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Schlier v. Dougalas

March 6, 2009

JIMMY A. SCHLIER, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
LT. DAVID DOUGALAS, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendant Lt. David Dougalas' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. (Doc. 15). For the reasons detailed in this Memorandum, the Court will deny this motion.

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

BACKGROUND

On August, 29, 2008, Plaintiffs filed their Complaint (Doc. 1) initiating the current action and filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 12) on December 9, 2008. In the Amended Complaint Plaintiffs allege the following.

Plaintiff Jimmy A. Schlier, a resident of Tannersville, Pennsylvania, is the owner, president and operator of Plaintiff Wreckers International Inc., d/b/a Schlier's Towing & Service Center ("Wreckers"), a corporation organized and existing under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. (Am. Compl., Doc. 12 ¶¶ 1-3.) Defendant Lt. David Dougalas was, at all time relevant to the present action, the station commander of the Swiftwater barrack of Troop N of the Pennsylvania State Police. (Id. ¶ 4.) Starting in 1975, Plaintiffs were towing operators on the approved referral list of the Pennsylvania State Police. (Id. ¶ 7.) Due to their inclusion on this list, Plaintiffs regularly received requests to tow vehicles from motorists and members of the State Police. (Id.) In addition to this towing business, starting in the mid-1980s, Plaintiffs provided additional services to the Pennsylvania Department of General Services ("DGS"), including towing, maintenance, body work and storage of Commonwealth-owned vehicles. (Id. ¶ 9.) Starting in late 2001, Plaintiffs became involved in a series of billing disputes with the State Police due to non-payment of charges for repairs to state vehicles and questions whether the State Police should be billed for the towing of non-state vehicles performed at the request of the State Police. (Id. ¶ 10.)

As a result of the billing disputes, in April of 2002, Plaintiff Schlier sent a formal complaint to Captain John. R. Brown, Director of the Internal Affairs Division of the Bureau of Professional Responsibility, State Police, complaining of the actions of certain members of the State Police based in the Swiftwater barracks. (Id. ¶ 12.) This complaint alleged that morale was low at the barracks and that the actions of the State Police in relation to the billing disputes was compromising the image of the State Police. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiffs state that Defendant Dougalas became aware of this complaint and its contents sometime between late April and June 2002. (Id. ¶ 14.) On September 6, 2002, the Plaintiffs were removed from the State Police towing referral lists. (Id. ¶ 15.) In November 2002, Plaintiffs filed an action with the Pennsylvania Board of Claims against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, State Police, for non-payment of charges in the about of four hundred seventy-two thousand, four hundred eighty-two dollars ($472,482.00). (Id. ¶ 17.) On May 28, 2003, DGS disapproved Plaintiffs' renewal application seeking to be placed back on the DGS vendor list for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2003. (Id. ¶ 18.)

On August 20, 2004, Plaintiffs filed an action in this Court (Case No. 3:04-CV-1863) (the "Rice Action") alleging that Defendant Dougalas, along with other members of the Pennsylvania State Police, had removed Plaintiffs from the State Police towing referral lists and state vendor list in retaliation for Plaintiffs' earlier Bureau of Professional Responsibility and Board of Claims filings. (Id. ¶ 19.) In September 2006, the commander of Troop N directed that the Plaintiffs be reinstated to the State Police towing referral lists, and the Director of Vehicle Management of the DGS reinstated Plaintiffs to the state vendor list. (Id. ¶¶ 20-21.) According to Plaintiffs, Defendant Dougalas refused or intentionally failed to reinstate Plaintiffs to all of the towing referral lists for which they were qualified until after December 7, 2006. (Id. ¶ 23.) Furthermore, Plaintiffs state that following their reinstatement to the State Police towing lists and the DGS vendor lists, Defendant Dougalas refused to allow members of the State Police under his command to buy goods or services from Plaintiffs, including towing, storage, oil changes, and minor repairs. (Id. ¶ 24.)

On the basis of these allegations, Plaintiffs bring a single claim against Defendant Dougalas pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Id. ¶¶ 25-30.) Specifically, Plaintiffs state that their April 2002 formal complaint to the Bureau of Professional Responsibility, their November 2002 Board of Claims action, and the action initiated in this Court in August 2004 were petitions to the government for redress of grievances expressly protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. (Id. ¶¶ 26-27.) Plaintiffs further state that this First Amendment-protected activity was a substantial motivating factor in Defendant Dougalas' alleged decision to not reinstate Plaintiffs to the various towing lists and to prevent Plaintiffs from receiving State Police business. (Id. ¶ 28.) As a result, Plaintiffs claim that Wreckers International suffered a loss of profits, customer relations, and business relations. (Id. ¶ 29.) Further, Plaintiffs claim that Mr. Schlier has suffered emotional distress, humiliation, and loss of personal reputation. (Id.) As a result of these claims Plaintiffs request this Court to enter judgment in their favor and award them both compensatory and punitive damages against Defendant Dougalas in his individual capacity. (Id. ¶ 30.) Plaintiffs also seek injunctive relief from this Court instructing Defendant Dougalas, in his official capacity, to allow members of the State Police under his command to buy goods and services from Plaintiffs. (Id.) Finally, Plaintiffs seek fees and expenses from Defendant Dougalas in his individual and official capacities and from the State Police. (Id.)

On December 30, 2008, Defendant Dougalas filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint. (Doc. 15.) On January 14, 2009, Defendant Dougalas filed a Brief in Support of his motion. (Doc. 16.) Plaintiffs filed a Brief in Opposition to Defendant's motion on January 29, 2009. (Doc. 17.) On February 2, 2009, Plaintiffs filed a Consent Motion to file a supplemental brief opposing Defendant's motion to dismiss. (Doc. 18.) The Court granted this motion in an Order dated February 3, 2009 (Doc. 19) and Plaintiffs filed their Supplemental Brief in Opposition on February 6, 2009 (Doc. 20). Defendant Dougalas did not file a brief in reply. Accordingly, the Defendant's motion has been thoroughly briefed and is currently ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, Plaintiff has not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning, enough factual allegations "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" each necessary element. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (per curiam). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232; see also Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1042 (1994). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents where the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached a copy of the document to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume that the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. West Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 (3d Cir. 1998), nor credit a complaint's "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining whether the plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of the claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. The defendant bears the burden of establishing that the plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim ...


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