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Reager v. Williams

September 25, 2009

JOSHUA N. REAGER, PLAINTIFF
v.
MORRIS WILLIAMS, STEPHEN L. FRANZ, JAMES DAUBERT, CRAIG WERNER, THE BOROUGH OF PINE GROVE, TIMOTHY PETERS AND TERRY MAHER, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Munley

MEMORANDUM

Before the court for disposition are motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Stephen L. Franz, James Daubert and Craig Werner in this civil rights/defamation action. The motions have been briefed and are ripe for disposition.

Background

Plaintiff Joshua N. Reager is the police chief of Defendant Borough of Pine Grove. (Doc. 13, Amended Complaint at ¶ 10). In the summer of 2008, plaintiff had generally been properly performing the duties of police chief. (Id. at ¶ 21). His duties included such things as traffic enforcement, motor carriers safety enforcement, filing charges and investigating criminal misconduct. (Id.). Plaintiff claims that three local businessmen, Defendants Stephen L. Franz, James Daubert and Craig Werner were not in agreement with the manner in which plaintiff carried out his duties and decided to work together to prevent plaintiff and the local police from performing their duties. (Id.). Defendant Daubert owns a beer distributorship and supplies bars in the Pine Grove area. He was concerned that plaintiff's enforcement of driving under the influence laws was bad for his business. (Id. at ¶ 24). Defendant Werner owns a lumberyard and plaintiff and his subordinates had cited trucks that were making deliveries to the lumberyard for being overloaded. (Id. at ¶ 26). Defendant Franz runs an insurance business, which sells, inter alia, automobile insurance. (Id. at 27). He was motivated to attack the plaintiff for being too aggressive in enforcing the law as that adversely affects his insurance customers' coverage. (Id.). They solicited the help of Defendant Terry Maher, Pine Grove Area School Superintendent and Defendant Morris Williams, mayor of Defendant Pine Grove. (Id. at ¶ 36).

Guided by their animus against the plaintiff, these defendants agreed to work together to prevent the plaintiff and his subordinates from enforcing the law. (Id. at ¶ 28). The defendants worked together, and plaintiff was written up for several disciplinary infractions that were not proper. Also, Defendant Franz learned of and visited a website advertising plaintiff's skate board business. (Id. ¶ ¶ 29-30). The website used attractive women in swimming attire to advertise the skateboards. (Id. at ¶ 32). Franz, Daubert and Warner distributed flyers throughout Pine Grove made from pictures taken from the website. They published these flyers to create the impression that plaintiff is morally depraved. (Id. at ¶ 34). In September and/or October 2008, these defendant worked to portray plaintiff in a bad light and as an immoral individual who conducted his business in such a way as to victimize young women. (Id. at ¶ 35). Defendant Maher, the school superintendent wrote a letter to the Borough asking that "Chief Reager [the plaintiff] not respond to any issues involving the school district." Thus, the defendants were working to present plaintiff as a morally reprehensible person and a danger to children. (Id. at ¶ 37).

The mayor, Defendant Williams disciplined plaintiff in a retaliatory manner by giving him unwarranted disciplinary write-ups and suspending him twice for unwarranted reasons.

Based upon these facts, the plaintiff instituted the instant lawsuit. Plaintiff seeks to recover for violation of his first amendment rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (hereinafter "section 1983"). Plaintiff also alleges state law claims for false light misrepresentation/defamation and civil conspiracy. Defendants Franz, Daubert and Werner have all filed motions to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

As this case is brought section 1983 for constitutional violations, 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.

Standard of review

When a 12(b)(6) motion is filed, the sufficiency of allegations in the complaint is tested. Granting the motion is appropriate if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, the plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," or put another way, "nudged [his or her] claims across the line from conceivable to plausible." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The Third Circuit interprets Twombly to require the plaintiff to describe "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" each necessary element of the claims alleged in the complaint. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege facts that "justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation." Id. at 234-35 (citation omitted).

In relation to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the complaint need only provide "'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests,'" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). This standard does not require "detailed factual allegations." Id. (citation omitted). However, "the factual detail in a complaint [cannot 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 (citation omitted). "Rule 8(a)(2) requires a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Id. (citation omitted).

The issue is whether the facts alleged in the complaint, if true, support a claim upon which relief can be granted. In deciding a 12(b)(6) motion, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and give the pleader the benefit of all reasonable inferences that can fairly be drawn therefrom, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). However, the court is not bound to accept conclusions of law or unwarranted factual inferences. See Curay-Cramer v. Ursuline Acad. of Wilmington, Del., Inc., 450 F.3d 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Morse, 132 F.3d at 906).

When considering a motion to dismiss, a court generally should look only to the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim. See In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997); Pension ...


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