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Carl R. Greene v. John F. Street

August 29, 2012

CARL R. GREENE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JOHN F. STREET, CHAIRMAN DEBRA L. BRADY, PATRICK J. EIDING, NELLIE W. REYNOLDS, AND PHILADELPHIA HOUSING AUTHORITY, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

Defendants John F. Street, Debra L. Brady, Patrick J. Eiding, Nellie W. Reynolds, and Philadelphia Housing Authority have filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part as set forth in the accompanying Order.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Carl R. Greene ("Plaintiff") was hired on March 3, 1998 to serve as Defendant Philadelphia Housing Authority's ("PHA") Executive Director. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 13; Defs.' Answer Sec. Am. Compl. ("Answer") ¶ 13.) At the time Plaintiff commenced his lawsuit, Defendant PHA's Board of Commissioners ("the Board") consisted of Defendants Street, Brady, Eiding, and Reynolds, as well as Jannie L. Blackwell, who is no longer a defendant in this case.*fn1

(Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8-12; Answer ¶¶ 8-12.) On March 29, 2007, Plaintiff signed a new employment agreement ("the Employment Agreement") with Defendant PHA, which provided a base salary of $275,000, annual incentive compensation of 15% of that salary, and cost of living adjustments. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n, Ex. A, Employment Agreement between PHA and Carl R. Greene ("Employment Agreement") ¶ 2(a)-(c).) Defendant PHA could terminate the Employment Agreement immediately for cause, or without cause by providing Plaintiff ninety days' notice in advance. (Employment Agreement ¶ 8(a), 8(c).)

In August of 2010, a series of newspaper articles reported that Plaintiff had defaulted on his mortgage, was subject to federal tax liens, and had been accused of sexual harassment by several former PHA employees. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24-26; Answer ¶¶ 24-26.) At a meeting held on August 26, 2010, the Board placed Plaintiff on administrative leave, and adopted a resolution authorizing an independent investigation of allegations pertaining to Plaintiff's professional conduct. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 32-36; Answer ¶¶ 32-36, Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n, Ex. D.) Defendant Street, as Chairman of the Board, was responsible for overseeing the investigation, which was to be completed thirty days after the adoption of the resolution. (Pl.'s Resp. Opp'n, Ex. D.) On September 23, 2010, the Board voted 4-1 in favor of terminating Plaintiff. (Sec. Am. Compl. ¶ 73; Answer ¶ 73.)*fn2

Plaintiff initiated this action on September 7, 2010 and filed an Amended Complaint on October 6, 2010. On October 22, 2010, Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint. The Court granted the motion on January 20, 2011, while allowing Plaintiff to file a Second Amended Complaint. The Second Amended Complaint was filed on March 11, 2011, and Defendants again moved to dismiss on March 25, 2011. The motion was granted in part and denied in part on June 22, 2011, leaving two causes of action: (1) Plaintiff's claim for deprivation of liberty interest in reputation without due process of law against Defendants Street, Brady, Eiding, and Reynolds in their individual capacities (Count I); and (2) Plaintiff's claim for breach of the Employment Agreement against Defendant PHA (Count II).

Defendants filed the present Motion for Summary Judgment on June 4, 2012, and Plaintiff filed his Response in Opposition on June 21, 2012. Defendants then filed a Reply Brief on July 2, 2012, and Plaintiff filed a Sur-Reply on July 11, 2012.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is proper "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A factual dispute is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the case. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). For an issue to be "genuine," a reasonable fact-finder must be able to return a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Id.

On summary judgment, it is not the court's role to weigh the disputed evidence and decide which is more probative, or to make credibility determinations. Boyle v. Cnty. of Allegheny, Pa., 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Petruzzi's IGA Supermarkets, Inc. v. Darling-Delaware Co., Inc., 998 F.2d 1224, 1230 (3d Cir. 1993)). Rather, the court must consider the evidence, and all reasonable inferences which may be drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1986) (citing U.S. v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)); Tigg Corp. v. Dow Corning Corp., 822 F.2d 358, 361 (3d Cir. 1987). If a conflict arises between the evidence presented by both sides, the court must accept as true the allegations of the non-moving party, and "all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

Although the moving party bears the initial burden of showing an absence of a genuine issue of material fact, it need not "support its motion with affidavits or other similar materials negating the opponent's claim." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). It can meet its burden by "pointing out . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Id. at 325. Once the movant has carried its initial burden, the opposing party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec., 475 U.S. at 586. "[T]here is no issue for trial unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict for that party." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Summary judgment may be granted when "the evidence is merely colorable . . . or is not significantly probative." Id. at 249-50 (citations omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

Defendants have moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim for deprivation of liberty interest in reputation without due process of law as well as his breach of contract claim. The Court considers the two causes of action separately.

A. Deprivation of Liberty Interest in Reputation Without Due Process of Law

In order to establish a claim for a procedural due process violation pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, "a plaintiff must allege that (1) he was deprived of an individual interest that is encompassed within the Fourteenth Amendment's protection of 'life, liberty, or property,' and (2) the procedures available to him did not provide 'due process of law.'" Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 233-34 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 116 (3d Cir. 2000)). The Supreme Court has held that "[w]here a person's good name, reputation, honor, or integrity is at stake because of what the government is doing to him, notice and an opportunity to be heard are essential." Wisconsin v. Constantineau, 400 U.S. 433, 437 (1971).

When notice and an opportunity to be heard are not provided, a plaintiff may bring a procedural due process claim "for deprivation of a liberty interest in reputation." Hill, 455 F.3d at 236 (citations omitted). To prevail, the plaintiff must demonstrate "a stigma to his reputation plus deprivation of some additional right or interest." Id. (citing Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 701 (1976)). This is referred to as the "stigma-plus" test, and in the context of public employment, it "has been applied to mean that when an employer 'creates and disseminates a false and defamatory impression about the employee in connection with his termination,' it deprives the employee of a protected liberty interest." Id. (quoting Codd v. Velger, 429 U.S. 624, 628 (1977)).

Earlier in this litigation, this Court held that a plaintiff must request a name-clearing hearing before bringing a liberty interest claim. See Greene v. Street, No. Civ.A.10-4529, 2011 WL 2517144, at *4-5 (E.D. Pa. June 22, 2011). The Court was particularly persuaded by the discussion of the issue in Schlichter v. Limerick Twp., No. Civ.A.04-4229, 2005 WL 984197, at *8 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 26, 2005). There, the district court noted that a deprivation of liberty interest in reputation claim "arises not from the defamatory or stigmatization conduct per se but from the denial of a name-clearing hearing. . . . It follows that to sustain a § 1983 stigmatization claim, an aggrieved employee must plead and prove that he timely requested a name-clearing hearing and that the request was denied." Id. at *8 (citations omitted).

In his Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Street, Brady, Eiding, and Reynolds defamed him during the course of his termination and failed to give him notice and an opportunity to be heard. (Sec. Am. Compl. ΒΆ 91.) Among the allegedly false statements made were Defendant Street's comments that Plaintiff engaged in a cover-up to hide information from the Board, was a "serial sexual harasser," was comparable to a drug ...


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