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Donald A. Carroll v. Clifford Township

August 10, 2012

DONALD A. CARROLL PLAINTIFF,
v.
CLIFFORD TOWNSHIP, DENNIS KNOWLTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHAIRMAN/SUPERVISOR, AND CHRIS MARCHO, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS SUPERVISOR, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 9) filed by Defendants Clifford Township, Dennis Knowlton ("Knowlton"), and Chris Marcho ("Marcho") (collectively "Defendants"). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff Donald Carroll ("Carroll") asserts that Defendants have retaliated against him in violation of his First Amendment rights by refusing to complete his application for membership to the Fraternal Order of the Police, by eliminating his position with the Clifford Township Police Department, and by reducing the Police Department's budget. Plaintiff also asserts that the refusal to complete his membership application denies him his First Amendment right to associate. Defendants have moved to dismiss all claims for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff's claims against Clifford Township will be dismissed because he has failed to allege that individual Defendants had final policymaking authority to bind the municipality. Also, as Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claims against individual Defendants are insufficiently pled, these claims will be dismissed without prejudice. However, because Plaintiff has adequately pled that individual Defendants have interfered with his First Amendment association rights by refusing to complete his application for membership with the Fraternal Order of Police, Defendants' motion to dismiss the association claim will be denied.

I. Background

The facts as alleged in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint are as follows: Knowlton is Chairman of the Board of Supervisors of Clifford Township and Marcho is a Supervisor for Clifford Township. (Am. Compl., ¶¶ 3-4.) In 2000, Plaintiff was hired as a part-time police officer for Clifford Township. (Id. at ¶ 8.) In or around 2007, Plaintiff was promoted to the position of Police Chief. (Id.)

On or about August 2009, Plaintiff, acting as a citizen, initiated a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania against Clifford Township for alleged violations of the Police Tenure Act (the "state court action"). (Id. at ¶ 9.) The lawsuit was picked up by the local newspaper. (Id. at ¶ 10.)

On several occasions since Plaintiff commenced the state court action, including in March 2011 and February 2012, he has requested that Defendants complete his application to be a member of the Fraternal Order of Police, Lodge 63 (the "FOP"). (Id. at ¶ 12.) On each occasion, however, Defendants have refused to confirm that Plaintiff is a full-time employee and has passed his probationary period, both of which are necessary for Plaintiff to be admitted to the FOP. (Id. at ¶ 13.) This issue was addressed during Supervisors' meetings, and Defendants took official action to deny Plaintiff the ability to associate with the FOP. (Id.) Although Defendants refuse to complete his application to the FOP, they have permitted another police officer the right to associate. (Id.) And, by refusing to complete his application, Defendants have interfered with Plaintiff's ability to join the FOP. (Id. at ¶ 18.)

In addition, in November 2011, Marcho insisted Plaintiff not make any arrests on Main Street in Clifford Township because Marcho's personal business is located on Main Street and the arrests negatively impacted his business. (Id. at ¶ 24.) Within two weeks after Plaintiff refused to engage in such conduct, Defendants reduced the Police Department budget. (Id. at ¶¶ 25-26.) And, approximately one month after Plaintiff initiated the present action, Defendants eliminated Plaintiff's position. (Id. at ¶ 22.)

Based on the foregoing events, Plaintiff commenced this action on March 28, 2012. (Doc. 1.) After Defendants' filed a motion to dismiss, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on May 15, 2012. In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff sets forth the following claims against all Defendants: (I) First Amendment retaliation for commencing the state court action; (II) First Amendment freedom of association; (III) First Amendment retaliation in eliminating his position for commencing the instant action; and (IV) First Amendment retaliation in reducing the Police Department's budget. (Am. Compl.) On May 24, 2012, Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss all four counts of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 9.) As Defendants' motion has now been fully briefed, it is ripe for disposition.

II. Discussion

A. Legal Standard

1. 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, 210 (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 ...


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