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John Kline v. Bernard Brunwasser

June 12, 2012

JOHN KLINE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BERNARD BRUNWASSER, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

John Kline asserts that Defendants Bernard Brunwasser, Francis Meiers, Lorin Fields, Kristina Crosby, Lorelei Larson, William Richards, and the City of Philadelphia conspired to have him fired from his job with the Philadelphia Water Department. He claims that Defendants falsely accused him of violating Philadelphia's residency requirement for employment in his position. This case was removed from the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas. Kline's Amended Complaint includes a number of federal and state claims. Defendants filed a motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the motion to dismiss the federal claims, declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claims, and remands this action.

I. BACKGROUND

Kline was a surveyor for the Philadelphia Water Department Survey Unit from 1985 to 2005. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.) In 2003, at the request of the chief surveyor, Frances Bevenour, Kline disciplined a Water Department employee named Michael Manley for poor job performance. (Id. ¶ 12.) Manley then complained to the City of Philadelphia that Kline was not eligible for employment with the Water Department because he did not live in Philadelphia. (Id. ¶ 13.) "At all times during his employment by the Water Department, Kline met the residency requirement imposed by the Philadelphia City Code as he resided within the City of Philadelphia." (Id. ¶ 15.) Because of Manley's accusation, the Office of the Inspector General assigned Defendant Kristina Crosby to investigate Kline's residency. (Id. ¶ 16.) Defendant William Richards conducted surveillance of Kline from December 2004 until January 2005 to determine his residency. (Id. ¶ 17.) During this time, Kline was on vacation for all but two days, and thus he was not at work. (Id.) "No action was taken as a result of his investigation which showed that Kline resided in the City of Philadelphia and therefore met the City Residence Requirements." (Id. ¶ 18.) Richards conducted additional surveillance from August 8 to August 29, 2005, but again Kline was on vacation, and therefore he was away from his Philadelphia home except for August 24, 2005. (Id. ¶ 19.) Richards represented that his surveillance was done during Kline's regular work schedule, though he knew that was untrue. (Id.)

As part of Crosby's investigation, she attempted to coerce a confession from Kline that he failed to comply with Philadelphia's residency requirement. (Id. ¶ 20.) Crosby threatened to turn over her findings, which included false accusations, to the Water Department and seek Kline's termination. (Id.) She also made false claims about her investigation to intimidate Kline. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) Crosby submitted the results of her investigation to the Water Department though she knew her findings did not support a dismissal. (Id. ¶ 24.)

Despite the inadequate investigation, Defendant Bernard Brunwasser scheduled a pre-disciplinary hearing to decide Kline's residency, although the Philadelphia County Code allows only the City Controller's Office to determine an employee's residency. (Id. ¶ 26.) Defendant Francis Meiers was assigned to conduct the hearing and Defendant Lorin Fields presided over the hearing.

(Id. ¶ 27.) Fields, the head of the personnel department, had three years previously denied Kline's request for a waiver of Philadelphia's residency requirement. (Id. ¶ 28.) Defendants ignored Kline's evidence and he was fired from his job on December 8, 2005 because he failed to comply with the City of Philadelphia's residency requirement. (Id. ¶¶ 29-31.) He was fifty-two when he was fired, and he was replaced by a forty-two-year-old. (Id. ¶ 32.)

Kline appealed his dismissal to the Civil Service Commission, and on April 26, 2007, following numerous hearings, Kline was reinstated with full back pay and benefits. (Id. ¶ 33.) The City of Philadelphia filed a motion for reconsideration of the Civil Service Commission's ruling and, after that motion was denied, filed an appeal to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. (Id. ¶ 34.) The Court of Common Pleas upheld the Civil Service Commission's decision because "the City's investigation and evidence fell woefully short rendering the City's conclusions indefensible." (Id. ¶ 35.) The City of Philadelphia appealed to the Commonwealth Court. (Id. ¶ 36.) On May 15, 2009, the Commonwealth Court affirmed the lower court's ruling, and the City of Philadelphia requested reargument with the Commonwealth Court, which was denied on July 16, 2009. (Id. ¶¶ 37-38.)

Kline was reinstated on November 1, 2009. (Id. ¶ 40.) However, as a result of the City of Philadelphia's insistence on pressing its claim against Kline, he was denied compensation for his retroactive pay from December 9, 2005 until March 8, 2010. (Id. ¶ 39.) Defendant Meiers instructed the payroll department to deduct $16,000 from Kline's retroactive pay. (Id. ¶ 41.) "This was done solely for the purpose of inflicting additional emotional and financial injury on Kline." (Id.) Ultimately, the investigation, Kline's termination, and Defendants' actions throughout the entire ordeal caused Kline to suffer a "severe nervous breakdown which necessitated his premature retirement from his position as Surveyor for the City of Philadelphia Water Department." (Id. ¶ 44.)

Kline claims that Defendants denied him due process of law and equal protection of the law, that they conspired against him to deprive him of his civil rights, and that Defendants both wrongfully used civil proceedings against him and abused the legal process. He also charges Defendants with negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and wrongful discharge.

Kline initiated his lawsuit by filing a Writ of Summons in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas on May 16, 2011. On April 20, 2012, a notice of removal was filed based on the presence of a federal question. Although Plaintiff filed a motion to remand, he has since withdrawn that motion.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

In reviewing a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a district court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Bd. of Trs. of Bricklayers & Allied Craftsman Local 6 of N.J. Welfare Fund v. Wettlin Assocs., 237 F.3d 270, 272 (3d Cir. 2001). A court need not, however, credit "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" when deciding a motion to dismiss. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

"Factual allegations [in a complaint] must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must include "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570. Although the federal rules impose no probability requirement at the pleading stage, a plaintiff must present "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]" of a cause of action. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Simply ...


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