Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

William Brace v. County of Luzerne

June 12, 2012

WILLIAM BRACE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF LUZERNE, LUZERNE COUNTY EMPLOYEES' RETIREMENT SYSTEM, LUZERNE COUNTY RETIREMENT BOARD, MARYANNE C. PETRILLA, CHAIRMAN/TRUSTEE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER OFFICIAL CAPACITY, THOMAS J. COONEY, TRUSTEE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, STEPHEN A. URBAN, TRUSTEE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, WALTER J. GRIFFITH, JR., TRUSTEE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, AND MICHAEL A. MORREALE, TRUSTEE, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are Motions to Dismiss Plaintiff William Brace's Complaint filed by Defendants the County of Luzerne (the "County"), Maryanne C. Petrilla, Thomas J. Cooney, Michael Morreale, Stephen A. Urban, and Walter Griffith, in their individual and official capacities as officers of the County (collectively the "County Defendants") (Doc. 24) and by Defendants the Luzerne County Employees' Retirement System (the "Retirement System"), the Luzerne County Retirement Board (the "Retirement Board"), Maryanne C. Petrilla, Thomas J. Cooney, Michael Morreale, Stephen A. Urban, and Walter Griffith (collectively the "Retirement System Defendants"). (Doc. 25.)*fn1 Plaintiff, a former County employee, commenced this action after his retirement benefits were terminated by Defendants pursuant to the Pennsylvania Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act, 43 P.S. §§ 1311, et seq. Plaintiff alleges that the termination of his retirement benefits, as well as the manner in which they were terminated, violated the Contract Clause, the Due Process Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause. Plaintiff also asserts various state-law claims against Defendants. Defendants have moved to dismiss all claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Because, even accepting all allegations in the Complaint as true, Plaintiff fails to allege a Contract Clause, Due Process Clause, or Equal Protection Clause claim, Plaintiff's federal claims will be dismissed. And, because the federal claims will be dismissed, the Court will dismiss without prejudice the remaining state-law claims.

I. Background

The facts as alleged in Plaintiff's Complaint are as follows: Plaintiff was appointed to the position of Deputy Clerk of Courts with the Office of the Clerk of Courts in and for Luzerne County, Pennsylvania on October 3, 2001. (Compl., ¶ 12.) Upon appointment to the position of Deputy Clerk of Courts, Plaintiff was required by law to become a member of the Retirement System. (Id.) Plaintiff served as Deputy Clerk of Courts until April of 2005, at which time he was appointed the Deputy Chief Clerk with the Board of Luzerne County Commissioners. (Id. at ¶ 13.) Plaintiff served in this capacity until his retirement on November 4, 2008. (Id. at ¶ 14.)

Following Plaintiff's retirement, he filed an application with the Retirement Board for the payment of his retirement benefits. (Id.) Plaintiff's application was approved by the Retirement Board and he began receiving regular retirement payments. (Id.)

On November 12, 2009, Plaintiff entered into a written Plea Agreement with the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 15.) Pursuant to the terms of the Plea Agreement, Plaintiff agreed to waive indictment by a federal grand jury and to plead guilty to an Information charging him with a violation of 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B), Corrupt Receipt of a Reward for Official Action Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds, for accepting a tailor-made, monogrammed suit as a reward for supporting the efforts of a contractor who entered into a contract with the County. (Id.)

Prior to the acceptance of the written Plea Agreement by this Court, the Retirement System and/or Retirement Board and/or their members, agents, and employees in November of 2009 stopped or suspended the payment of Plaintiff's retirement benefits. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Later that month, after Plaintiff learned that his retirement benefits had not been deposited directly into his bank account, he was informed by the Retirement Board that his benefits were being withheld. (Id. at ¶ 17.) However, on December 3, 2009, once the Retirement System's solicitor was informed that Plaintiff's benefits had been prematurely suspended, the retirement benefits were reinstated. (Id.)

Plaintiff's Plea Agreement was accepted by this Court on January 6, 2010. (Id. at ¶ 18.) Thereafter, on January 29, 2010, Richard Hummer, Pension Coordinator for the Retirement Board, issued a letter informing Plaintiff that his benefits were terminated based on the unanimous vote of the Retirement Board members on December 21, 2009 and that the benefits were terminated at the time of the entry of his guilty plea. (Id. at ¶ 20.) Specifically, the Board concluded that the federal crime Plaintiff pled guilty to was the same as one or more of the crimes enumerated under Section 1312 of the Pennsylvania Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act, 43 P.S. § 1312 ("PEPFA" or the "Pension Forfeiture Act"). (Id.) Ultimately, Plaintiff was sentenced to a three (3) month prison term, two (2) years supervised release, a ten-thousand dollar ($10,000.00) fine, and a special assessment of one hundred dollars ($100.00). (Id. at ¶ 19.)

Prior to the December 21, 2009 Retirement Board vote to terminate his benefits, Plaintiff was not given notice that the Retirement Board would be meeting to consider the termination of his retirement benefits. (Id. at ¶ 24.) The Retirement Board also did not provide Plaintiff with a pre-termination hearing. (Id. at ¶ 23.) And, since January of 2010, the Retirement System and/or Retirement Board has had exclusive use of Plaintiff's retirement benefits. (Id. at ¶ 28.)

