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Jeffrey Searls v. City of Meadville

March 30, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter


Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter

A. Relevant Procedural History

On January 21, 2009, Plaintiff filed the instant civil rights action claiming that Defendant City of Meadville retaliated against him when it constructively discharged him from his employment as a city police officer. Plaintiff avers that Defendant‟s actions were taken in retaliation for Plaintiff‟s exercise of his First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution and are violative of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and §1985. Plaintiff resigned his position as a police officer with the City of Meadville in exchange for the City agreeing not to pursue criminal charges against him stemming from a June 7, 2008 off-duty incident with his neighbor. As relief, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, as well as various forms of injunctive relief including reinstatement to his position as a police officer. ECF No. 11.

B. Standard of Review - Motion for summary judgment

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c)(2) provides that summary judgment shall be granted if the "pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Rule 56(e)(2) further provides that when a motion for summary judgment is made and supported, "an opposing party may not rely merely on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must -- by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule -- set out specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. If the opposing party does not so respond, summary judgment should, if appropriate, be entered against that party."

A district court may grant summary judgment for the defendant when the plaintiff has failed to present any genuine issues of material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The moving party has the initial burden of proving to the district court the absence of evidence supporting the non-moving party‟s claims. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641, 647 (3d Cir. 2007); UPMC Health System v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 391 F.3d 497, 502 (3d Cir. 2004).

The burden then shifts to the non-movant to come forward with specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e); Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 460-461 (3d Cir. 1989)(the non-movant must present affirmative evidence - more than a scintilla but less than a preponderance - which supports each element of his claim to defeat a properly presented motion for summary judgment). The non-moving party must go beyond the pleadings and show specific facts by affidavit or by information contained in the filed documents (i.e., depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions) to meet his burden of proving elements essential to his claim. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. See also Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001). The non-moving party "must present more than just bare assertions, conclusory allegations or suspicions to show the existence of a genuine issue." Garcia v. Kimmell, 2010 WL 2089639, at * 1 (3d Cir. 2010) quoting Podobnik v. U.S. Postal Serv., 409 F.3d 584, 594 (3d Cir. 2005).

When considering a motion for summary judgment, the court is not permitted to weigh the evidence or to make credibility determinations, but is limited to deciding whether there are any disputed issues and, if there are, whether they are both genuine and material. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). The court must consider the evidence, and all reasonable inferences which may be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). See also El v. SEPTA, 479 F.3d 232, 238 (3d Cir. 2007).

A material fact is a fact whose resolution will affect the outcome of the case under applicable law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Summary judgment is only precluded if the dispute about a material fact is "genuine," i.e., if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Id. at 247-249.

C. Relevant Facts

At the time Plaintiff applied for a position with Defendant City of Meadville around February of 2006, Plaintiff was aware of a residency requirement for police officers.

ECF No. 30-1, Plaintiff‟s Deposition, page 10. *fn2 At the time of his hire, Plaintiff owned a home in Vernon Township, outside the city limits of Meadville. Id. at 8. Just before the beginning of his employment with the City of Meadville in March of 2006, Plaintiffcontacted State Senator Bob Robbins‟ office to inquire about the status of a proposed House Bill that sought to eliminate residency requirements for police officers. Id. at 7-8. The inquiry was limited to an email and a single phone call with an unnamed woman who indicated to Plaintiff that the House Bill was "dead on the table or a dead bill." Id. at 7-9. Plaintiff moved into the city limits of Meadville.

Plaintiff was appointed as a probationary police officer in March 2006. Id. at 6. Around the time of hire, Plaintiff and Chief Steffanucci discussed that Plaintiff‟s prior experience as a deputy sheriff would not be credited in the pay scale. Id. at 11. Following a one-year probationary period (presumably around March of 2007), Plaintiff, with the assistance of his FOP union representative, requested an increase in pay due to his prior experience as a Crawford County Deputy Sheriff. Id. at 17-18. Again, Chief Steffanucci denied Plaintiff‟s request. Plaintiff appealed Steffanucci decision to the City Manager who eventually awarded Plaintiff a partial increase in salary. ECF No. 30-1, Plaintiff‟s ...

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