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Viola v. Borough of Throop

August 5, 2008

ERIC VIOLA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOROUGH OF THROOP, TOM LUKASEWICZ,, STANLEY LUKOWSKI, NEIL FURIOSI, AND TONY CHAZAN, DEFENDANTS



(Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 22). Having been fully briefed, the matter is ripe for disposition.

Background*fn1

Plaintiff Eric Viola has been employed as a police office by the Village of Throop, Pennsylvania since 2000. (Defendants' Statement of Material Facts as to which no genuine issue remains to be tried (Hereinafter "Defendants' Statement") (Doc. 23) at ¶ 6). As a full-time police officer, plaintiff was a member of the Throop Police Officers Association and employed pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement. (Id. at ¶¶ 7-8).

Plaintiff testified on May 18, 2006 at a hearing regarding a petition for a protection from abuse ("PFA") filed by his ex-girlfriend in Lackawanna, Pennsylvania county court. (Id. at ¶ 9). The judge at that hearing did not issue the PFA. (Plaintiff's Statement of Facts in Dispute (hereinafter "Plaintiff's Statement") (Doc. 28) at ¶ 9). Though they did not testify, Defendants Police Chief Neil Furiosi, Borough Councilman Tony Chrzan and Mayor Stanley Lukowski were present at the hearing. (Id.).

The Borough suspended plaintiff with pay on June 9, 2006. (Defendants' Statement at ¶ 10). The Borough informed plaintiff of his suspension by letter. (See Defendants' Statement, Plaintiff's Deposition (Exh. 1), Exh. 7).*fn2 As reasons for the suspension, the letter reported that during the week of May 29, 2006, plaintiff had been observed "going into [his] residence several times during [his] shift, and remaining [there] for approximately one-half of [his] entire shift." (Id.). Plaintiff, the letter claimed, had also twice failed to respond to calls from the Communications Center. (Id.). During this period of suspension, the Defendant Borough deducted sick time from plaintiff's account. (Defendant's Statement at ¶ 14). After plaintiff complained that this deduction was improper, the Borough restored his sick time. (Id. at ¶ 15).

On June 15, 2006, the Defendant Borough again wrote the plaintiff, informing him of a hearing scheduled for July 5, 2006. (Dep. Exh. 8). The letter noted that plaintiff had been subjected to a disciplinary action which had a potential effect on his pay and employment with the Borough. (Id.). At the hearing, the letter stated, plaintiff would "be given an opportunity to respond to these allegations before Throop Borough Council and offer any evidence" plaintiff possessed which would allow him to reduce or eliminate the disciplinary action he faced. (Id.).

Plaintiff notified the Borough on June 23, 2006 that he had retained counsel, who would represent him at the hearing. (Defendants' Statement at ¶ 17; Dep. Exh. 10). That same day, plaintiff filed a grievance against the Borough challenging his paid suspension. (Id. at ¶ 18). In his grievance, plaintiff alleged that the Department had suspended him without just cause and in violation of his due process rights. (Dep. Exh. 24). Plaintiff complained that he had been suspended without an explanation of the evidence against him or an opportunity to present his version of events. (Id.). He sought reinstatement, removal of documents related to the suspension from his personnel file, and restoration of the benefits he had lost. (Id.). Plaintiff thus filed the documents necessary to state a grievance about his June 9, 2006 suspension. (Defendants' statement at ¶ 20).

A hearing on plaintiff's suspension took place on July 11, 2006. (Id. at ¶ 21). Counsel represented plaintiff at the hearing. (Id. at ¶ 22). Plaintiff testified at this hearing. (Id. at ¶ 23). A witness, Charles Reed, testified for the plaintiff at this hearing. (Id. at ¶ 24). This witness testified at the hearing and in his deposition that others had committed the same offenses--leaving their assigned posts during shifts--for which the plaintiff was punished. (Deposition of Charles Reed, Exh. 5 to Defendants' Statement (hereinafter "Reed Dep.") at 6-7). One officer took time away from his shift to start vehicles belonging to his busing company. (Id. at 7). Reed could not recall officers--except for plaintiff--being punished by the Borough for such behavior. (Id. at 9-10). He testified that he was "not aware" of whether others in the police force were disciplined for such behavior. (Id. at 15). The Borough suspended the plaintiff for ten days without pay after this hearing. (Defendants' Statement at ¶ 25).

Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania on August 31, 2006. (Doc. 1-2). Defendants removed the case to this court on September 28, 2006. (Doc. 1). One week later, they filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. (Doc. 2). After the court considered briefs and oral argument, we denied the motion to dismiss in part and granted it in part. (Doc. 14). Plaintiff then filed an amended complaint. (Doc. 15). Count I of the amended complaint, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleges that defendants violated plaintiff's due process rights by suspending him with pay indefinitely and without pay for ten days without giving him an opportunity to be heard. (Id.). Count II, also brought pursuant to Section 1983, contends that the defendants retaliated against the plaintiff by suspending him without pay for ten days after he filed a grievance over his initial suspension. (Id.). Count III raises a claim for violation of plaintiff's right to be free from governmental interference with family relationships, a state claim for invasion of privacy, and a claim of publicity given to a private life. (Id. at 6-9). Plaintiff claims that these wrongs arose from the PFA action dismissed against him. Count IV is a failure to train claim against the defendants, who allegedly received no training about providing due process before suspending an officer.

After discovery closed, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 22). The parties then briefed the issue, bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

As this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ("The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."). We have supplemental ...


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