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Pfeiffer v. Borough of Slatington

October 7, 2010

HERB PFEIFFER, PLAINTIFF
v.
BOROUGH OF SLATINGTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stengel, J.

MEMORANDUM

At a publicmeeting of Borough Council in March 2009, Herb Pfeiffer, the Borough Manager of Slatington, voiced opposition to Council's decision to forgive $44,000 remaining on an $80,000 loan made to the Vigilant Fire Company.A couple of months later, Council voted to terminate his employment. Mr. Pfeiffer brought this case against the Borough of Slatington, its Solicitor, and members of its Council, alleging retaliation and civil conspiracy under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and various state law claims. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the following reasons, I will grant the motion in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

Herb Pfeiffer is a resident of Lehighton, a borough in Carbon County, Pennsylvania. In September 2008, he was hired by the Borough of Slatington for the position of Borough Manager, Borough Secretary, and Borough Treasurer, to serve as an at-will, non-union, and non-civil service employee. See Compl., Exh. A. Slatington is in Lehigh County. By letter dated August 14, 2008, Mr. Pfeiffer was provided a detailed description of the terms and conditions of his employment, terms which he accepted. Id.

During the course of his employment with the Borough, Mr. Pfeiffer worked with all members of the Council including Solicitor Edmund J. Healy, Esquire, Borough President Galen Freed, Borough Vice-President Byron Reed, and Council members Eldon Roberts, Paul Hoffman, and Russell Halman. See Compl. ¶¶ 3-8, 13.

In March 2009, Mr. Pfeiffer attended a public meeting of Borough Council during which it was decided that $44,000.00 remaining on an $80,000.00 loan made to the Vigilant Fire Company by the Borough be forgiven. Id. ¶ 14. Mr. Pfeiffer was vocal in his opposition to this decision to forgive the loan which he felt was being done without adequate reason or justification. Id. ¶ 16.

Defendant Reed is the co-owner of several properties located in the Borough, including a property which was formerly used as a lumber yard located on Cherry Street.

Id. ¶ 17. In March 2009, Mr. Pfeiffer and two Borough workers issued citations to Defendant Reed based on his Cherry Street property which had fallen into serious disrepair. Id. ¶ 18. They presented the citations to Magisterial District Justice Rod Beck during which a negotiated "settlement" was reached. Id. ¶ 19. A month later, Mr. Pfeiffer assisted in the issuance of a warning of citation to Defendant Reed based on another of his properties and a similar warning based on an abandoned vehicle owned by Defendant Reed and parked on a public street. Id. ¶ 20. Defendant Reed later approached Mr. Pfeiffer at his office and accused him of "picking on him." Id. ¶ 21.

At other times during his employment, Mr. Pfeiffer expressed differences of opinion with Council concerning matters in which he was involved. He never believed that his employment was in jeopardy. Id. ¶ 22.

On May 11, 2009, Mr. Pfeiffer was informed that he was to be placed on a thirty day probationary period due to his alleged failure to communicate with Defendant Healy and other members of Borough Council on a matter, unspecified in the complaint. Id. ¶ 23. Mr. Pfeiffer requested that Defendant Freed provide him some direction as to where to focus his efforts going forward. He was not provided any such feedback. Id. ¶¶ 24-25. Before the end of the probationary period, Borough Council convened a workshop and instructed Mr. Pfeiffer not to attend. Id. ¶ 26. That evening, Defendant Freed telephoned Mr. Pfeiffer and informed him that Borough Council voted to terminate his employment. Id. ¶ 27.

On the following day, i.e., May 27, 2009, Mr. Pfeiffer attended a meeting with Defendants Freed and Reed during which the proffered reasons for his termination were discussed, including but not limited to Borough Council's displeasure with Mr. Pfeiffer's public opposition to the decision to forgive the remaining loan balance of $44,000.00 made to the Vigilant Fire Company. Id. ¶ 28.

As of the date of the plaintiff's termination, Defendant Reed owed several thousands of dollars in fines issued by the Borough with Mr. Pfeiffer's involvement. Id. ¶ 29. Two months later, Borough President Freed directed an outside attorney to inform Magistrate Beck to have the citations withdrawn, sparing Defendant Reed the responsibility for payment of the fines. Id. ¶ 30. This decision gathered public attention and was the subject of local and regional newspaper articles which questioned its legitimacy and lawfulness. Id. ¶ 31.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted examines the legal sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The factual allegations must be sufficient to make the claim for relief more than just speculative. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). In determining whether to grant a motion to dismiss, a federal court must construe the complaint liberally, accept all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and ...


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