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Wells v. Miller

September 11, 2009

REGINALD WELLS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE JEFFERY B. MILLER; PAUL J. EVANKO; JOHN R. BROWN; DAVID K. POINTS; JOHN FERRARO; KIRK J. PATTERSON; AND PENNSYLVANIA STATE TROOPERS ASSOCIATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Conti, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Introduction

This case concerns a Pennsylvania State Police trooper, plaintiff Reginald A. Wells ("plaintiff" or "Wells"), who pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleges his First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. Plaintiff sues for damages (count I) and injunctive relief (count II) based upon the alleged constitutional rights violations. Plaintiff additionally brings claims under state law for defamation (count III), invasion of privacy (count IV), failure to represent (count V), and civil conspiracy (count VI).

Pending before this court are two motions for summary judgment, both filed on October 10, 2008. The first was filed on behalf of defendants Pennsylvania State Police, Jeffrey B. Miller ("Miller"), Paul J. Evanko ("Evanko"), John R. Brown ("Brown"), David K. Points ("Points"), John Ferraro ("Ferraro"), and Kirk J. Patterson ("Patterson," together with Pennsylvania State Police, Miller, Evanko, Brown, Points, and Ferraro, "commonwealth defendants"). (Doc. No. 66.) The second was filed on behalf of the Pennsylvania State Troopers Association ("PSTA," and together with commonwealth defendants, refered to collectively as "defendants"). (Doc. No. 68.) For the reasons that follow, the court will grant the motions for summary judgment with respect to the federal law claims at counts I and II, and will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.

Background *fn1

At the present time and at all times relevant to this matter, Wells is employed as a trooper by the Pennsylvania State Police. (commonwealth defs.' Concise Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute ("commonwealth defs. Stat. Facts") ¶ 1 (Doc. No. 67).) Wells was assigned to Troop T and was working out of the Gibsonia station. ( Id .) The primary function of Troop T was traffic law enforcement; Troop T's responsibilities included the Pennsylvania Turnpike system. ( Id . ¶ 3.)

Troop T experienced difficulties in evaluating its troopers' performances because of the nature of the troopers' work. ( Id . ¶¶ 4, 8.) Troop T calculated station averages of various statistics to aid in the evaluation of troopers and help determine if a trooper was appropriately using his or her time. ( Id .) If the station average was designed to require troopers to write a certain number of tickets during a fixed period of time, that policy would violate 71 P A. C ONS. S TAT. § 2001, which makes illegal quota requirements for state police officers. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 22 (Doc. No. 33).) The average, however, was simply a historical rendering of the number of citations the troopers issued. (commonwealth defs. Stat. Facts ¶ 12) Troopers were not required to issue a certain number of citations based upon the station average. ( Id .) Station averages were not kept with the intent to suggest to troopers that they should write more citations or write any particular number of citations, but were used to determine how troopers were using their time and as a guideline in the evaluation of troopers' performances. ( Id . ¶¶ 13-14.) If troopers continually fell below the guideline, some remedial action might have been taken to ascertain why that trooper was continually below average. ( Id. ¶ 15.) Determination of the form of the remedial action was completely within the discretion of the station commander. ( Id. ¶ 35.) Wells believed the station average was an illegal quota system. ( Id . ¶¶ 51-52.) Wells stated: "When I refer to quota I refer to being disciplined for not reaching the station average." ( Id. Ex. A at 14.)

Troopers were evaluated annually by their corporal, and this evaluation was reviewed by their sergeant. ( Id . ¶ 33.) The evaluation consisted of ratings in six categories, and no category was given more weight than another. ( Id . ¶ 34.) Wells never received an overall rating below satisfactory on any of his evaluations. ( Id .)

In April 2002, Wells sent two anonymous facsimiles, one to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the other to the Pennsylvania State Police Office of Chief Counsel, regarding the implementation of the station average. ( Id. ¶¶ 51-52.) Wells sent at least one of the facsimiles to various news outlets. (PSTA Concise Statement of Material Facts Not in Dispute ("PSTA Stat. Facts") ¶ 5 (Doc. No. 70).) These faxes resulted in an investigation by the Internal Affairs Department of the Pennsylvania State Police ("Internal Affairs Department"), designed to ascertain whether a quota system existed. (commonwealth defs. Stat. Facts ¶ 53.) The Internal Affairs Department interviewed a number of individuals in connection with the investigation, including Wells; Wells was read his Miranda rights prior to the interview. ( Id . ¶¶ 58-59.) Wells voluntarily waived his Miranda rights, and lied during the interview with respect to who sent and wrote the faxes. ( Id . ¶¶ 59-66; Id. Ex. A at 27, 29-30.) The Internal Affairs Department investigation determined that Wells lied during the interview and that Wells violated Pennsylvania State Police regulations. ( Id . ¶¶ 69.) Wells knew he was not permitted to lie during an investigation. ( Id . ¶ 60.) The Internal Affairs Department submitted a disciplinary action report to Lisa Christi ("Christi"), the Internal Affairs Department disciplinary officer, for her to determine the appropriate punishment for lying during the investigation. ( Id . ¶¶ 69-72.) None of the defendants played a role in the determination. ( Id. ¶ 72.) Christi determined that the appropriate penalty was a suspension without pay for twenty days. ( Id . ¶ 72-73; PSTA Stat. Facts ¶ 12.) On May 12, 2003, Wells signed an acknowledgment of receipt of the disciplinary action report. (commonwealth defs. Stat. Facts Ex. W.)

