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James Martolf v. Major Lisa S. Christie

October 19, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur J. Schwab United States District Judge


Memorandum Opinion re: Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 6)

I. Introduction

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Major Lisa S. Christie, Major Charles J. Skurkis, Major Terry L. Seilhamer, Captain Frances J. Hacken, Captain Sheldon A. Epstein, Captain Williard Oliphant, Captain Bradley D. Allen, and Cpl. Louis M. Reda's ("Defendants") Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff James Martolf's ("Plaintiff's") Complaint. Doc. No. 6. The parties' dispute centers on the disciplinary actions of Defendants, members of the Pennsylvania State Police, towards Plaintiff, an employee of the Pennsylvania State Police.

On July 19, 2012, Plaintiff filed a one count Complaint alleging that Defendants violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by: (1) implementing retaliatory action in response to lawsuits and grievances that Plaintiff filed while acting in his official capacity as an employee of the Pennsylvania State Police; (2) interfering with Plaintiff's familial affairs and private relationships with the intent to harm him and his family; and (3) instituting a series of investigations that violated Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Substantive Due Process Rights. Id. ¶¶ 44-50. On September 14, 2012, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss all causes of action that arose under Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Doc. No. 6. After careful consideration of the Motion to Dismiss and Brief in support thereof (doc. nos. 6 and 7), and Plaintiff's Response in opposition thereto (doc. no. 11), for the reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss (doc. no. 6) will be GRANTED in PART and DENIED in PART.

II. Factual Background

Accepting Plaintiff's factual allegations as true for purposes of this Memorandum Opinion, the facts of this case are as follows:

Plaintiff is a Trooper for Pennsylvania State Police. Doc. No. 1, ¶ 7. He is stationed at the Washington Barracks in Washington County, Pennsylvania. Id. ¶ 12. On July 19, 2010, Plaintiff allegedly made a comment to Defendant Cpl. Reda, in the presence of Sgt. David Zimak, regarding an ongoing Internal Affairs Division ("IAD") investigation. Id. ¶ 9. In response, Defendant Reda contacted the IAD and accused Plaintiff of intentionally attempting to interfere with the investigation. Id. ¶ 10. Later, that same day Defendant Captain Epstein placed Plaintiff on Restricted Duty Status. Id. ¶ 12. The Restricted Duty Status included a restriction stating "Plaintiff cease any and all contact and communication (including third party contact) with any and all Members of Washington Station whether, on or off duty." Id. ¶ 12. According to the Complaint, this order allegedly interfered with Plaintiff's professional and personal friendships, and prohibited Plaintiff from inviting friends and co-workers to his wedding scheduled to occur on August 14, 2010. Id. ¶ 13.

On July 20, 2010, Lt. Jones (from the IAD) interviewed Sgt. Zimak regarding the allegations against Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 18. Sgt. Zimak insisted that Plaintiff's comments were merely made in gest, and should not have been taken seriously. Id. On July 29, 2010, Plaintiff received correspondence from Defendant Epstein granting Plaintiff permission to have contact with personnel at the Washington Barracks on the day of his wedding (August 14, 2010). Id. ¶ 20. Consequently, Plaintiff was prohibited from contacting anyone from the Washington Barracks prior to that day. Id. In response, Plaintiff sent correspondence to Defendant Major Christie suggesting Defendant Epstein's restrictions were overbroad and a violation of his First Amendment Rights to free speech and free association. Id. ¶ 21. On August 4, 2010, Defendant Christie granted Plaintiff permission to have contact with personnel at the Washington Barracks as of August 13, 2010 (one day before Plaintiff's wedding). Id. ¶ 23.

Two weeks later, on September 1, 2010, Plaintiff was removed from Restricted Duty Status. Id. ¶ 24. On September 7, 2010, Plaintiff received a Pre-Discipline Summary Report from Defendant Epstein indicating he was personally responsible for adjudicating Plaintiff's IAD investigation, and that he was considering issuing Plaintiff a Disciplinary Action Report. Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff objected to Defendant Epstein being the adjudicator of the IAD investigation against Plaintiff, on the basis of conflict of interest, Id. ¶ 26., because Plaintiff had previously filed two unfair labor practice law actions against him. Id. Nevertheless, on October 18, 2010, Defendant Epstein adjudicated Plaintiff guilty in a Disciplinary Action Report for interfering with an IAD investigation. Id. ¶ 29. On February 4, 2011, Defendant Hacken issued Plaintiff a one day suspension, without pay. Id. ¶ 30. This suspension was served on February 25, 2011. Id. ¶ 35. On September 1, 2011, the grievance committee vacated Plaintiff's discipline. Id. ¶ 36. Plaintiff remains employed by the Pennsylvania State Police.

III. Standard of Review

In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, federal courts require notice pleading, as opposed to the heightened standard of fact pleading. Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2) requires only " 'a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,' in order to 'give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds on which it rests.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957).

Building upon the landmark United States Supreme Court decisions in Twombly and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit explained that a District Court must undertake the following three steps to determine the sufficiency of a complaint:

First, the court must "tak[e] note of the elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim." Second, the court should identify allegations that, "because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Third, "whe[n] there are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief." This means that our inquiry 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 ...

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