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Chester Cipilewski v. John Szymanski

March 25, 2011

CHESTER CIPILEWSKI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN SZYMANSKI, DOMINICK MANETTI, AND LACKAWANNA COUNTY, DEFENDANTS,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are Motions to Dismiss filed on behalf of Defendant Lackawanna County (Doc. 19), Defendant Dominick Manetti (Doc. 34), and Defendant John Szymanski (Doc. 36). For the reasons stated below, the Motions will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's Complaint alleges as follows.

Plaintiff Chester Cipilewski was a Lackawanna County deputy sheriff for twenty-five years, from 1984 until his termination in 2009. At the end of 2009, Sheriff Szymanski's term was about to expire and Mr. Cipilewski decided to challenge him for the Democratic nomination for sheriff. In the course of pursuing the nomination, Mr. Cipilewski made a number of statements about how he would be a better candidate for Sheriff than Mr. Szymanski. Mr. Cipilewski's campaign website also included hyperlinks to newspaper articles that were critical of Sheriff Szymanski over an incident at the Lackawanna Courthouse. On March 19, 2009 someone saw Chief Deputy Sheriff Dominick Manetti steal one of Mr. Cipilewski's campaign signs and reported the theft to the police. This incident was also discussed by Mr. Cipilewski in his campaign speeches. Sheriff Szymanski defeated Mr. Cipilewski in the May 2009 primary election and was re-elected Lackawanna County Sheriff in November 2009. After Sheriff Szymanski won re-election, he conspired with Mr. Manetti to retaliate against Mr. Cipilewski by terminating him from his position as deputy sheriff. They went about doing this by having younger deputies fabricate complaints about Mr. Cipilewski leaving his shift early once his replacement had arrived, a long standing practice in the department. Mr. Manetti had a meeting with Mr. Cipilewski on July 24, 2009 to discuss the complaints, but it had already been decided that Mr. Cipilewski would be fired. On July 28, 2009, Sheriff Szymanski and Lackawanna County terminated Mr. Cipilewski's employment. After Mr. Cipilewski informed the Defendants that he intended to sue, Sheriff Szymanski, Lackawanna County, and Mr. Cipilewski began negotiating a resolution to the issues between them. On March 18, 2010, Lackawanna County agreed to reinstate Mr. Cipilewski to his former position, with same benefits and pay. Although Mr. Cipilewski would not have to release any legal claims he had regarding his termination, acceptance of the offer would cut off any "front pay" owed by Lackawanna County. Mr. Cipilewski accepted the offer the same day it was extended. However, Lackawanna County and Sheriff Szymanski never allowed Mr. Cipilewski to return to work.

Plaintiff filed his Complaint on October 6, 2010. In his Complaint, Plaintiff brings claims for: First Amendment Retaliation, Procedural Due Process, and Equal Protection, all under § 1983 (Count I); Wrongful Termination (Count II); Breach of Contract (Count III); and Fraud (Count IV). Plaintiff seeks compensatory, as well as punitive, damages, and attorneys' fees under § 1983. The Defendants have each filed a Motion to Dismiss. (Docs. 19, 34, and 36.) The Motions have been fully briefed and are ripe for review.

LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring a complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "'give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'" Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant [with] the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232; see also Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. v. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or "'legal conclusions,'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997)). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of her claims. See Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

DISCUSSION

I. Defendant Lackawanna County's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 19)

A. Plaintiff's § 1983 Claims

Defendant Lackawanna County's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's § 1983 claims because Sheriff Szymanski had sole responsibility for employee hiring and firing decisions will be denied.

42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

To establish a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must show that the defendant 1) was a state actor who 2) violated the plaintiff's rights under the Constitution or federal law. Benn v. Universal Health Sys., Inc., 371 F.3d 165, 169-70 (3d Cir. 2004) (internal citation omitted). The United States Supreme Court has held that a municipality may be a "state actor" for purposes of liability under § 1983. "A municipality may not be held liable under § 1983 for the constitutional torts of its employees by virtue of respondeat superior. Rather, a municipality may be held liable for the conduct of an individual employee or officer only when that conduct implements an official policy or practice." Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 98 S.Ct. 2018 (1978). Actions by persons with final authority for making a decision within the municipal entity constitute official policy for purposes of § 1983. See Pembauer v. City of Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 483-484 (1986) ("municipal liability under § 1983 attaches where-and only where-a deliberate choice to follow a course of action is made from among various alternatives by the official or officials responsible for establishing final policy with respect to the subject matter in question"). The Third Circuit has further held:

An individual's conduct implements official policy or practice under several types of circumstances, including when (1) the individual acted pursuant to a formal government policy or a standard operating procedure long accepted within the government entity, (2) the individual himself has final policy-making authority such that his conduct represents official policy, or (3) a final policy-maker renders the individual's conduct official for liability purposes by having delegated to him authority to act or speak for the government, or by ratifying the conduct or speech after it has occurred.

Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F. 3d 255, 245 (3d Cir. 2006).

Here, citing 16 P.S. § 1620 of the County Code, Lackawanna County argues that it cannot be liable under § 1983 because the County had no authority to affect Plaintiff's employment. This argument, however, misstates the law. 16 P.S. § 1620 clearly states that Sheriff Szymanski was a final policy-maker under Pembauer and its progeny because authority over hiring and firing of police department employees had been delegated to him. Therefore, his actions in this capacity were effectively actions taken by Lackawanna County. If Lackawanna County's reasoning was correct here, every municipality could essentially insulate itself ...


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