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Morgan v. Covington Township

November 12, 2009

WILLIAM A. MORGAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COVINGTON TOWNSHIP, SGT. BERNARD KLOCKO, INDIVIDUALLY, THOMAS M. YERKE, TOWNSHIP CHAIRMAN, INDIVIDUALLY, DEFENDANTS,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7.) This Court will grant the Motion to Dismiss because Plaintiff's claim is barred by claim preclusion.

BACKGROUND

1. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff William A. Morgan ("Morgan") filed the instant complaint on April 9, 2009. (Doc. 1.) In the complaint, he alleges that he was a police officer for Covington Township for six (6) years. (Doc. 1, ¶ 8.) On August 17, 2007, Morgan was indefinitely suspended for allegedly committing the crime of "official oppression, intimidation of witnesses or victims and/or retaliation against a witness, victim or party." (Doc. 1, ¶¶ 10-11.) Morgan petitioned the Defendant Covington Township ("the Township") for redress of his suspension on August 22, 2007. (Id. ¶ 12.) Two days later, the Township filed charges against Morgan with the Pennsylvania State Police, but the police did not further prosecute the alleged crimes. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) Then, the Township filed charges against Morgan with the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office, who also did not further prosecute the alleged crimes. (Id. ¶¶ 15-16.) On October 27, 2007, Morgan filed a lawsuit in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Civil Case No. 3:07-cv-01972, alleging violations of Morgan's Due Process rights, violations of the First Amendment based on retaliation in the form of filing criminal charges against Morgan for petitioning the Township for redress, and failure to train the Township employees not to violate constitutional rights. On January 15, 2008, Morgan was fired, allegedly in retaliation for his petition for redress and filing the aforementioned lawsuit. (Id. ¶ 18.)

2. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Because the instant motion seeks to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint on grounds of issue preclusion, claim preclusion and laches, it is necessary to discuss the procedural history of the previous, related case. As noted above, the complaint in Plaintiff's prior case (hereinafter Morgan I), was filed on October 27, 2007; that suit was against precisely the same defendants as the current suit (hereinafter Morgan II). On February 21, 2008, this chambers issued a Case Management Order in Morgan I that set the deadline for filing amended pleadings as August 1, 2008. Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on November 28, 2008; this Court granted summary judgment for the Defendants on the Due Process and failure to train claims, but denied summary judgment on the retaliation claim. See Morgan v. Covington Township, No. 3:07-cv-1972, 2009 WL 585480, at *14 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 6, 2009). In its opinion, this Court repeatedly emphasized that the retaliatory conduct being examined in Morgan I was not suspension, or termination, but only the narrow question of whether referring Morgan to the Pennsylvania State Police and Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office constituted retaliation in violation of the First Amendment. Id. at *12.

Trial was set for Morgan I on April 20, 2009. On April 7, 2009, a pretrial conference was held in which Plaintiff's counsel was informed that she would not be allowed to include Morgan's termination in her suit as she had failed to amend the complaint to include the termination, all dispositive motions had been decided solely on the Township's referral of Morgan's case to the aforementioned law enforcement agencies, and trial was less than two weeks away. The complaint in this case was filed two days later, alleging retaliation in violation of the Morgan's First Amendment rights based on his termination and referral to the State Police and the Lackawanna County District Attorney. In a footnote, Plaintiff's counsel stated that Morgan believed that "the termination was a continuing course of retaliatory conduct since it flows from the same initial events triggering the retaliation."

After a three day trial in Morgan I, a jury found that Defendants Covington Township and Yerke had retaliated against Morgan for exercising his First Amendment Rights, but that all Defendants would have taken the same action even if Morgan had not tried to exercise said rights. (Doc. 7, Ex. C.) As a result, a judgment was entered in favor of Defendants. (Doc. 7, Ex. D.) Notice of Appeal was filed by Plaintiff in Morgan I on May 22, 2009.

On June 10, 2009, Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss in Morgan II, arguing that Plaintiff should be precluded from filing the claims in Morgan II based on the doctrines of res judicata (claim preclusion), collateral estoppel (issue preclusion), and laches. Defendants' motion has been thoroughly briefed and is currently ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring a complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant [with] the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232; see also Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or "'legal conclusions,'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining whether a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of her claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint ...


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