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Daniel S. Griffin v. Municipality of Kingston

February 22, 2011

DANIEL S. GRIFFIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MUNICIPALITY OF KINGSTON, ET AL. DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 29.) For the reasons discussed below, the Motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

The factual background of this suit has been discussed in detail in the Court's June 23, 2009 Memorandum Opinion (Doc. 13) and therefore will not be reiterated here. It is sufficient to state that Plaintiff was a Detective with the Kingston Police Department who unsuccessfully attempted to be certified for the position of Sergeant while out on leave of absence for a work-related injury and was later fired after being suspended for misrepresenting his physical disabilities and being indicted on criminal charges.

Plaintiff filed a Complaint against the Municipality of Kingston, Paul Keating, Keith Keiper, Kingston Civil Service Commission, John Judge, Fred Case, and Nancy Cooper on December 22, 2008. (Doc. 1.) In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleged violations of his Due Process and Equal Protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment (Counts I and II); violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act ("ADA") (Counts III and IV); Wrongful Discharge (Count V); Civil Conspiracy (Count VI); and Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress (Count VII). Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss on March 2, 2009, (Doc. 5) which the Court granted in part and denied in part on June 23, 2009. (Doc. 13.) In that Memorandum Opinion, the Court: granted the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Keating, Keiper, Judge, Case, and Cooper in their official capacities; granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Defendant Kingston Civil Service Commission as a party; granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress Claim (Count VII); denied Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Due Process Claim (Count I); and denied as moot Defendants' Motion for a More Definite Statement of Plaintiff's Due Process Claim (Count I). Defendants then filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on the Plaintiff's remaining claims on May 17, 2010. (Doc. 29.) The Motion has been briefed by both sides and is ripe for review.

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 & ARTHUR R. 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 determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

DISCUSSION

I. Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Procedural Due Process Claim Brought Under § 1983 Summary Judgment will be granted in favor of Defendants on Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Procedural Due Process claim. As the Court found in its prior Memorandum Opinion (Doc. 13), Plaintiff's Procedural Due Process claim has been brought in accordance with the standards set forth in § 1983 and, under Pennsylvania law, municipal police officers have a property interest in their jobs which entitles them to procedural due process. However, Plaintiff's failure to avail himself of the grievance procedures following his suspensions or his termination provided for in his collective bargaining agreement is fatal to Plaintiff's claim.

Grievance procedures established in a collective bargaining agreement may satisfy due process requirements. Dykes v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 68 F. 3d 1564, 1571 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Armstrong v. Meyers, 964 F. 2d 948, 951 (9th Cir. 1992)). To determine whether the grievance procedures in the controlling collective bargaining agreement comply with due process requirements, the court applies the three part balancing test ordained by the United States Supreme Court in Matthews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319 (1976). Dykes v. Se. Pa. Transp. Auth., 68 F. 3d 1564, 1571 (3d Cir. 1995). First, the court considers the employee's interest that would be affected by the official action. Dykes, 68 F.3d at 1572 (quoting Matthews, 424 U.S. at 335). Second, the court assesses the risk of an erroneous deprivation through the grievance and arbitration process and weighs the potential value of additional or substitute procedural safeguards. Id. Third, the court takes into account the governmental interest. Id.The Third Circuit has further determined that "[i]f there is a process on the books that appears to provide due process, the plaintiff cannot skip that process and use the federal courts as a means to get back ...


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