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Herman v. County of Carbon

March 31, 2009

MARY ALICE HERMAN, PLAINTIFF
v.
COUNTY OF CARBON, ROBERTA BREWSTER, COURT ADMINISTRATOR, WILLIAM O. GUREK, COUNTY COMMISSIONER, WAYNE NOTHSTEIN, COUNTY COMMISSIONER, AND CHARLES E. GETZ, COUNTY COMMISSIONER, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge James M. Munley United States District Court

(Judge Munley)

MEMORANDUM

Before the court are defendants' motions for summary judgment. Having been briefed, the matters are ripe for disposition.

Background*fn1

Plaintiff Mary Herman ("Plaintiff") was the Jury Clerk for Defendant Carbon County, Pennsylvania, and was employed by the County for eighteen years. The Jury Clerk position was a full-time position. Plaintiff was employed by the Carbon County Jury Selection Commission. This Commission was comprised of three Jury Commissioners; Brenda Ellis ("Ellis"), William Poluka ("Poluka"), and President Judge Richard Webb ("Judge Webb"). During an October 27, 2003 Jury Selection Commission meeting, Judge Webb proposed that the Commission abolish the Jury Clerk position. Plaintiff would serve in a newly created position, as a Jury Selection Commission Clerk. This position was limited to ten and one half hours per week and received ten dollars per hour. During this meeting, Poluka and Ellis voted against the proposed change. Despite the majority vote of the Jury Selection Commission, Judge Webb advanced a recommendation to the Carbon County Salary Board that Plaintiff's position be terminated and that she be placed in the newly created parttime position.

On December 12, 2003, Plaintiff sent a letter to Defendant County Commissioners, requesting that they decline to implement Judge Webb's proposed changes. Plaintiff also openly supported Poluka and Ellis when they spoke with the media regarding issues before the Jury Selection Commission. She filed a complaint against Judge Webb with the Judicial Conduct Board. On January 5, 2004, acting in accord with the members of the Carbon County Salary Board, Defendants Court Administrator Roberta Brewster ("Brewster"), County Commissioner William O'Gurek, County Commissioner Wayne Nothstein, and County Commissioner Charles Getz voted in favor of implementing Judge Webb's proposed changes. Plaintiff was specifically informed by a Carbon County official that her job was changed in retaliation for Ellis' and Poluka's actions. A significant portion of Plaintiff's former job duties were transferred to a woman who is substantially younger than the Plaintiff.

Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on May 28, 2004, asserting four causes of action. First, Plaintiff asserts a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("section 1983") arguing that Defendants retaliated against her for her speech in violation of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Second, Plaintiff asserts a claim under section 1983 for a violation of her Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Rights, arguing that her job was terminated for an improper purpose and with improper procedures. Third, Plaintiff avers that the defendants violated the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law, 43 PA. CONS. STAT. §§ 1421-1428, by terminating her in retaliation for her support of Poluka and Ellis, and in retaliation for her letter to the Commissioners. Fourth and finally, Plaintiff argues that the defendants violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 621-634 because they reduced her hours because of her age.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. After the parties briefed the issue, this court issued a memorandum and order granting the motion to dismiss in part and denying it in part. (See Doc. 614). Defendant Brewster appealed the court's decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that plaintiff had failed to state a claim for First Amendment retaliation and that she was entitled to qualified immunity. On September 25, 2007, the Third Circuit issued its opinion on this appeal (Doc. 34-2). In a non-precedential opinion, the Court of Appeals found that this court had properly determined that Defendant Brewster was not entitled to qualified immunity on plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim, but that plaintiff had not properly stated the basis for the alleged retaliation. Plaintiff, the court pointed out, had alleged that "she openly and publicly supported the Jury Commissioners' statements to the media." (Id. at 5). She did not, however, "allege when these open and public expressions took place" or their "content." (Id.). Though plaintiff's complaint was insufficient, the court concluded that "[i]t may be possible that Herman can state a valid claim and she should be granted leave to amend." (Id.). Accordingly, the Third Circuit Court remanded the case to this court with instructions to allow plaintiff to replead her claim to describe the statements she made to the media. (Id. at 6).

Plaintiff filed this second amended complaint on November 8, 2007. (See Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 36) (hereinafter "Second Amend. Complt.")). The complaint repeats the allegations of plaintiff's amended complaint, but includes more detail about the content and context of plaintiff's public statements. Plaintiff alleges that she exercised her First Amendment right to free speech by "openly supporting Commissioners Poluka and Ellis who spoke with the media regarding some of the issues before the Jury Selection Commission." (Second Amend. Complt. at ¶ 28). According to the complaint, plaintiff's expression including being pictured in a newspaper photograph "with the Jury Commissioners in the cramped office space which was given to them after they complained about the inaccessibility of their previous office for handicapped individuals." (Id. at ¶ 29). Captions to several newspaper articles that included such pictures stated that "'they are complaining.'" (Id. at ¶ 30).

After plaintiff filed this second amended complaint, Defendant Brewster filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. 40). The court denied that motion on June 11, 2008 (Doc. 53). When the parties completed discovery in the case, the defendants filed motions for summary judgment. (Docs. 61-62). They also filed briefs in support of those motions. (Docs. 63, 65). Plaintiff did not file a brief in opposition to the motions, despite an order by the court (Doc. 66) on January 30, 2009 that she do so. The motions are therefore now ripe for the court's disposition.

Jurisdiction

As this case is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, 29 U.S.C. § 623, we have jurisdiction under 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 jurisdiction over the plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

Legal Standard

Granting summary judgment is proper 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 judgment as a matter of law. See Knabe v. Boury, 114 F.3d 407, 410 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) (citing FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c)). "[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the ...


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