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John C. Gawlas v. Christopher W. King In His

January 20, 2012

JOHN C. GAWLAS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHRISTOPHER W. KING IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, JAMES A. WEBER IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, J. SCOTT ALBRECHT IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, JANICE R. CMAR IN HER OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, VICKIE IELASE IN HER OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, TRACEY P. KHALIL IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, MARY K. REYNOLDS IN HER OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY, JACK MAPLE IN HIS OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITY AND THE BOROUGH OF JEFFERSON HILLS
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McVerry, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER OF COURT

Pending before the Court is DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS PLAINTIFF'S AMENDED COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO FED. R. CIV. P. 12(B)(6) (Document No. 25), with brief in support. Plaintiff John Gawlas ("Gawlas") filed a response and brief in opposition to the motion; Defendants filed a reply brief; Gawlas filed a sur-reply brief; and the motion is now ripe for disposition.

Factual and Procedural History

In its Memorandum Opinion and Order of September 27, 2011, the Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss the original Complaint, but permitted Gawlas leave to amend. On October 11, 2011 Gawlas filed an Amended Complaint. Defendants have renewed their motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint in its entirety for failure to state a valid claim.

Although the Amended Complaint is thirty-one pages in length, the relevant and operative facts pled are rather straight-forward. At all relevant times, Gawlas was (and still is) employed as a police officer by the Borough of Jefferson Hills, Pennsylvania (the "Borough"). Named as Defendants are the Borough, certain members of Borough Council, and the Chief of Police.

Gawlas served as a K-9 officer for approximately fifteen years. On December 13, 2010 the Borough Council unanimously adopted a 2011 budget which eliminated the K-9 program in the borough. Plaintiff alleges that Defendants made this decision in retaliation for his (unspecified) "union activity and/or political affiliations" with other Borough officials.*fn1

Amended Complaint ¶ 9. Plaintiff further contends that he was not notified prior to the budget vote, nor given a hearing or opportunity to comment. Gawlas claims that the K-9 program could have been funded through other sources.

Gawlas further alleges that he was subjected to a financial audit (the "CSI investigation") after the program was eliminated and that the resulting report was made public. The Amended Complaint cites to an April 28, 2011 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which suggested that Gawlas had earned more than $224,000 in compensatory time over the past eight years as the department's K-9 officer. The audit report allegedly referred to Gawlas as an "opportunist who exploited the collective bargaining agreement and his role as a K-9 handler to maximize his personal income." Amended Complaint ¶ 71. Plaintiff contends that, as a result, he "was deprived of a liberty interest and suffered a stigma to his reputation." Amended Complaint ¶ 90. Gawlas asserts claims for (1) First Amendment Retaliation; (2) violation of his right to Procedural Due Process; and (3) "Due Process -- Liberty Interest."

Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) challenges the legal sufficiency 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, 555(207)(citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986)) (alterations in original).

The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded facts and allegations, and must draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in favor of the plaintiff. However, as the Supreme Court made clear in Twombly, the "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. The Supreme Court has subsequently broadened the scope of this requirement, stating that only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, --- U.S. ---, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (emphasis added).

Thus, after Iqbal, a district court must conduct a two-part analysis when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir.2009). First, the Court must separate the factual and legal elements of the claim. Id. Although the Court "must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, [it] may disregard any legal conclusions." Id. at 210--211. Second, the Court "must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a 'plausible claim for relief.' In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to 'show' such an entitlement with its facts." Id. at 211 (citing Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949). The determination for "plausibility" will be "'a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.'" Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950).

As a result, "pleading standards have seemingly shifted from simple notice pleading to a more heightened form of pleading, requiring a plaintiff to plead more than the possibility of relief to survive a motion to dismiss." Id. at 211. That is, "all civil complaints must now set out 'sufficient factual matter' to show that the claim is facially plausible. This then 'allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.'" Id. at 210 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1948).

However, nothing in Twombly or Iqbal changed the other pleading standards for a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and the requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 must still be met. See Phillips v. Co. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir.2008)(internal citations omitted). Fed.R.Civ.P. 8 requires a showing, rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief, and "contemplates the statement of circumstances, occurrences, and events in support of the claim presented and does not authorize a pleader's bare averment that he wants relief and is entitled to it." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 n. 3 (internal citations and quotations omitted). Additionally, the Supreme Court did not abolish the Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) requirement that "the facts must be taken as true and a complaint ...


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