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Stockley v. Borough

October 14, 2010

CURTIS STOCKLEY, JR., ET AL.
v.
DARBY BOROUGH, ET AL.



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

MEMORANDUM

Defendants Darby Borough, Acting Mayor Helen Thomas, Darby Borough Police Chief Robert Smythe, Lieutenant Richard Gibney, Lieutenant Darrell Guy, Officer Anthony Salvatore, and Corporal Joseph Gabe (collectively "Defendants") have filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, which asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985. For the reasons that follow, the Motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The Amended Complaint alleges that, from 2006 to the present, Plaintiff Curtis Stockley, Jr., an African-American male, has been the Elected Constable of Darby Borough in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. (Am Compl. ¶ 7, 17-18.) At all relevant times, Plaintiffs Patrick Ojong and Elijah G.T. Thompson, IV, also African-American males, were Darby Borough Police Officers. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9, 35, 86.) In the relevant time period, Defendant Helen Thomas was the Mayor of Darby; Defendant Robert Smythe was the Chief of the Darby Borough Police Department ("DBPD"); and Defendants Lieutenant Richard Gibney, Lieutenant Darrell Guy, Patrolman Anthony Salvatore, and Corporal Joseph Gabe were all Darby Borough Police Officers. (Id. ¶¶ 11-16.)

According to the Amended Complaint, Stockley, as Constable, is responsible for transporting prisoners and serving warrants. (Id. ¶ 19.) He is compensated for each warrant he serves and for each person he transports. (Id.) On or about January 2, 2007, Defendant Chief Smythe ordered that a directive be sent to the DBPD that Stockley was no longer allowed to transport DBPD prisoners or use the Darby Prison System jail facilities for any purpose. (Id. ¶ 27.) Around the same time, a meeting was held at which it was decided that Plaintiff was no longer allowed in the Darby Police Station. (Id. ¶ 29.) Smythe's directive "effectively prevent[ed] [Stockley] from performing the duties of a Constable and inhibit[ed] his ability to earn a living." (Id. ¶ 27.) "Since January 2, 2007 until present day, [Stockley] has been fearful to execute any warrants because he is afraid that he will not receive back-up from the DBPD." (Id. ¶ 30.) Moreover, Stockley "is currently unable to earn a living in Darby Borough as the Constable." (Id. ¶ 31.)

Starting in November 2006, Stockley was also employed as School Investigator for the William Penn School District. (Id. ¶ 21.) In a January 2007 meeting, Defendant Smythe told the School District's superintendent and assistant superintendent that Stockley was a member of the Wheels of Soul Motorcycle "Gang," when, in fact, Stockley has not been a member of the Wheels of Soul Motorcycle "Club" for many years. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) Smythe also told the two superintendents that he was tired of Stockley "telling politicians that 'the White Man' is running Darby Borough." (Id. ¶ 25.) Stockley "believes and therefore avers that . . . Smythe called . . . Stockley a racist to the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent" in that January 2007 meeting. (Id. ¶ 26.)

The Amended Complaint further alleges that, in November of 2005, Defendant Ojong was asked to join the DBPD as a part-time patrol officer because Darby Borough had to increase the number of African-American officers on the force. (Id. ¶ 36.) Ojong joined the DBPD as a part-time officer in February of 2006. (Id. ¶ 37.) Although there is an unwritten policy that a police officer can only work in one police department at a time, Ojong and several other officers were employed by more than one department. (Id. ¶ 38.) Ojong, in particular, was simultaneously working for the Colwyn Police Department. (Id. ¶ 39.)

In June 2006, Ojong was unfairly disciplined for submitting an incomplete police report. (Id. ¶¶ 40-46.) Four months later, in October of 2006, he was again unfairly disciplined, under circumstances in which Caucasian officers who were more culpable than Ojong escaped any discipline. (Id. ¶¶ 49-60.) Later that same month, Ojong was suspended for three days, purportedly for writing a subpar supplemental report, while the Caucasian who wrote the primary report received no discipline. (Id. ¶¶ 61-67.) Thereafter, Ojong was yet again suspended for three days, this time for writing an incomplete juvenile petition, even though he was not given sufficient information to write a more complete petition. (Id. ¶¶ 68-72.) In January 2007, Ojong got into an altercation with Defendant Salvatore over a flashlight, and Salvatore threatened Ojong with his loaded service weapon. (Id. ¶¶ 73-80.) In April 2007, Ojong was denied a clothing allowance that the DBPD provided to all other officers except Plaintiff Thompson. (Id. ¶ 82.) That same month, Ojong was directed to resign because he was not allowed to work for two police departments simultaneously. (Id. ¶ 83.) In 2009, Ojong learned that other police officers in the DBPD were also working simultaneously for two departments. (Id. ¶ 85.)

The Amended Complaint alleges that, from March 2000 to March 2001, Plaintiff Thompson, like Ojong, worked part-time for the DBPD. (Id. ¶ 87.) He left the DBPD in March 2001 in good standing. (Id. ¶ 88.) In 2006, Defendant Guy informally recommended that Thompson apply for a part-time position with the DPBD and, in June of that year, Thompson re-joined the DBPD. (Id. ¶¶ 93-94.) At the same time, Thompson held a position as School Resource Officer at the William Penn School District. (Id. ¶ 90.)

While with the DBPD, Thompson "was subject to numerous senseless, dangerous and life- threatening situations in which he would call for routine backup . . . and other officers would arrive late, not show up at all or leave the scene early." (Id. ¶ 96.) According to the Complaint, Thompson and Ojong were both "excluded from most calls, except certain calls that the White Officers didn't want to answer." (Id. ¶ 97.) In addition, "the White Officers would order food and eat together never inviting the Black Officers to join them." (Id.) Thompson complained to Defendant Guy on numerous occasions, but Guy did not take any action. (Id. ¶ 98.) "Many of the DBPD command and supervisory staff would often tell . . . Thompson and the other African-American police officers, "'If you don't like it, go the f- home!'" (Id. ¶ 99.)

On or about April 2007, Thompson received a letter from DBPD notifying him that it was against DPBD policy to have part-time employment and instructing him to resign by April 30, 2007. (Id. ¶ 102.) Upon their resignations in June 2007, both Thompson and Ojong turned in their issued firearms and, contrary to DBPD policy, Defendant Corporal Gabe refused to give them each a signed form acknowledging receipt of the firearm. (Id. ¶¶ 104-06.) In July 2007, Thompson moved his William Penn School District office from Darby Borough to Yeaden, Pennsylvania out of fear of intimidation and harassment. (Id. ¶ 107.) Like Ojong, Thompson did not become aware until 2009 that other officers who held part-time positions outside the DBPD had not been forced to resign. (Id. ¶ 109.)

The Amended Complaint asserts four causes of action. Count One asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that Defendants violated Plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and under the Equal Protection clause by depriving Stockley of the right to earn a living and by terminating Ojong and Thompson from employment with the DBPD. Count Two asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that Defendants created a racially hostile work environment in violation of Plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and the Equal Protection Clause. Count Three asserts that Defendants conspired to deprive Plaintiffs of their civil rights, including their right to equal protection, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985. Count Four asserts a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that Defendants violated Stockley's rights to procedural due process under the Fourteenth Amendment by harming his reputation and employment opportunities without giving him a forum in which to refute "the claims against him." Defendants have moved to dismiss all four Counts of the Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).*fn1

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), we look primarily at the facts alleged in the complaint and its attachments. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). We take the factual allegations of the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). Legal conclusions, however, receive no deference, and the court is "not bound to accept as true a legal ...


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