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Martsolf v. Brown

January 9, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Conner


Presently before the court is the motion to dismiss (Doc. 19) filed by defendants Lieutenant Colonel John Brown, Major Seilhamer, Captain Robert Lizik, Susan Bell, Lieutenant Peter Vogel, Lieutenant Don Carnahan, Michael Patrick, Sergeant Max Mohney, Sergeant Gary Schuler, Captain Stephen Krempasky, Trooper James Sheldone, and Arthur Weiland. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

Plaintiff James Martsolf ("James") and his estranged wife, Connie Martsolf ("Connie"), both worked for the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP"), but not at the same location. (Doc. 14 ¶¶ 1, 20.) Beginning in February 2004, Connie was allegedly harassed on a regular basis by each defendant. (Id. ¶ 11.) Connie complained internally about sexual harassment, primarily the offending conduct of her immediate supervisor. After she complained to the PSP Equal Employment Opportunity Office and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, her allegations were investigated by the PSP Internal Affairs Division. (Id. ¶ 1.) Defendant Lizik purportedly warned Connie that any investigation would result in the entire station being investigated, including herself. According to the amended complaint, this "threat" became a reality when the PSP allegedly investigated Connie solely as a means to harass and intimidate her.*fn2 (Id. ¶ 22.) During the investigation, defendants Vogel and Schuler purportedly started rumors that Connie had sexual relations with other troopers. James contends that PSP did nothing to stop these rumors to his great detriment. (Id. ¶ 56.)

Connie attempted to transfer to the barracks where James worked, but defendant Vogel would not let her leave, and she was denied the transfer. (Id. ¶ 20.)

Defendants Seilhamer, Weiland, and Bell allegedly conspired to make life difficult for James because he was a "troublemaker." Defendant Weiland purportedly announced that Connie would never be stationed at the barracks where James worked. (Id. ¶ 46.) Defendant Lizik advised James that the complaints kept him off the "major case team" and hindered his promotions. (Id. ¶ 58.) Connie is no longer employed by the PSP and she and James are in the process of obtaining a divorce. (Id. ¶ 1.)

On September 26, 2005, Connie and James initiated the instant action, alleging primarily First Amendment retaliation. Subsequently, Connie filed a motion to withdraw all of her claims.*fn3 (See Doc. 9.) James filed an amended complaint, which is largely a copy of the original complaint*fn4 (compare Doc. 14, with Doc. 1), alleging First Amendment retaliation and violations of his Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn5

Defendants filed the instant motion (Doc. 19) to dismiss the amended complaint. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of complaints that fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6). When ruling on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the court must "accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005)). Although the court is generally limited in its review to the facts in the complaint, it "may also consider matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994); see also In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997).

Federal notice pleading rules require the complaint to "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Sershen v. Cholish, No. 3:07-CV-1011, 2007 WL 3146357, at *4 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 26, 2007) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007)). The plaintiff must present facts that, if true, demonstrate a plausible right to relief. See FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a) (stating that the complaint should include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief"); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (requiring plaintiffs to allege facts sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level"); Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007). Thus, courts should not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim if it "contain[s] either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Montville Twp. v. Woodmont Builders LLC, No. 05-4888, 2007 WL 2261567, at *2 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, ___ U.S. at ___, 127 S.Ct. at 1969). Under this liberal pleading standard, courts should generally grant plaintiffs leave to amend their claims before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient. See Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000).

III. Discussion

Section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code offers private citizens a means to redress violations of federal law committed by state officials. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the ...

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