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Kymberley Best v. County of Northumberland

November 30, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Kane


Currently pending before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. No. 6.) This motion has been fully briefed and is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons stated more fully herein, the Court will grant the motion, and dismiss the complaint without prejudice. The Court will grant Plaintiff leave to amend, within twenty days, to cure the defects noted in this memorandum.


On May 11, 2011, Plaintiff Kymberley Best, initiated this action by filing a 13-count complaint against the County of Northumberland ("the County"), Vinny Clausi, and Merle Phillips. (Doc. No. 1.) According to her complaint,*fn1 Plaintiff Best had been hired as assistant solicitor for the County in January 2009 and was promoted to chief clerk in January 2010. (Id. ¶ 7.) During the entirety of Plaintiff's tenure as assistant solicitor and chief clerk, Defendants Clausi and Philips worked as county commissioners. (Id. ¶¶ 3, 4.) On March 18, 2011, Plaintiff was terminated. (Id. ¶ 23.) The events leading up to and including Plaintiff's termination form the basis for the instant civil action.

In October of 2010, Plaintiff Best and Defendant Clausi were among several County officials to investigate illness at the Northumberland County Courthouse. (Id. ¶ 8.) After reporting that Defendant Clausi obtained a deficient air quality test, Plaintiff obtained her own air quality tests. (Id. ¶ 8.) Because the results of Plaintiff's air quality tests revealed bacteria, she recommended that all courthouse employees file workers' compensation claims. (Id. ¶¶ 8, 9.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Clausi was dissatisfied with her recommendation and was angered by her actions. (Id.)

The October 2010 courthouse investigation revealed another hazard: the possibility that the panes of the courthouse's glass dome would cave in. The contractor hired to assess the dome reported that there was a "serious probability" that the panes of the glass dome might fall because the wooden structure supporting the dome had rotted after sustaining extensive water damage. (Id. ¶ 10.) However, Defendant Clausi allegedly chose to ignore and cover up the contractor's warning. (Id.) When Plaintiff discovered that one of the glass panes was hanging downward and looked like it was going to fall, she notified maintenance, Defendant Clausi, and the County's director of workers' compensation. (Id.) Defendant Clausi responded by leaving Plaintiff a threatening voicemail message in which he called her a "witch," told her that she was going to bankrupt the County, and instructed her to keep quiet. (Id.)

Even after Plaintiff confronted Defendant Clausi about the voicemail message, Defendant Clausi's intimidating and harassing behavior continued. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 12.) In October of 2010, Defendant Clausi screamed at Plaintiff in the County's administrative offices and accused her of being late. (Id. ¶ 14.) He then followed Plaintiff into her office where he continued to scream at her. (Id.) While Plaintiff remained seated at her desk, Defendant Clausi stood over her and threatened, "I can take care of you for ten cents. That's the cost of a bullet." (Id.) Plaintiff reported this incident to Joseph Picarelli, the Human Resources Director. (Id.)

In November or December of that year, Defendant Clausi again entered Plaintiff's office to threaten her. (Id. ¶ 15.) This time, he locked the door and closed the blinds. (Id.) He then pressured Plaintiff to quit her job and told her that he was a very important person who knew a lot of dangerous people. (Id.) Plaintiff felt trapped, intimidated, and threatened. (Id.)

On March 8, 2011, at a public work session held by the Northumberland County Commissioners, Defendant Clausi again screamed at Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 16.) He also pounded his fists on the desk, kicked his chair, and threw a garbage can in Plaintiff's direction before approaching her and shaking his fists in her face while continuing to scream at her. (Id.) Fearing for her safety, Plaintiff left the meeting in tears. (Id.) Plaintiff reported this incident to District Attorney Anthony Rosini, which resulted in a state police investigation. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 17.) Plaintiff also missed work due to the emotional toll that Defendant's actions had on her. (Id. ¶ 16.) On March 11, 2011, Defendant Clausi confronted Plaintiff in her office and refused to leave when asked. (Id. ¶ 19.)

On March 15, 2011, during a public meeting of the Northumberland County Commissioners, Plaintiff proposed that the commissioners adopt a Code of Civility. (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Clausi was angered or frustrated by Plaintiff's proposal, and he insisted that she be terminated. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 22.) Defendant Clausi had previously stated to the news media that Plaintiff should resign and that he would seek her termination. (Id. ¶ 18.) Defendants Clausi and Philips both voted in favor of terminating Plaintiff's employment. (Id. ¶ 23.) Accordingly, Plaintiff Best was fired, effective March 18, 2011. (Id.) Defendants indicated that Plaintiff was terminated for failing to communicate with Defendant Clausi after she made her police complaint, for providing poor legal advice on a matter involving the sale of county-owned land, and for proposing the Code of Civility at the public meeting. (Id. ¶ 24.) Following Plaintiff's termination, two males were hired to replace her. (Id. ¶ 25.)


A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint, Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993). In reviewing a motion to dismiss, a court may "consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, and documents that form the basis of a claim." Lum, 361 F.3d at 221 n.3. The motion will only be properly granted when, taking all factual allegations and inferences drawn therefrom as true, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Markowitz v. Ne. Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the moving party to show that no claim has been stated. Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 33 (3d Cir. 1980). Thus, the moving party must show that Plaintiff has failed to "set forth sufficient information to outline the elements of his claim or to permit inferences to be drawn that those elements exist." Kost, 1 F.3d at 183 (citations omitted). A court, however, "need not credit a complaint's 'bald assertions' or 'legal conclusions' when deciding a motion to dismiss." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906, 908 (3d Cir. 1997). While the 12(b)(6) standard does not require "detailed factual allegations," there must be a "'showing,' rather than a blanket assertion of entitlement to relief. . . . '[F]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.'" Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231-32 (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Put otherwise, a civil complaint must "set out 'sufficient factual matter' to show that the claim is facially plausible." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1955 (2009)).


In her complaint, Plaintiff has asserted the following causes of action: (1) a First Amendment retaliation claim raised pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Clausi and Phillips (Count I); (2) a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause against all Defendants (Count II); (3) a violation of the Equal Pay Act against all Defendants (Count III); (4) a conspiracy claim raised pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985 against Defendants Clausi and Phillips (Count IV); (5) a violation of the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law, 43 P.S. § 1421 (Count V); and (6) several other state-law claims, which Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed ...

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