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McDonald v. Pennsylvania State Police

October 2, 2009

RICHARD MCDONALD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE; COLONEL FRANK PAWLOWSKI, COMMISSIONER OF PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY; MAJOR JOHN GALLAHER, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Court Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Presently before the Court is DEFENDANT'S PARTIAL MOTION TO DISMISS (Doc. No. 7), with brief in support filed by Defendant Major John Gallaher ("Defendant"). The issues have been fully briefed, see Plaintiff's Reply to the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 13) filed by Plaintiff Richard McDonald ("Plaintiff"); Defendant's Reply Brief in Support of Defendant's Partial Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 15) filed by Defendant; and Plaintiff's Sur Reply to the Defendant's Reply to the Plaintiff's Reply to the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 20), and the matter is ripe for disposition.

Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency of the plaintiff's complaint: "[a] plaintiff's obligation to provide the "grounds' of his "entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed. 2d 209 (1986)) (alterations in original).

The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. However, as the Supreme Court made clear in Twombly, the "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. The Supreme Court has subsequently broadened the scope of the requirement, stating: "only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, -- U.S. --, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) (emphasis added).

However, nothing in Twombly or Iqbal has changed the other pleading standards for a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). That is, the Supreme Court did not impose a new, heightened pleading requirement, but reaffirmed that FED. R. CIV. P. 8 requires only a short, plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, not "detailed factual allegations." See Phillips v. Co. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 552-53). Additionally, the Supreme Court did not abolish the FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(6) requirement that "the facts alleged must be taken as true and a complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits." Id. (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 553). When considering a motion to dismiss, the Court may consider any "undisputably authentic documents attached as exhibits by the Defendant. Steinhardt Group v. Citicorp, 126 F.3d 144, 145 (3d Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). Bearing in mind the plausibility standard newly established by the Supreme Court, the Court will now address Defendant's motion to dismiss.

Background

As the law requires, all reasonable facts and inferences are drawn in flavor of Plaintiff, the non-moving party, and all factual allegations included in the Complaint have been accepted as true for the purpose of this opinion. See Steinhardt, 126 F.3d at 145. The following background has been drawn from the complaint and undisputed documents submitted by both parties. Id.

The present civil rights action was commenced by Plaintiff on April 15, 2009 and alleges, inter alia, Due Process violations under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count III of the complaint (which is the subject of the present motion) is brought against Defendant Major John Gallaher, the Executive Director of the Municipal Police Officers Education and Training Commission ("MPOETC"), in his individual capacity.

Plaintiff has, throughout his career, been employed in various law enforcement capacities in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Between 1989 and 2002, Plaintiff was employed by the City of Pittsburgh Bureau of Police as a uniformed officer, a member of the uniformed drug task force and as a detective in the homicide unit. As a Pittsburgh Police officer, Plaintiff was certified by MPOETC as having fulfilled the necessary training and education requirements to serve in that capacity.

Following his tenure as a Pittsburgh Police officer, Plaintiff was employed by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Office of the Attorney General as a "special agent II" between 2002 and 2006. Because Plaintiff was authorized to work pursuant to the Attorney General's Act, his MPOETC certification lapsed while he worked for the Commonwealth. During his time with the Office of the Attorney General, Plaintiff suffered a work related injury, including injuries to his neck and back. As a direct result of his injuries, Plaintiff was lawfully prescribed the narcotic pain reliever Avinza.

In May 2007, the Borough of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania offered Plaintiff the position of Police Chief. (Doc. 7-2 at 2). The offer was made contingent upon Plaintiff being recertified by MPOETC and successfully completing a physical and psychological examination. (Id.). Subsequent to the contingent offer of employment, on August 20, 2007, both Plaintiff and Ellwood City entered into an "employment agreement," in which it was stated that Plaintiff was "duly.qualified as Chief of Police." (Doc. No. 13-2 at 3) (emphasis in original). Plaintiff alleges that he subsequently commenced work as the Chief of Police for the Borough of Ellwood City subsequent to executing the employment contract dated August 20, 2007. (Doc. No. 20). In July 2007 and again in April 2008, the Borough of Ellwood City requested that MPOETC certify or recertify Plaintiff as a police officer in Pennsylvania. (Doc. No. 7-2 at 4-10).

Upon both physical and psychological examination, doctors recommended by MPOETC concluded that Plaintiff was mentally and physically capable of performing the duties of police chief. Nevertheless, in a letter addressed to the Solicitor of Ellwood City, Defendant reported that the certification had been denied due to Plaintiff's use of Avinza. (Doc. No. 7-2 at 12-16). After the certification was refused by MPOETC, Plaintiff's request for an administrative hearing was denied by Defendant's attorney in a letter dated November 14, 2008. Plaintiff additionally alleges that he was never informed of any appeal rights he may have had with regard to the decision by MPOETC. Consequently, Plaintiff alleges that he has ...


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