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Greg Gulick v. City of Pittston

June 13, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo


Presently before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss by Defendant City of Pittston. Because Plaintiff Greg Gulick fails to state a claim for a violation of his due process rights, the motion will be granted.

I. Background

The facts as alleged in the complaint are as follows:*fn1 Plaintiff Greg Gulick was employed by the Defendant City of Pittston between July 20, 2006 and September 19, 2010. Mr. Gulick worked as the code officer, zoning officer, and administrative assistant.

In 2009, Mr. Gulick actively supported then-Mayor Joseph Keating in his campaign for re-election. Mr. Keating lost to Jason Klush in the May 2009 primary, and Mr. Klush became Pittston's mayor in 2010.

Mayor Klush and his political supporters decided to terminate Mr. Gulick because of his support for Mayor Klush's opponent. On September 13, 2010, the City of Pittston informed Mr. Gulick by letter that it would hold a hearing regarding his job performance. The hearing occurred on September 15, 2010. No evidence was presented, but it was determined that Mr. Gulick would be suspended. Then, on September 19, 2010, Mayor Klush called Mr. Gulick and told him that he was no longer employed by the City.

Mr. Gulick's hearing was essentially a "sham," as the City officials had already decided to terminate Mr. Gulick. Prior to suspending or terminating Mr. Gulick, the City had passed a resolution to replace him with Joe Moskovitz, a political ally of Mayor Klush who was friendly with City politicians. The City had secretly interviewed Mr. Moskovitz earlier, without posting any job advertisement for the position.

Mr. Gulick filed a complaint in the Middle District of Pennsylvania on January 25, 2012. The City of Pittston filed the instant motion to dismiss on February 27, 2012. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for disposition.

II. Standard of Review

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. 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," Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), 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 pleading standard of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 does not require "detailed factual allegations," but "[a] pleading that offers 'labels and conclusions' or a 'formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1959 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). "While legal conclusions can provide the framework of a complaint, they must be supported by factual allegations." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009).

Thus, when determining the sufficiency of a complaint, a court must undertake a three-part inquiry. See Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). The inquiry involves: "(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." 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).

III. Discussion

Count II of Mr. Gulick's complaint alleges that the City of Pittston violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to procedural due process.The Fourteenth Amendment provides that a state may not "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1. Courts apply a two-step test to determine whether a party's due process rights were violated by a deprivation of property, examining: "(1) whether the plaintiff has a property interest protected by procedural due process, and (2) what procedures constitute 'due process of law.'" Schmidt v. Creedon, 639 F.3d 587, 595 (3d Cir. 2011) (quoting Gikas v. Wash. Sch. Dist., 328 F.3d 731, 737 (3d Cir. 2003)) (internal quotations omitted).

The City moves to dismiss the Fourteenth Amendment claim for two reasons. First, it argues that Mr. Gulick did not have a protected property interest in his employment. Second, it claims that Mr. Gulick cannot claim a lack of due process when he received a ...

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