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Pribula v. Wyoming Area School District

February 20, 2009

PATRICK J. PRIBULA, ROBERT MICHELETTI, AND JAMES G. ZARRA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
WYOMING AREA SCHOOL DISTRICT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

(JUDGE CAPUTO)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants Wyoming Area School District, Raymond Bernardi, Anthony Sobeski, Antoinette Valenti, John Lanunziata, Nick DeAngelo, John Bolin, Jerry Wall, and John Marianacci's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 25.) For the reasons stated below, the Court will grant Defendants' Motion in part and deny Defendants' Motion in part.

The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs filed their Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on October 17, 2006, alleging violations under the First and Fourteenth Amendments. (Doc. 1.) Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on February 12, 2007 (Doc. 7), and on July 16, 2007 this Court issued an Order granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motion, thereby dismissing all of Plaintiffs' claims except their First Amendment retaliation and punitive damages claims against the School District and Individual Defendants (Doc. 12). Defendants filed the current Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 25) along with a Statement of Facts (Doc. 26) and Brief in Support (Doc. 28) on October 15, 2008. Plaintiffs filed a Brief in Opposition (Doc. 35) and an Answer to Defendants' Statement of Facts (Doc. 34) on November 24, 2008, and filed a Response to Defendants' Statement of Facts (Doc. 36) on November 25, 2008. Defendants filed a Reply (Doc. 37) to Plaintiff's Brief in Opposition on December 15, 2008. Thus, Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment has been completely briefed and is currently ripe for disposition. The undisputed facts of the case are as follows.

Plaintiff Pribula took an active role in the 1990 school board elections for the Wyoming Area School District ("the School District"), and opposed the candidacies of Defendants Valenti and Sobeski in that election. (Defs.' Statement of Facts, Doc 26 ¶ 6; Pls.' Response Statement, Doc. 36 ¶ 6.) In 1991, Pribula began employment with the Wyoming Area School District in the position of Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds, and held this position until 1997. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 7; Pls.' Response ¶ 7.) After his contract was not renewed in 1997, Pribula sued school board members, including current Defendants Sobeski, LaNunziata, and Valenti, and the School District, alleging that they did not renew his contract in retaliation for his activities in the 1990 school board elections.*fn1 (Defs.' Statement ¶ 8; Pls.' Response ¶ 8.) In January of 2004, following a vote of the school board, the School District hired Pribula in the position of Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds and Capital Projects/Construction Manager. (Defs.' Statement ¶¶ 9-10; Pls.' Response ¶¶ 9-10.) Defendants DeAngelo, Sobeski and Valenti were school board members in January of 2004, and did not vote in favor of rehiring Pribula. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 11; Pls.' Response ¶ 11.)

In November of 2005, the Wyoming Area School District held school board elections and a "new" school board was seated in December 2005. Pribula and his co-Plaintiffs were active supporters of candidates in the 2005 elections, some of whom were unsuccessful in either obtaining or retaining their school board seats. This support consisted of attendance at cocktail parties, mailing post cards on behalf of the candidates, and general word-of-mouth support of these candidates to the Plaintiffs' families, friends, neighbors, and so forth.

During his second term of employment with the Wyoming Area School District, Pribula reported to the school board and Superintendent of Schools, Raymond Bernardi. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 22; Pls.' Response ¶ 22.) Pribula alleges that, starting in December 2005, Bernardi engaged in a pattern of injurious actions, such as changing Pribula's schedule, assigning Pribula to demeaning tasks, and attempting to embarrass and humiliate Pribula by conducting unnecessary reviews of his work, all as part of a plan to force Pribula from his job. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 25; Pls.' Response ¶¶ 24-25.) Pribula claims that the Defendants acted against him by (1) purposefully giving him low scores on employee evaluations that did not reflect his actual performance, (2) altering the terms and conditions of his employment, (3) reducing his compensation, and (4) interfering with the performance of his duties. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 27; Pls.' Response ¶ 27.) Pribula continued in his position with the Wyoming Area School District until he quit in November of 2006. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 12; Pls.' Statement ¶ 12.) Pribula alleges that he suffered a violation of his the rights guaranteed to him by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution because the Defendants acted to retaliate against him for filing his 1997 lawsuit and because he had further campaigned against certain school board members in 2005. (Defs.' Statement ¶¶ 13-14; Pls.' Response, ¶¶ 13-14.)