Wells admitted that he gave an inaccurate answer to a question during the interview, but believed that he was disciplined for revealing the quota system and not for lying during the interview. ( Id. Ex. A at 50.) He further believed that the sole purpose of investigation was to determine who wrote the fax. ( Id. at 58.) He believed this, because he was the only one disciplined and because:

I have witnesses and written proof, signed by supervisors, that states that certain people were below station average in their tickets. And I know for a fact in an interview that one supervisor, Corporal Patterson, definitely stated that he had no knowledge of ever saying that to anyone. But he has documentation, with his signature on it, to various troopers claiming that their citations were below station average. And I would say that was a definite lie.

( Id .) Despite his belief, plaintiff stated that he has no way of knowing if the people interviewed in the investigation were interviewed for the purpose of finding out who wrote the faxes. ( Id . at 57.)

Employment actions taken adverse to Wells were motivated solely by a desire to promote the interests of law enforcement and the safety of the public. ( Id . ¶¶ 38-40.) Wells stated that he did not know whether his 2003 suspension without pay was based upon his disclosures of the use of station average, or whether it was based upon lying during the investigation. ( Id. Ex. A at 34.) Wells also asserted that it was "more than timing" that has led him to believe his 2003 suspension without pay was imposed in response to his speech against a quota system. ( Id . at 40). When asked, "How is it more than timing?" Wells stated:

The retaliation, as I stated, [corporal Patterson has] initiated four or five against me since [2002]. Only him, he's the only supervisor. Other supervisors have been disciplined because they would not attempt to discipline me for things of - - to discipline me on, me being a subpar trooper. And he's the only one.

( Id .)

Following his suspension, Wells was allowed to follow the grievance process set forth under the collective bargaining agreement, to which both the PSTA and Pennsylvania State Police were parties and operated under at all times relevant to this suit. (commonwealth defs. Stat. Facts ¶¶ 22, 74-80.) The PSTA is the collective bargaining agency for all Pennsylvania State Police troopers through the rank of major. ( Id. ¶ 2.) The PTSA afforded Wells the appropriate grievance process, which included a review by the PTSA's five-member grievance board and efforts by the PTSA to meet with the Pennsylvania State Police to settle the matter. (PTSA Stat. Facts ¶¶ 13, 16.) The PSTA acted in good faith and succesfully reduced Wells' suspension from twenty days to five days after negotiating with the Pennsylvania State Police. (PTSA Stat. Facts ¶¶ 16-18; commonwealth defs. Stat. Facts ¶¶ 74-80.) When troopers are formally disciplined, they receive a five-day reduction in seniority; due to the suspension, Wells lost five days of seniority. (commonwealth defs. Stat. Facts Ex. A at 36.)

The collective bargaining agreement did not contain any provisions that guaranteed a trooper any right to work overtime, a preferred shift, or holidays. ( Id. ¶¶ 23-31.) Wells stated that he did not get overtime after the 2003 suspension, but did not remember the length of time for which he did not receive overtime. ( Id. Ex. A at 34-36.) Furthermore, Wells always worked his desired shift, which was the midnight shift. ( Id. ¶ 28; Id. Ex. A at 28-29.) There was no provision in the collective bargaining agreement that entitled troopers to a certain number of weekends off. ( Id. ¶¶ 30, 32.)

The PSTA reported the allegation of a quota system to the Pennsylvania State Police in accordance with the PSTA's procedure under the collective bargaining agreement, and the PSTA assisted in the investigation as much as possible within the confines of the collective bargaining agreement. (PSTA Stat. Facts ¶¶ 20-23.) The PSTA did not act to determine independently whether an illegal quota system existed, but ensured that the Internal Affairs Department investigated the alleged existence of a quota system. ( Id . ¶¶ 20, 23.) Wells did not complain of the alleged quota system directly to the PSTA or to the Internal Affairs Department, even though the PSTA instructed him to do so. ( Id . ¶¶ 20, 22.) Furthermore, the PSTA provided Wells with an attorney at the appropriate times during the investigation, as it was obligated to do under the collective bargaining agreement. ( Id . ¶¶ 26-27.)

In 2006, Wells filed a report stating that a motorist was "gone on arrival," but the motorist was still present when Wells arrived at the scene and Wells should have included the motorist's information on the report. (commonwealth defs. Stat. Facts ¶ 42.) Wells was given an opportunity to correct the error, but failed to do so. ( Id . ¶¶ 41-46.) He was suspended for fifteen days for the misrepresentation on the report. ( Id. Ex. A at 40-41.) Wells admitted that he did not properly fill out the report, but believed the fifteen-day suspension was excessive, and, therefore, filed a grievance. ( Id . ¶ 46.)

