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Snyder v. Bender

May 24, 2010

ROGER SNYDER PLAINTIFF,
v.
DANIEL BENDER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane

MEMORANDUM

Pending before the Court are four separate motions to dismiss. The first motion to dismiss has been filed by Defendants Nicholas Viscome, Jeffrey Templin, Sr., and Charles Tupper. (Doc. No. 7.) The second motion to dismiss has been filed by Defendants Daniel Bender, Robert Caruso, John Contino, and Robin Hittie. (Doc. No. 18.) The third motion to dismiss has been filed by Defendant Keith Murphy. (Doc. No. 23.) The fourth motion to dismiss has been filed by Defendant Charles Kraus.*fn1 (Doc. No. 30.) Plaintiff has filed opposition briefs to the first three motions.*fn2 (See Doc. Nos. 12, 21, 26.) The motions have been briefed and are ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's claims for violation of his right to due process and equal protection. Additionally, Plaintiff will be given leave to amend his complaint.*fn3

I. BACKGROUND*fn4

Plaintiff filed a complaint against the Defendants on May 17, 2009. (Doc. No. 1.) In the complaint, Plaintiff names a number of defendants, each of whom occupy different positions. Defendants Daniel Bender, Robert Caruso, John Contino, and Robin Hittie*fn5 all worked in various capacities at the State Ethics Commission. (Id. ¶¶ 2-5.) Defendant Charles Kraus is the Chief of Police for the Northwest Regional Police Department. (Id. ¶ 6.) Defendant Keith Murphy was an opponent of Plaintiff in the 2007 electoral contest for West Donegal Township Supervisor (id. ¶ 7), and was supported by Defendant Ralph Horne. (Id. ¶ 8.) Defendant Charles Tupper is a West Donegal Township Supervisor; Defendant Nicholas Viscome is the township manager; and Defendant Jeffrey Templin, Sr., is the township road master. (Id. ¶¶ 9-11.)

In 2007, Plaintiff ran for re-election as a West Donegal Township Supervisor. (Doc. No. 1 ¶18.) During both the primary and the general elections, Plaintiff copied campaign literature at the West Donegal Township Municipal Building using township equipment. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 29.) Plaintiff made the request to make such copies in advance, and the request was ratified by the township board of supervisors. (Id. ¶¶ 18, 31.)

Plaintiff alleges that a number of the Township Defendants, including Kraus, Murphy, Horne, Tupper, and Viscome "desired to use the surface appeal that an unauthorized use of Township equipment could have for their own personal and political advantage." (Id. ¶ 19.) As such, Defendants Kraus, Horne, and Murphy "concocted a plan to permit the copying of Plaintiff's campaign materials to proceed and then [later] present it as a criminal matter where there are no restrictions on disclosure." (Id. ¶ 32.) Thereby, the Township Defendants used their connections with the Ethics Commission Defendants to "concoct an ethics charge." (Id. ¶ 21.) As a result, an informal investigation was initiated by the ethics commission in or around August 2007, which was conducted by Defendant Bender. (Id. ¶ 23.)

Formal charges were filed against Plaintiff by the Ethics Commission on November 1, 2007. (Id. ¶ 34.) Plaintiff's political opponents, Defendants Murphy and Horne, used the ethics investigation in their campaign materials. (Id.) Plaintiff won re-election. (Id.) However, he argues that his standing in the community has been damaged. (Id.)

In a related claim, Plaintiff avers that Defendant Templin's involvement related primarily to his activities as township road master, and that Defendant Templin did not issue Plaintiff invoices for using the township roller on Plaintiff's property. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) According to Plaintiff, "Templin was similarly persuaded to refrain from disclosing the propriety of the work done in the right-of-way in front of the property owned by Plaintiff's father in order to support an ethics charge motivated by political considerations." (Id. ¶ 26.) Furthermore, Plaintiff avers Templin took photographs of Plaintiff using a dumpster on township property at the urging of Defendants Kraus, Horne, Tupper, and Murphy. (Id. ¶ 27.)

The first motion to dismiss was filed by Defendants Viscome, Templin, and Tupper on July 27, 2009. (Doc. No. 7.) Plaintiff submitted his brief in opposition to the first motion to dismiss on August 23, 2009. (Doc. No. 12.) The Ethics Commission Defendants filed their motion to dismiss on September 4, 2009. (Doc. No. 18.) Plaintiff submitted his brief in opposition to their motion on October 13, 2009. (Doc. No. 21.) Defendant Keith Murphy filed his motion to dismiss on October 30, 2009. (Doc. No. 23.) Plaintiff submitted his brief in opposition to Murphy's motion on November 16, 2009. (Doc. No. 26.) Defendant Kraus filed his motion to dismiss on December 29, 2009. (Doc. No. 30.) The case was stayed by the Court pending resolution of the first motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 17.)

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In analyzing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), "courts 'accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). The Third Circuit has outlined the analysis a district court should undergo in determining whether the pleading standard has been met:

[W]hen presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The District Court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a District Court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief." In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to "show" such an entitlement with its facts.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (citations omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides a cause of action against persons who, acting under color of state law, deprive a citizen or citizens of the rights, privileges and immunities secured by the Constitution and federal law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983; see also Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 638 (3d Cir. 1995). "In a typical § 1983 action, a court must initially determine whether the plaintiff has even alleged the deprivation of a right that either federal law or the Constitution protects." Gruenke v. Seip, 225 F.3d 290, 298 (3d Cir. 2000) (citation omitted).

Additionally, in a civil rights complaint, a plaintiff must establish an individual claim for relief as to each named defendant. See Thomas v. Independence Twp., 463 F.3d 285, 298 (3d Cir. 2006) (dismissing claims where no allegations were made that defendants were personally involved in the wrongs alleged); see also Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988) ("A defendant in a civil rights action must have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs . . . . Allegations of participation or actual knowledge and acquiescence . . . must be made with appropriate particularity.").

In the present case, Plaintiff's complaint does not list separate claims. However, it appears that Plaintiff raises five different claims for relief: (1) a First Amendment retaliation claim; (2) a procedural due process claim; (3) a substantive due process claim; (4) an equal protection claim; and (5) a civil conspiracy claim. In the briefs accompanying their motions to dismiss, Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to state viable claims for relief.*fn6 (See Doc. No. 8 at 6-13; Doc. No. 20 at 4-10; Doc. No. 24 at 10-15.) Defendants Viscome, Templin, and Tupper have also raised the defense of qualified immunity. (Doc. No. 8 at 13-14.) Because Plaintiff has stated cognizable First Amendment ...


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