Plaintiff James Zarra, a personal friend of Pribula, began employment with the Wyoming Area School District as a Network/Personal Computer Administrative Engineer in October of 2001. (Defs.' Statement ¶¶ 40-42; Pls.' Response ¶¶ 40-42.) After initiating his employment under a one-year contract, Zarra's contract was extended until October 14, 2006 and then further extended to October 14, 2009. (Defs.' Statement ¶¶ 44-46; Pls.' Response ¶¶ 44-46.) On December 14, 2005 the school board voted to rescind the extension of Zarra's contract, with Defendants Sobeski, DeAngelo and Valenti abstaining from the vote. (Defs.' Statement ¶¶ 47-48; Pls. Response ¶¶ 47-48.) Zarra's contract ending October 14, 2006 was not renewed. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 50; Pls.' Response ¶ 50.) The Defendant School District conducted interviews for Zarra's position and made an offer to Zarra to continue his position at a lower salary, which Zarra declined. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 51; Pls.' Response ¶ 51.) Zarra claims that the school board's decision to rescind, and later not renew, his contract was in retaliation for his friendship with Patrick Pribula and Zarra's attendance at a political function in the summer proceeding the 2005 school board elections.

Plaintiff Robert Micheletti entered employment with the Wyoming Area School District in November 1997 as Assistant Secondary Center Principal and continued his employment with the School District until his retirement in May of 2006. (Defs.' Statement ¶¶ 54-55; Pls.' Response ¶¶ 54-55.) In June of 2003, Micheletti was transferred from his position as principal of Montgomery Avenue and SJD Elementary School to principal of grades nine through ten at the Secondary Center. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 56; Pls.' Response ¶ 56.) In December 2003, the school board approved his request to take a sabbatical leave for the second semester of the 2002-2003 school year. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 57; Pls.' Response ¶ 57.) In September 2004, the school board approved his appointment as Acting Assistant Superintendent for the 2004-2005 school year. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 58; Pls.' Response ¶ 58.) In August 2005, the school board approved Micheletti's request to take a medical leave of absence from August 11, 2005 through January 23, 2006. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 59; Pls.' Response ¶ 59.)

In November of 2005, the school board adopted an administrative compensation plan referred to by the parties as "Act 93." (Defs.' Statement ¶ 63; Pls.' Response ¶ 63.) Plaintiff Micheletti was involved in the development of this plan. (Micheletti Dep., Doc. 39, at 50:23-51:16.) In December of 2005 this plan was rescinded and replaced by a "revised Act 93." (Defs.' Statement ¶¶ 65-66; Pls.' Response ¶¶ 65-66.)

In March of 2006, Micheletti delivered a letter to the school board, which they subsequently approved, stating his intent to retire effective May 5, 2006. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 62; Pls. Response ¶ 62.) After the school board approved his letter stating his intent to retire, Micheletti delivered another letter to the school board asking to retire in June 2006 rather than May 2006. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 69; Pls.' Response ¶ 69.) The extra month of additional time requested would have made Micheletti eligible for increased pension benefits during his ensuing retirement. (Micheletti Dep., Doc. 39, at 18:10-18-19.) This request was denied by the school board. In total, Micheletti claims that he was deprived of contractual entitlements in excess of eighty-eight thousand dollars ($88,000.00) when the school board replaced the original Act 93 with the "revised" Act 93 compensation plan in December 2005, and that he was unable to maximize his pension due to the school board's denial of his request to extend his retirement.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. See id. at 248. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2D § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. See Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57.

The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

DISCUSSION

In the current case, Plaintiffs bring suit against the Wyoming Area School District and eight members of the School District's board for the alleged deprivation of Plaintiffs' First Amendment rights.

In order to directly bring a suit against a local governing body such as the Defendant School District pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for monetary, declaratory, or injunctive relief, Plaintiffs must show that the allegedly unconstitutional activity either implements or executes a policy, statement, ordinance, regulation, or decision officially adopted and promulgated by the officers of the local governing body. Monell v. Dept. of Social Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). Thus, in order to establish their claim against the Defendant School District, Plaintiffs must show that (1) they suffered a deprivation of a federal right, (2) that was the result of either an express policy, widespread custom, or deliberate act of a decision-maker with final policy-making authority which (3) proximately caused Plaintiffs' injuries. Id.

Further, the United States Supreme Court has held that school administrators are entitled to qualified or "good faith" immunity from suits arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Wood v. Strickland, 420 U.S. 308 (1975), overruled ...


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