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Conklin v. Warrington Township

November 20, 2008

STEPHEN G. CONKLIN, PLAINTIFF
v.
WARRINGTON TOWNSHIP, REBECCA KNAUB, PAMELA LEE, GREGORY GETTLE, DAVID DOE, AND SUE DOE, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Christopher C. Conner United States District Judge

(Judge Conner)

MEMORANDUM

This is a § 1983 action instituted by plaintiff Stephen G. Conklin ("Conklin") against the following defendants: (1) Warrington Township and Rebecca Knaub ("Knaub"), a Warrington township zoning official; and (2) Pamela Lee ("Lee"), Gregory Gettle ("Gettle"), David Doe, and Sue Doe, all of whom are employees of the York County Prothonotary's Office (the "prothonotary defendants"). Conklin seeks to hold defendants liable for retaliating against him in violation of his First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances, and for violating his Fourteenth Amendment rights to substantive and procedural due process and equal protection. (See Doc. 27 at 33.) By an order of court dated July 7, 2008, each of Conklin's federal claims against the prothonotary defendants was dismissed. (Doc. 85 ¶ 2.) By the same order, the court dismissed Conklin's Monell claims, which he raised against Warrington Township and Knaub. (Id. ¶ 3a.) The court permitted Conklin to seek leave to amend his complaint if he wished to reassert these claims. (Id. ¶ 5.) Presently before the court is Conklin's motion seeking leave to amend his amended complaint (Doc. 90). For the reasons that follow, Conklin's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Statement of Facts*fn1

Conklin owns over one hundred acres of real property situated in Warrington Township, York County, Pennsylvania (the "Warrington Property"). (Doc. 27 at 2, ¶ 16.) In 1997, Conklin secured a mortgage on the Warrington Property, but by the following year, he had fallen into arrears on the mortgage. (Id. at 2, ¶¶ 17-18.) Shortly thereafter, Conklin filed a bankruptcy petition. (Id. at 2, ¶ 21.) To alleviate some of his financial difficulties, Conklin sought to subdivide the Warrington Property, anticipating that a sale of the most valuable three acres of land would generate enough income to eliminate his arrearages. (Id. at 2-3.) Ultimately, Conklin hoped to develop a subdivision plan that would facilitate the sale of parcels sufficient to satisfy his entire mortgage debt. (Id.)

A. Alleged Wrongdoing by Warrington Township and Rebecca Knaub

Conklin commissioned a survey of the Warrington Property, which he filed with Warrington Township, along with a conditionally approved subdivision plan. (Id. at 4.) When Conklin later attempted to move forward with the subdivision plan, he "was told by Warrington Township officials that he needed to 'get a fresh signature and stamp' and update his subdivision application." (Id.; see also id. at 8 ("Rebecca Knaub . . . repeatedly emphasized to the plaintiff that he needed to get a fresh signature and a new stamp on his survey.")). Conklin asserts that he had no legal obligation to "update" his application and that this "false directive thwarted [his] efforts to avoid a sheriff's sale and the subsequent loss of his real estate." (Id. at 4.) According to Conklin, Knaub's "false directive" constitutes a due process and equal protection violation. (See id. ¶¶ 7-8.)

On July 7, 2008, the court granted Warrington Township's motion to dismiss Conklin's federal claims. (See Doc. 85 ¶ 3a.) However, the court granted Conklin permission to seek leave to amend his Monell claims against the township. (Id. ¶ 5.) The court advised Conklin that in order to assert cognizable Monell claims, he must assert specific municipal policies or customs, the implementation of which caused Conklin's constitutional injuries. (Id. Part III.C.2.) Conklin submitted a motion seeking leave to amend his complaint on August 8, 2008. (Doc. 90.) The motion contains eighteen paragraphs of factual averments, intended to bolster the previously defective Monell allegations. (See id. at Ex. B.)

Conklin now specifically alleges that Knaub's position as a Warrington Township official comprised various policymaking powers, which she exercised in an "arbitrary and capricious manner to deny [Conklin] his constitutional rights." (Id. ¶ 54b.) According to Conklin, Knaub sent him him "on a [sic] unlawful 'wild-goose-chase' to obtain a fresh signature from the original surveyor," despite her knowledge that such signatures were unnecessary. (Id. ¶ 54c.) Additionally, Conklin claims that Warrington Township colluded with various state agencies, including the Pennsylvania Department of State, the Office of the Attorney General, the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and the Pennsylvania State Police, to repeatedly and intrusively inspect Conklin's property.*fn2 (Id. ¶¶ 54j, 54l-54p.) Conklin never describes what constitutional injury he suffered as a result of these inspections, nor does he identify the municipal policy or custom responsible for his purported constitutional injuries.

B. Alleged Wrongdoing by the Prothonotary Defendants

Conklin also alleges that individual employees of the York County Prothonotary's Office, namely Lee, Gettle, David Doe, and Sue Doe, retaliated against him in violation of his First Amendment right to petition the government and violated his right to equal protection. After naming Lee and Gettle as defendants in a November 2006 civil suit, Conklin claims that in January 2007, the prothonotary's office intentionally failed to docket certain court documents that he properly filed. (Id. ¶¶ 61-126.) The docket management errors allegedly occurred in both the above-captioned matter, and in related matters in which Conklin was a party. (See id.) Conklin claims that this treatment was both retaliatory and violative of the Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection Clause. (Doc. 27 at 33.)

On July 7, 2008, the court dismissed the claims asserted against the prothonotary defendants. (Doc. 85 ¶ 2.) However, the court granted Conklin permission to seek leave to amend his First Amendment and equal protection claims. (Id. ¶ 5.) With respect to the latter, the court allowed Conklin to submit allegations describing a specific instance in which the prothonotary defendants treated similarly situated individuals differently than they treated Conklin. (See id. Part III.B.2.b.) Conklin was permitted to supplement his First Amendment averments with evidence suggesting that the January 2007 docket management errors were caused by Conklin's protected First Amendment activity-specifically, the filing of his complaint in November 2006. (See id. Part III.B.2.c.) Conklin sought leave to amend on August 8, 2008. (Doc. 90.) The motion contains twenty-four averments intended to amplify his previous allegations of First Amendment and equal protection violations. (See id. at Ex. A.)

Conklin's proposed amendments contain no contentions that either Lee, Gettle, David Doe, or Sue Doe treated similarly situated individuals differently than Conklin was treated. Furthermore, Conklin presents no additional allegations indicating that the docket management errors in January 2007 were an attempt to retaliate against him for the filing of his November 2006 complaint. Rather, Conklin reaches back further in time, to August 2006, in order to make out his case of unconstitutional retaliation. Around that time, Conklin claims that he was participating in state court litigation against Paul Lutz ("Lutz").*fn3 Conklin asserts that on August 7, 2006, he attempted to file a motion to stay that proceeding, but that Lee and Gettle colluded with Lutz's attorney, Edwin Schwartz, to prevent Conklin's motion from appearing on the docket.*fn ...


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