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Savokinas v. Borough of Avoca

January 19, 2010

MICHAEL SAVOKINAS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOROUGH OF AVOCA, AND EDWARD LUKOWICH, IN HIS OWN INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

(JUDGE CAPUTO)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are Defendant Borough of Avoca's ("Avoca") Motion for Summary Judgment and Defendant Edward Lukowich's ("Lukowich") Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docs. 77, 81). For the reasons discussed below, both Defendants' Motions will be granted in part and denied in part. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Michael Savokinas ("Savokinas") joined the Borough of Avoca's police force as a part-time patrolman some time in 1992 (Savokinas Dep. 16:3-16:5, Sept. 3, 2009). In either late 1995 or early 1996, Savokinas became a full-time police officer with Avoca; he left full-time employment with Avoca in 1997. (Savokinas Dep. 22:6-10.) Upon leaving his full-time employment with Avoca, Mr. Savokinas became a police officer for D&H Railroad ("D&H"). (Savokinas Dep. 23:22-24.) Mr. Savokinas continued his part-time employment with Avoca while he was working for D&H. (Savokinas Dep. 68:14-18.)

In January 2006, Savokinas resigned from the Avoca police department along with several other police officers. (Savokinas Dep. 94:5-95:5.) Mr. Savokinas presented the borough council and the mayor of Avoca with a resignation letter at a council meeting in January of 2006. (Savokinas Dep. 94:5-22.) The letter outlined several complaints that Plaintiff and the other resigning officers had with the practices of the Avoca police department, including scheduling problems that resulted in certain shifts going unmanned, failure of some officers to wear proper uniforms, and improper use of police vehicles. (Doc. 82, Ex. A.)

Savokinas alleges that his complaints about the Avoca police department led to a backlash of retaliatory harassment by the remaining police officers, including the chief of police, Defendant Lukowich. Mr. Savokinas claims that he was followed at night and that his wife was followed by marked police cars. (Savokinas Dep. 166:14-167:1, 171:2-16.) Mr. Savokinas' brother-in-law, a chiropractor, had his business targeted by police harassing his patients with parking tickets and erecting unauthorized "no parking" signs. (Savokinas Dep. 170:4-172:21.) He also testified that he was personally being harassed by the police officers. (Savokinas Dep. 169:14.) The police officers also circled his family's pizza restaurant, which is not in Avoca's jurisdiction, with marked police cruisers. (Savokinas Dep. 174:6-15.)

On April 17, 2006, the Avoca police, including Defendant Lukowich, arrested an employee of Savokinas' family's restaurant, Ryan O'Malley, allegedly in an attempt to "setup" Savokinas and arrest him for dealing drugs out of his family's restaurant. (O'Malley Dep. 21:1-6.) O'Malley testified in his deposition that Lukowich wanted O'Malley to "get Mike Savokinas in trouble by facilitating rumors that he's a drug dealer." (O'Malley Dep. 16:4-6.) O'Malley says that he never heard or saw Plaintiff doing or selling drugs. (O'Malley Dep. 21:14-22:3.) Upon being released from custody, O'Malley told Savokinas that he had been arrested by the Avoca police and that Defendant Lukowich was trying to fabricate charges against Savokinas for dealing drugs. (Savokinas Dep. 162:17-24.)

Savokinas also claims that Lukowich was spreading rumors to other members of the community that Savokinas was a drug dealer. In 2004 or 2005, Plaintiff alleges that he was told by Lena Angelella that Defendant Lukowich had claimed that Savokinas was a drug user and dealer. (Savokinas Dep. 57:5-58:5.) Plaintiff also says that members of the community would regularly approach him as he was running errands and inform him that Defendant Lukowich was saying that Savokinas had resigned from the Avoca police department because he was a drug dealer and was going to be arrested. (Savokinas Dep. 176:21-177:24.)

In January 2008, Savokinas left his job with D&H after being elected to the position of Luzerne County Sheriff. (Savokinas Dep. 31:4-6.) According to Savokinas, the drug allegations that were spread by Lukowich caused him to spend considerably more on his campaign to become sheriff than would have been necessary without the allegations. (Savokinas Dep. 42:2-43:7.)

On January 9, 2008, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint alleging violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Avoca and Lukowich for retaliation against exercise of free speech (Count I) and Abuse of Official Power (Count II), Negligent Supervision against Avoca (Count III), False Light and Defamation against Avoca and Lukowich (Count IV), and violation of § 1983 against Avoca for failure to train (Count V).

On June 27, 2008, this Court issued a Memorandum and Order that dismissed Counts I, II and V, to the extent they sought punitive damages against Avoca, dismissed Counts III and IV, to the extent they sought monetary damages against Avoca, and dismissed all Pennsylvania remedies claimed in Counts I and II. (Doc. 33.) On October 15, 2009, Lukowich and Avoca both filed Motions for Summary Judgment. (Docs. 77, 81.) Those motions have been fully briefed and are currently ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Id. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2D § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57.

The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to ...


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