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Neil Williams v. Exeter Township

March 26, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: (judge Caputo)


Presently before the Court is the Motion to Partially Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) (Doc. 3) filed by Defendants Exeter Township, Nancy Smith, John Coolbaugh, Benjamin Gadomski, and Donald Hoffman. Defendants move to dismiss, with prejudice, Count II of the Complaint on the basis that Plaintiff's Pennsylvania Whistleblower Act claim, 43 P.S. §§ 1421, et seq., is time barred. (Doc. 3.) Because the Whistleblower Act claim, as alleged, is time barred, the Court will dismiss the Whistleblower claim. However, Plaintiff will be given leave to amend his Complaint to properly state a claim pursuant to the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Act.

I. Background

Plaintiff filed the present action against Defendants Exeter Township, Chief of Police Nancy Smith, Supervisor John Coolbaugh, Supervisor Benjamin Gadomski, and Supervisor Donald Hoffman (collectively "Defendants"). (Doc. 1.) Count I of Plaintiff's Complaint asserts claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1.) Count II, labeled "State Claims," appears to assert claims for wrongful discharge, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and violation of the Pennsylvania Whistleblower Act, 43 P.S. §§ 1421, et seq. As set forth in Plaintiff's Complaint, the relevant facts are as follows: On October 31, 2006, Plaintiff Neil Williams was hired by Exeter Township as Road Department Foreman. (Doc. 1.) When Plaintiff was hired, Nancy Smith was employed by the Exeter Township Police Department as a Sergeant. (Doc. 1.) In December of 2009, Smith was appointed Chief of Police of Exeter Township. (Doc. 1.) While Plaintiff was employed as Road Department Foreman, Defendant Smith repeatedly harassed Plaintiff. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff frequently indicated to Defendant Smith that the harassment was unwelcome and Plaintiff informed the Exeter Township Board of Supervisors of Defendant Smith's conduct. (Doc. 1.) The Board of Supervisors, however, refused to take action. (Doc.

1.) At some time after February 5, 2010, Defendant Smith met with Township Supervisors and requested that Plaintiff's employment be terminated. (Doc. 1.) Moreover, in September of 2010, Defendant Smith filed criminal charges against Plaintiff for Public Drunkeness and Disorderly Conduct. (Doc. 1.) The charges, however, were ultimately dismissed by the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas on December 22, 2010. (Doc. 1.)

While Plaintiff was employed as Road Department Foreman, Defendant Coolbaugh was a Supervisor of Exeter Township and also an employee in the Exeter Township Road Department. (Doc. 1.) During Plaintiff's employment, Plaintiff became aware of discrepancies involving Defendant Coolbaugh's payroll submissions and his actual time worked. (Doc. 1.) After Defendant Coolbaugh informed Plaintiff that he was not required to submit punched time cards, Plaintiff raised the issue at Exeter Township public meetings in November and December of 2009. (Doc. 1.) Defendant Coolbaugh, however, told Plaintiff to sit down and shut up at the meetings. (Doc. 1.) Thereafter, Defendant Coolbaugh engaged, on a daily basis, in demeaning, harassing, and threatening Plaintiff.

(Doc. 1.) In January of 2010, Defendant Coolbaugh became the Exeter Township Road Master. (Doc. 1.)

Defendants Gadomski and Hoffman were also Exeter Township Supervisors during Plaintiff's employment as Road Department Foreman. (Doc. 1.) In early January of 2010, Plaintiff informed Defendants Gadomski and Hoffman of Defendant Coolbaugh's improper conduct, including discrepancies in Defendant Coolbaugh's payroll submissions in relation to his time worked. (Doc. 1.) Although Defendants Gadomski and Hoffman assured Plaintiff that they would resolve his issues with Defendant Coolbaugh, Plaintiff was informed shortly thereafter that he was laid off from his position. (Doc. 1.) After he was terminated, Plaintiff attempted to collect his paycheck for accrued vacation pay, but Plaintiff was informed that Defendant Coolbaugh would not sign the check. (Doc. 1.)

On February 18, 2010, at an improperly scheduled Special Meeting of the Exeter Township Board following an Executive Session called by Defendant Hoffman, Defendant Coolbaugh moved to have Plaintiff fired. (Doc. 1.) Defendant Gadomski seconded the motion and Defendant Hoffman approved the motion. (Doc. 1.) At the next public meeting, in March of 2010, the Board rescinded the action taken at the February 18, 2010 meeting and "re-fired" Plaintiff due to a procedural defect at the Special Meeting. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff attempted to speak at the meeting where he was "re-fired," but Defendant Coolbaugh told him "to shut up and prohibited him from speaking at the public meeting." (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff later learned he was fired for insubordination, but the State Unemployment Office found this claim to be unsubstantiated. (Doc. 1.)

At the April and May of 2010 public meetings, Plaintiff requested to retrieve his personal property from the Exeter Township Building, but Plaintiff Coolbaugh refused to allow Plaintiff to recover his property. (Doc. 1.)

After being fired, Plaintiff attended multiple Township Board meetings to address issues related to the use of time cards by supervisor-employees. (Doc. 1.) As a result, the Board, on July 12, 2010, passed a motion requiring supervisor-employees to submit punched time cards. (Doc. 1.) This motion, however, was rescinded by a vote of Defendants Coolbaugh, Hoffman, and Gadomski on August 2, 2010. (Doc. 1.)

At the conclusion of a Board meeting on September 7, 2010, Plaintiff and Defendant Gadomski engaged in an argument in front of several witnesses. (Doc. 1.) During the argument, Defendant Gadomski admitted to Plaintiff that he got him fired as Road Department Foreman and also threatened to get Plaintiff fired from his private sector job. (Doc. 1.)

After Plaintiff commenced this action on October 18, 2011, Defendants filed the present partial motion to dismiss. (Doc. 3.) Defendants seek to dismiss Count II*fn1 of

Plaintiff's Complaint with prejudice. (Doc. 3.) According to Defendants, a Pennsylvania Whisteblower Act claim must be filed within 180 days of the alleged violation. (Doc. 3.) Defendants argue that because the last event alleged by Plaintiff occurred on March 4, 2011 (Doc. 9),*fn2 the Whistleblower Act claim is untimely as Plaintiff's Complaint was filed over 180 days after March 4, 2011. (Doc. 9.) Plaintiff opposes Defendants' partial motion to dismiss and asserts "that discovery conducted in the case will reveal that Defendant Supervisors continued their retaliation" after March 4, 2011. (Doc. 8.) Plaintiff also ...

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