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Charlene Earnest, Robert Stough and Robert Stough, Jr. v. Christopher W. King Jefferson Hills Borough Council

October 24, 2011

CHARLENE EARNEST, ROBERT STOUGH AND ROBERT STOUGH, JR. PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CHRISTOPHER W. KING JEFFERSON HILLS BOROUGH COUNCIL PRESIDENT IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, MICHAEL GREEN JEFFERSON HILLS BOROUGH MAYOR IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND THE BOROUGH OF JEFFERSON HILLS,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Terrence F. McVerry United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

Pending now before the Court is DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFFS' COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO FED.R.CIV.P. 12(b)(6), filed at Doc. No. 10, with brief in support (Doc. No. 11). Plaintiffs responded in opposition with both a response in opposition, Doc. No. 14, and a brief in support of their response, Doc. No. 15, to which Defendants filed a reply, Doc. No. 16. The issues have been thoroughly briefed and are now ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Background

A. Procedural Background

Plaintiffs Charlene Earnest, Robert Stough, and Robert Stough, Jr., initiated this action with the filing of their civil action complaint on June 2, 2011. See Compl. at Doc. No. 1. The complaint is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and seeks to recover for alleged violations of Plaintiffs' civil rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and for state law claims of civil conspiracy, assault, and battery, all of which derive from a series of interactions with Jefferson Hills police officers that occurred during the summer months of both 2009 and 2010. Compl., generally. Defendants move to dismiss the complaint in its entirety, arguing that Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for which relief can be granted.

B. Factual Background

Generally speaking, this action stems from neighborhood disharmony among Plaintiffs and Defendant King, all of whom live in the Borough of Jefferson Hills, Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs Charlene Earnest and Robert Stough are the parents of Robert Stough, Jr., and all three live together. Compl. at ¶¶ 3 -- 5. Defendant Christopher King and his mother Carol King live in close proximity to one another, and are neighbors of Plaintiffs. Compl. at ¶ 9. During the operative time period, Defendant Christopher King was the President of the Jefferson Hills Borough Council. Compl. at ¶ 6. The sequence of events alleged within the complaint that give rise to the claims can be arranged into relatively distinct episodes of interaction with the Jefferson Hills police department.

1. July 11, 2009: Plaintiff King assaults Defendant Stough

On July 11, 2009, Plaintiffs allege that Defendant King approached Plaintiff Stough, Jr. ("Plaintiff son") at Plaintiffs' home, and complained about noise that Stough and his friends were making. Compl. at ¶ 10. Apprehensive that Defendant King was "out of control", Plaintiff son "left the scene" in order to inform his father. Compl. at ¶ 11. After being summoned to the scene by his son, Plaintiff Stough, Sr. ("Plaintiff father") "approached Mr. King and criticized his irresponsible behavior." Compl. at ¶ 12. The interaction between Plaintiff father and Defendant King culminated with Defendant King throwing Plaintiff father to the ground in such a manner that Plaintiff father struck his head and was rendered unconscious.*fn1 Compl. at ¶ 13.

Plaintiff father was subsequently treated at the Jefferson Regional Medical Center for his injury. Compl. at ¶ 16.

As the confrontation between Plaintiff father and Defendant King was occurring, Plaintiff son called the Jefferson Hills police department. Compl. at ¶ 17. Three police officers responded to the scene, but did not arrive until some point after the alleged assault by Defendant King. Compl. at ¶ 19. "The responding officers did not make any arrests or issue any citations at the direction of Christopher King. . Specifically, Mr. King indicated that he did not want any formal charges brought because, ‗It is an election year and the media would be all over this at the District Justice's office.'" Compl. at ¶ 20. Through the course of this discussion with police, Defendant King's mother, Carol King, was screaming, "I want them charged", although it is not clear from the complaint to who she is referring with her use of the word "them". Compl. at 21. While Plaintiff father desired to see criminal charges against Defendant King pursued, he was "specifically told by the reporting officer(s) that he could not press charges against Mr. King because no officer ‗personally witnessed' the attack." Compl. at ¶ 20. Following this incident, Plaintiff father alleges that he "was thereafter questioned on unrelated matters concerning various zoning ordinances and during various times following the attack by Mr. King he and his family received various notices and citations regarding alleged zoning violations in the mail." Compl. at ¶ 22.

