A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is properly granted when, taking all factual allegations and inferences as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990). When considering a motion to dismiss, the court accepts as true all factual allegations contained in the complaint and views them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. U.S. Express Lines Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388 (3d Cir. 2002). The plaintiff is required to "set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that those elements exist." Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). A court should grant a motion to dismiss only if it appears the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief. Wisniewski v. Johns-Manville Corp., 759 F.2d 271, 273 (3d Cir. 1985) (citations omitted). The burden is on the moving party to show that no claim has been stated. Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 33 (3d Cir. 1980).


1. The Commonwealth Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be Granted

In their motion to dismiss, the Commonwealth Defendants argue, inter alia, that they are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity and qualified good faith immunity, and therefore that all claims against them must be dismissed. (Doc. No. 12.) Plaintiff filed no brief in opposition. Pursuant to Local Rule 7.6, therefore, Plaintiff is deemed not to oppose the Commonwealth Defendants' motion to dismiss. Moreover, upon careful review of the applicable law, the Court finds that the Commonwealth Defendants are entitled to the sovereign and qualified immunity defenses.*fn1 Accordingly, the Commonwealth Defendants' motion to dismiss will be granted, and all claims against the Commonwealth Defendants will be dismissed.

2. The County Defendants' Motion to Dismiss will be Granted in Part

Although the County Defendants seek dismissal of all of Plaintiff's claims, the County Defendants only offer the following arguments in support of their motion: (1) any claim arising from the 1998 demotion is time-barred; (2) Cumberland County and the individual County Defendants in their official capacities are immune from punitive damages; and (3) Plaintiff fails to meet the qualifications for either a 42 U.S.C. § 1985 or a § 1986 claim. In his brief in opposition, Plaintiff concedes that his § 1985 and § 1986 claims state no viable cause of action. (Doc. No. 15, at 2, ¶¶ 2-3.) Accordingly, these claims will be dismissed. However, Plaintiff ...

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