On November 9, 2011, based on the termination of his retirement benefits, Plaintiff commenced this action. (Id.) Against all Defendants, Plaintiff asserts claims for: (1) impairment of contractual rights and obligations: (2) denial of substantive and/or procedural due process; (3) denial of equal protection of law; (4) breach of contract/promissory estoppel; (5) lata culpa; and (6) mandamus. (Id.) Plaintiff also asserts an additional claim for breach of fiduciary duty against the Trustees of the Retirement Board, and an additional claim for unjust enrichment against the Retirement System. (Id.)

On February 15, 2012, the County Defendants and the Retirement System Defendants filed motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docs. 24; 25.) Both motions have now been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard for a 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining if a plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of their claims. See Semerenko v. Cendant Corp., 223 F.3d 165, 173 (3d Cir. 2000). The Court does not consider whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail. See id. A defendant bears the burden of establishing that a plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim. See Gould Elecs. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

"A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a). The statement required by Rule 8(a)(2) must give the defendant fair notice of what the ... claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93, 127 S. Ct. 2197, 167 L. Ed. 2d 1081 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S. Ct. 1955, 167 L. Ed. 2d 929 (2007)). Detailed factual allegations are not required. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. However, mere conclusory statements will not do; "a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009). Instead, a complaint must "show" this entitlement by alleging sufficient facts. Id. "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1950, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

As such, the inquiry at the motion to dismiss stage is "normally broken into three parts: (1) identifying the elements of the claim, (2) reviewing the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) looking at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluating whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011).

Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, a plaintiff has not pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570, meaning enough factual allegations "'to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of'" each necessary element. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "The plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement,' but it asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949. "When there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1949.

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents when the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached copies of the documents to the motion to dismiss. Id. The Court need not assume the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see City of Pittsburgh v. W. Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 & n.13 (3d Cir. 1998), or credit a complaint's "'bald assertions'" or "'legal conclusions.'" Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429--30 (3d Cir. 1997)).

B. Pennsylvania's Public Employee Pension Forfeiture Act

As set forth in Plaintiff's Complaint, Plaintiff's pension benefits were terminated pursuant to the Pension Forfeiture Act, 43 P.S. §§ 1312-1313. (Compl., ¶ 20.) The present litigation is largely based on whether Defendants terminated Plaintiff's benefits in compliance with the Pension Forfeiture Act. In pertinent part, the Pension Forfeiture Act provides:

(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of law, no public official or public employee nor any beneficiary designated by such public official or public employee shall be entitled to receive any retirement or other benefit or payment of any kind except a return of the contribution paid into any pension fund without interest, if such public official or public employee is convicted or pleads guilty or no defense to any crime related to public office or public employment.

(b) The benefits shall be forfeited upon entry of a plea of guilty or no defense or upon initial conviction and no payment or partial payment shall be made during the pendency of an appeal. If a verdict of not guilty is rendered or the indictment or criminal information finally dismissed, then the public official or public employee shall be reinstated as a member of the pension fund or system and shall be entitled to all benefits including those accruing during the period of forfeiture if any. Such conviction or plea shall be deemed to be a breach of a public officer's or public employee's contract with his employer. 43 P.S. § 1313(a),(b) (emphasis added). The Pennsylvania "crimes related to public office or public employment" are specifically enumerated in Section 1312. And, in addition to the enumerated Pennsylvania crimes, "crimes related to public office or public employment" include "all criminal offenses as set forth in Federal law substantially the same as the crimes identified herein." 43 P.S. § 1312 (emphasis added). According to Defendants, the crime of Corrupt Receipt of a Reward for Official Action Concerning Programs Receiving Federal Funds, 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B), is "substantially the same" as the enumerated crime of Bribery in Official and Public Matters, 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 4701. (Docs. 24; 25.)

Pennsylvania case law applying the "substantially the same" requirement of Section 1312 is limited. And, the cases that have addressed this language have not adopted a specific standard to apply in determining whether two crimes are "substantially the same." Instead, courts consider the specific federal and state offenses in question, and then analyze the elements of the statutes to determine whether they are "substantially the same." See, e.g., Shiomos v. State Emps.' Ret. Bd., 533 Pa. 588, 593, 626 A.2d 158, 161 (1993) (18 U.S.C. § 1951 "is equivalent to one of the enumerated state offenses found at 43 P.S. § 1312(8); namely 18 Pa.C.S. § 4701 (relating to bribery in official and political matters)"); Merlino v. Phila. Bd. of Pensions & Ret., 916 A.2d 1231, 1236 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2007) (18 U.S.C. § 1001(a)(2) and 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 4906(b)(1) are "substantially the same" because "both statutes require a false statement made knowingly to law enforcement authorities"); Roche v. State Emps.' Ret. Bd., 731 A.2d 640, 641 (Pa. Cmwlth. 1999) (federal crime of false declarations to a grand jury, 18 U.S.C. § 1623 is not "substantially the same" as Pennsylvania crime of perjury, 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 4902; instead, "the Pennsylvania crime of perjury is substantially the same as the federal crime of perjury, 18 U.S.C. § 1621"); see also Gioffre v. Bd. of Pensions & Ret. of Phila., No. 97-5433, 1999 WL 239410, at *4 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 31, 1999). As the parties and the Court have been unable to identify any precedent determining whether 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B) is "substantially the same" as 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 4701, the Court will conduct its own analysis as to the similarities of the elements of the two crimes.

The federal statute under which Plaintiff pled guilty, 18 U.S.C. § 666(a)(1)(B), provides:

(a) Whoever, if the circumstance described in subsection (b) of this section exists--

(1) being an agent of an organization, or of a State, local, or Indian tribal government, or ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.