2. August 2009: Plaintiff Earnest cited for disorderly conduct

One month following the attack on Plaintiff father by Defendant King, Plaintiff Earnest was charged with open lewdness (in violation of 18 Pa.C.S. §5901), disorderly conduct (18 Pa.C.S. §5503(a)(3)), and harassment (18 Pa.C.S. §2709(a)(1)). The citations followed a report by Kendra King, the wife of Defendant King, who "alleged that as she walked toward her home with her young children, Earnest spat in the street, and exposed her bare buttocks." Compl. at ¶ 24. Plaintiffs allege that the claims of Kendra King were untrue, and further allege that, consistent with the standard employed by the police with the earlier incident, Plaintiff Earnest should not have been cited by police given the fact that no police officer personally witnessed the disorderly behavior. Compl. at ¶ 25. Plaintiffs contend that the incident was "a continuation of a pattern of harassment that began after the assault of Robert Stough, Sr. by Defendant King." Id. The Jefferson Hills police officer who cited Plaintiff Earnest was not one of the three officers involved with the earlier incident.

3. June 2010: Defendant Stough, Jr. cited for traffic violations

Plaintiffs allege that one year following the incident involving Defendant King, Plaintiff son was "targeted . in relation to a motor vehicle incident that was settled amicably without the need for any citations and/or charges." Compl. at ¶ 29. Apparently, on or about June 8, 2010, some kind of traffic incident occurred involving two drivers, one of whom was Plaintiff son. Jefferson Hills police officer Dale Provins, Jr., responded to the scene of the incident, and made an initial determination not to issue any citations, at the request of the other driver (not identified in the complaint). Compl. at ¶¶ 30-31. The following day, Defendant King's mother, Carol King, who was a secretary with the Borough police department, received a copy of the incident report for processing. Compl. at ¶ 32. Upon noticing that no citation had been issued, Carol King "immediately expressed outrage", and exclaimed, "I want something done. If you people don't want to do your job I'll see this place disbanded." Compl. at ¶ 33. Twenty (20) days following the incident, the other driver involved in the incident "allegedly contacted Jefferson Hills Police officer Provins and . stated that he wished to proceed with the matter through the police department and wanted charges made against Stough Jr." Compl. at ¶ 34. Thereafter, officer Provins issued three citations to Plaintiff son for the following:

a. Citation number B7915115-5, for "careless driving" under Pa. MVC, 75 Pa.C.S. § 3714(a). Stough, Jr. allegedly "cut off" the complainant while they were both operating their respective motor vehicles on a roadway in Jefferson Hills, Pa;

b. Citation number P8520213-2, for "disorderly conduct" under Pa.C.S. § 5503(a)(1). Stough, Jr., according to the citation, "engag[ed] in threatening behavior by attempting to fight with victim[,] block[ing] vehicle in and approach[ing] victim causing concern for safety.";

c. Citation number P8520214-3, for "Harassment", under 18 Pa,C.S. § 2709(a)(3) Stough, Jr. allegedly engaged in a course of conduct which served no legitimate purpose and followed and approached the victim in a threatening manner.

Compl. at ¶ 35. Despite being the officer who cited Plaintiff son, officer Provins "expressed disdain with the police department about the issuance of the above citations". Compl. at ¶ 37.

4. August 2010: Acting Chief reports Defendant King to Attorney General

Plaintiffs allege that the former acting chief of police, Chief Reagan, "was taken aback by what had occurred" and contacted to Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General ("AG's office") to report "the clear impropriety conducted by the Kings in using their political influence to exact retaliation against the Plaintiffs because of their personal differences with the Plaintiffs." Compl. at ¶ 39. Following his initial contact with the AG's office, Chief Reagan alerted Defendant Green, the mayor of Jefferson Hills. Compl. at ¶ 41. Defendant Green purportedly instructed Chief Reagan "not to proceed with his complaint", instruction which Regan complied with out of a fear "for his job security." Compl. at ¶ 43.

II. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiently of the complaint filed by Plaintiff. The United States Supreme Court has held that "[a] plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‗grounds' of his ‗entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, ...


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