Wells was suspended twice. ( Id . ¶¶ 47-48.) The first suspension was for the incident in 2002 and the second was for the incident in 2006. ( Id .) All formally disciplined troopers are not eligible for promotion for one year; after each of Wells' suspensions, he was not eligible for promotion for a period of one year. ( Id .)

Brown was the Deputy Commissioner of Professional Responsibility and in charge of the Internal Affairs Department. ( Id. ¶ 86.) Evanko was the Colonel and Commissioner of the Pennsylvania State Police from 1995 through March 2003; he retired from the Pennsylvania State Police in March 2003. ( Id . ¶ 85.) Miller succeeded Evanko in that position after March 2003. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3-4.) Wells alleges that Brown, Miller, and Evanko, in their supervisory roles, failed to stop the discriminatory actions against him, and for that reason they were involved in the conspiracy to deprive him of his rights. (Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 26-29.) These three individuals, however, were not involved in the actions taken against Wells beyond their general supervisory roles, and there was no indication that they had actual knowledge of the incidents or directed any Pennsylvania State Police employees to carry out adverse actions against Wells. (commonwealth defs. Stat. Facts ¶¶84-86.)

On November 7, 2005, plaintiff filed the initial complaint in this action. (Compl. (Doc. No. 1).) On March 16, 2006, Wells filed an amended complaint. (Am. Compl. (Doc. No. 14).) In the amended complaint, Wells alleges that defendants violated his rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution. ( Id. ) Wells brought these claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (count I) and 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (count II). ( Id .) Plaintiff also brought various state law claims against defendants, including claims for violation of the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law, 43 P A. C ONS. S TAT. §§ 1421-27, defamation, invasion of privacy, failure to represent, and civil conspiracy. ( Id .) The commonwealth defendants and the PSTA respectively filed motions to dismiss (Doc. Nos. 25, 16), which the court on August 10, 2006 granted in part (Doc. No. 32). On September 25, 2006, plaintiff filed his second amended complaint. (Doc. No. 33.) On October 10, 2008, both the commonwealth defendants and the PSTA filed motions for summary judgment. (Doc. No. 66, 68.)

Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment may be granted if, drawing all inferences in favor of the nonmoving party, "the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." F ED. R. C IV. P. 56(c).

The nonmoving party must point to specific affirmative evidence in the record, rather than rely upon conclusory or vague allegations or statements. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett , 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986). Concrete evidence must be provided for each element of each of the claims, and the evidence must be such that a reasonable fact-finder could find in that party's favor at trial. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. , 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). "A nonmoving party, like plaintiff, must 'designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Orenge v. Veneman , No. 04-297, 2006 WL 2711651, at *6 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 20, 2006) ( citing Celotex , 477 U.S. at 324).

A motion for summary judgment will not be defeated by the mere existence of some disputed facts, but will be defeated when there is a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson , 477 U.S. at 248. In determining whether the dispute is genuine, the court's function is not to weigh the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but only to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party. Id . at 249. The court may consider any evidence that would be admissible at trial in deciding the merits of a motion for summary judgment. Horta v. Sullivan , 4 F.3d 2, 8 (1st Cir. 1993); Pollack v. City of Newark , 147 F. Supp. 35, 39 (D.N.J. 1956), aff'd , 248 F.2d 543 (3d Cir. 1957) ("in considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is entitled to consider exhibits and other papers that have been identified by affidavit or otherwise made admissible in evidence").

Discussion

In moving for summary judgment, the commonwealth defendants argue: (1) they are not persons under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in their official capacities; (2) some defendants were not personally involved in the claims; (3) the applicable statute of limitations passed barring claims against one of the commonwealth defendants; (4) the commonwealth defendants are entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity; and (5) the commonwealth defendants are entitled to qualified immunity. In moving for summary judgment, the PSTA asserts that the association is not a state actor under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The court does not find the need to address every argument raised; the court will address several arguments with respect to the 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims, which warrant the granting of summary judgment in defendants' favor with respect to the federal claims asserted. The court finds that (1) commonwealth defendants are not persons suable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in their official capacities, (2) the PSTA did not act under color of state law, (3) Miller, Evanko, and Brown lacked personal involvement, and (4) Wells failed to adduce sufficient evidence to establish a violation of his Constitutional rights. For those reasons, summary judgment will be granted in favor of defendants with respect to the federal claims asserted in counts I and II. Since the court grants summary judgment with respect to the federal law claims, the court declines to exercise subject-matter jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims.

A. Count I Seeking Monetary Damages for Violations of First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment Rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983"), Wells claims Miller, Evanko, Brown, Points, Ferraro, Patterson, and the PSTA deprived him of his First Amendment right to free speech, Fifth Amendment right to due process, and Fourteenth Amendment rights to due ...


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