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Assise v. Palmer Township

January 15, 2009

MICHAEL ASSISE, PLAINTIFF
v.
PALMER TOWNSHIP, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.

MEMORANDUM

A part-time police officer who acknowledged, in writing, that "no hours will or can be guaranteed" contends his civil rights were violated by his termination following his arrest.*fn1 Palmer Township and the Palmer Township Police Department filed a 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, which I will grant in part and deny in part for the reasons discussed below.

I. Background

Michael Assise became a part-time police officer with the Township around May, 2003. (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. E.) A signed, dated document memorializing Mr. Assise's understanding that his position was only for part-time employment states, "No hours will or can be guaranteed. Hours worked will be scheduled in accordance with the police contract/manual." (Id.)

In February 2005, Mr. Assise was arrested for conduct occurring outside the township, and he was suspended. (Compl. ¶ 9--10). He was subsequently acquitted. (Id. ¶ 11). When Mr. Assise sought to recommence his employment with the Department in July 2006, he was informed that he would not be reinstated. (Id. ¶ 14). He alleges that he was not informed of the reasons for his termination and that he had no opportunity to be heard. (Id. ¶¶ 19--26).

In his complaint, Mr. Assise claims a property interest in continued employment through the Palmer Township Employee Manual (Employee Manual (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. B)), the collective bargaining agreement between the Township and the Palmer Police Association (CBA (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. D)), and the Palmer Township Police Department Rules and Regulations Manual (Rules Manual (Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. F)).

II. Standard for a Motion to Dismiss

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 US 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must construe the complaint liberally, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Id. See also D.P. Enters. v. Bucks County Cmty. Coll., 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a plaintiff to plead in detail all of the facts upon which he bases his claim. Conley, 355 U.S. at 47. Rather, the Rules require a "short and plain statement" of the claim that will give the defendant fair notice of the plaintiff's claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Id. The "complaint must allege facts suggestive of [the proscribed] conduct." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1969. Neither "bald assertions" nor "vague and conclusory allegations" are accepted as true. See Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); Sterling v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transp. Auth., 897 F. Supp. 893 (E.D. Pa. 1995). The claim must contain enough factual matters to suggest the required elements of the claim or to "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" those elements. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965)).

III. Discussion

A. The Department as an Improper Party

The defendants' motion correctly indicates that police departments, as merely administrative agencies, cannot be sued in conjunction with municipalities. See, e.g., Rudolph v. Clifton Heights Police Dept., 2008 WL 2669290, at *7 (E.D. Pa. July 7, 2008); Stroman v. Lower Merion Twp., 2007 WL 475817, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 7, 2007); Pahle v. Colebrookdale Twp., 227 F. Supp. 2d 361, 367 (E.D. Pa. 2002). They are not separate entities. Id. Mr. Assise's response does not address this issue at all, and the complaint advances no colorable opposing argument suggesting that the Department is a separate legal entity. Accordingly, I will dismiss the claims against the Department.

B. Request for Punitive Damages

The parties agree that claims for punitive damages against a local government agency are not allowed. Any requests for ...


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