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Seacrist v. Skrepenak

April 6, 2009

DOLORES SEACRIST, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GREGORY A. SKREPENAK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are the Motions for Summary Judgment of Plaintiff Dolores Seacrist and Defendants Gregory A. Skrepenak, Rose S. Tucker, Stephen A. Urban, Robert F. Reilly, and Luzerne County. (Docs. 24, 29.) Plaintiff, a former County employee, commenced the present suit by filing a two-count complaint against Defendants, arising from the County's failure to grant her a thirty-nine thousand dollar ($39,000) severance payment pursuant to the terms of an early retirement plan offered to eligible employees. (Doc. 1.) Count I asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violation of her procedural and substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Count II raises a state law breach of contract claim. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Plaintiff's motion and grant Defendants' motion. The Court has jurisdiction over the § 1983 claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a)(3), and supplemental jurisdiction over the breach of contract claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Dolores Seacrist was employed by Defendant Luzerne County in the County Office of the Clerk of Court from 1988 until her resignation, effective December 31, 2005. (Defs.' App. 4a-6a, 17a-18a, Doc. 31.) However, she was suspended with pay from November 4, 2004 to November 30, 2005 and suspended without pay from that date until her resignation. (Defs.' App. 6a, 17a-18a; Defs.' Statement of Material Facts ¶ 11, Doc. 30) (hereinafter "Defs.' Statement").*fn1

On October 3, 2005, Luzerne County's Director of Human Resources, Douglas Richards, circulated a memorandum to all County Department Heads and Row Officers. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 13.) The memorandum contained a letter and fact sheet regarding the County's Life Transition Plan ("LTP"), an early retirement buy-out plan proposed in attempt to reduce the County's budget deficit. (Id. ¶¶ 13, 14.) The memorandum asked supervisors to make copies of the fact sheet and letter for interested employees and gave information regarding upcoming employee information sessions. (Pl.'s App. 36a, Doc. 27.) The LTP fact sheet announced the terms and eligibility requirements of the program, including the following:

LIFE TRANSITION PLAN

Luzerne County has established a Life Transition Plan offering incentives for eligible employees of the County to resign from their positions.

ELIGIBLE EMPLOYEES

(1) Employees of the County who are 50 years of age or older with at least ten full years of service as of December 31, 2005 OR

(2) Employees of the County with at least 20 full years of service as of December 31, 2005, regardless of age. Employees who have given the County notice of resignation as of September 28, 2005 are not eligible to participate.

PAYMENTS DUE

Each eligible employee who elects to participate in the plan will receive a severance payment consisting of:

* A one-time incentive payment of $20,000, plus $1,000 for each full year of service as of December 31, 2005.

* Payment of all accrued vacation and sick time nor mall y due up on resignation.

(Id. at 37a.) Attached to the fact sheet was an Application for Resignation by which eligible County employees could apply to voluntarily resign in connection with the LTP. (Id. at 39a.) The application specified: "This Application for Resignation shall be effective only upon acceptance and execution by the County of this application." (Id.) It further read: "I understand that while my voluntary Application for Resignation is pending, I am expected to adhere to the county's applicable policies regarding my employment." (Id. at 40a.)

Human Resources Director Richards developed a procedure for processing the Applications for Resignation under the LTP, including generating of a list of applicants submitted to the Luzerne County Commissioners for acceptance or denial. (Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts ¶¶ 16-20, Doc. 25.) (hereinafter "Pl.'s Statement").

Plaintiff, considering herself an eligible employee under the terms of the fact sheet, submitted an Application for Resignation. (Id. at ¶¶ 7, 8.)*fn2 Richards testified that he received Plaintiff's application, but he did not place her name on a list of eligible employees submitted to the County Commissioners for an acceptance/rejection vote.*fn3 (Pl.'s App. 70a-71a.) This was because Plaintiff was under criminal investigation at the time for tampering with court documents and he believed she may have violated county employment policies in doing so. (Id. 70a-72a.) The form Application for Resignation included a signature line reserved for Richards under the heading "Accepted by County of Luzerne," but he never signed Plaintiff's application. (Defs.' App. 123a.) Because her application was never accepted, Plaintiff did not receive an LTP severance payment. (Pl.'s Statement ¶ 24.) All accepted LTP participants received their payments during the early part of January 2006. (Defs.' App. 109a-110a.) Thereafter, Plaintiff submitted a letter of resignation on January 17, 2006, effective December 31, 2005. (Defs.' Statement ¶ 23.)

Plaintiff filed her two-count Complaint against Defendants on November 20, 2007. (Doc. 1.) Count I raises a § 1983 claim and argues that Defendants' failure to afford her participation and payment under the LTP constitutes a deprivation of her procedural and substantive due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. Count II raises a state law breach of contract claim; Plaintiff argues she accepted the terms and conditions of the LTP by submitting an Application for Resignation, thereby fixing Defendants' contractual obligation to grant her a severance payment in the sum of thirty-nine thousand dollars ($39,000).

Each Defendant filed an Answer to Plaintiff's Complaint on February 8, 2008. (Docs. 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.) Plaintiff filed a Motion for Summary Judgment in her favor against all Defendants on December 16, 2008. (Doc. 24.) Defendants jointly filed a cross-Motion for Summary Judgment against Plaintiff as to ...


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