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Young v. Kisenwether

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 10, 2012

Ransom YOUNG, Plaintiff,
v.
Brian KISENWETHER, Individually and as Butler Township Supervisor; Charles Altmiller, Individually and as Butler Township Supervisor; and Butler Township, Defendants.

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Carl J. Guagliardo, Selingo Guagliardo, Kingston, PA, Patrick T. O'Connell, Law Office of Patrick T. O'Connell, Bloomsburg, PA, for Plaintiff.

Christopher A. Tinari, Michael R. Miller, Margolis Edelstein, Philadelphia, PA, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff Ransom Young's (" Young" ) First Amended Complaint filed by Defendants Brian Kisenwether (" Kisenwether" ), Charles Altmiller (" Altmiller" ), and Butler Township (collectively " Defendants" ). (Doc. 12.) Young brings this action against the majority Butler Township Supervisors, Kisenwether and Altmiller, as well as against Butler Township, asserting that he was terminated from his position as Butler Township road foreman/laborer in violation of his constitutional rights. Defendants seek dismissal of the claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Because Young did not have a property interest in his employment with Butler Township and Defendants' conduct was not stigmatizing, his due process claims will be dismissed. However, because Plaintiff adequately alleged that he was retaliated and discriminated against after engaging in protected conduct, Defendants' motion to dismiss Young's First Amendment claims will be denied.

I. Background

The facts as alleged in the Amended Complaint are as follows:

Butler Township is a municipal government known as a Second Class Township in the state of Pennsylvania. ( Am. Compl., ¶ 7.) Butler Township is governed by an elected board of three supervisors. ( Id. at ¶ 8.) The Butler Township Supervisors are Young, Kisenwether, and Altmiller. ( Id. at ¶¶ 4-6.)

For approximately twenty-two (22) years, Young was employed by Butler Township as a full-time road foreman/laborer which is a position separate and distinct from that of the elected Supervisor position and appointed Road Master position.

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( Id. at ¶ 10.) On January 3, 2012, when Young was discharged from his full-time foreman/laborer position, Altmiller was the appointed Road Master. ( Id. at ¶ 11.) In his position as foreman/laborer, Young's job duties did not include any policy making decisions, nor did it require political party affiliation. ( Id. at ¶ 13.)

In his capacity as foreman/laborer, Young's employment was governed by a bargained-for contract. ( Id. at ¶ 16.) Butler Township's authority to enter into an employment agreement with Young was pursuant to the Public Employe Relations Act, 43 P.S. §§ 1101.101, et seq. ( Id. at ¶ 15.) At the time of his discharge, Young's Employment Agreement was to be " effective through January 1, 2012 and may at the desire of the Employer and Employee be extended at two-year intervals." ( Id. at ¶ 18, Ex. B.) The Employment Agreement provided that Young could " be terminated at any time for just cause upon two-thirds vote of the Township Supervisors." ( Id. at ¶ 21, Ex. B.) And, because Butler Township adhered to the terms of the Employment Agreement through January 3, 2012 by compensating him for holidays and sick-days, Butler Township desired to extend the Agreement for an additional two-year period. ( Id. ) Alternatively, as Young's employment benefits mirrored those of Butler Township's unionized employees, he could not be suspended without just cause. ( Id. at ¶ 22.)

At all times relevant hereto, Young was a registered member of the Democratic party, a fact known by Kisenwether and Altmiller. ( Id. at ¶ 25.) Kisenwether and Altmiller are both registered members of the Republican party. ( Id. )

Young successfully obtained his seat on the Board of Supervisors in 1995 when he defeated Kisenwether. ( Id. at ¶ 26.) In 2009, Kisenwether was re-elected to the Board of Supervisors and he took office in January 2010. ( Id. at ¶ 27.) During Kisenwether's campaign, Young openly and actively supported and campaigned for opposing candidates by making financial contributions to these candidates, by displaying a political sign on his personal property, and by asking others to support and vote for Kisenwether's opponent. ( Id. at ¶ 28.)

In 2011, Altmiller won a Supervisor seat and assumed office on January 3, 2012. ( Id. at ¶ 29.) Young openly and actively campaigned against Altmiller by making contributions to his opponent, by displaying a political sign on his property, and by asking others to support and vote for Altmiller's opponents. ( Id. at ¶ 30.)

As a result of Altmiller's victory, the power of political majority on the Butler Township Board of Supervisors shifted to the Republican party when Altmiller assumed his position on January 3, 2012. ( Id. at ¶ 31.) At the first meeting of the newly comprised Board of Supervisors, Kisenwether and Altmiller voted to fire Young from his position as foreman/laborer. ( Id. at ¶ 32.) The firing of Young occurred without any prior notice or opportunity to be heard. ( Id. at ¶ 34.) And, this firing occurred at a public meeting with members of the public in attendance and was reported in newspapers and on television. ( Id. at ¶ 35.) Due to his termination, Defendants created a false impression that Young's performance as an employee was poor or subpar, which has subjected him to ridicule and embarrassment. ( Id. at ¶ 36.) Thereafter, Young's position was filled by then current senior equipment operator Robert Kupsho, a registered Republican, and a new employee, Daniel Brighthaupt, also a Republican, was hired as an equipment operator. ( Id. at ¶ 41.)

Based on the foregoing events, Young commenced this action pursuant to

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42 U.S.C. § 1983 asserting the following claims: (1) First Amendment free speech retaliation and discrimination based on political patronage; (2) Fourteenth Amendment deprivation of property interest; and (3) Fourteenth Amendment deprivation of liberty interest in reputation. ( Am. Compl. ) On May 9, 2012, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss all claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of ...


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