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Morgan v. Covington Township

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 22, 2013

WILLIAM A. MORGAN, Plaintiff,
v.
COVINGTON TOWNSHIP, SGT. BERNARD KLOCKO, Individually, THOMAS M. YERKE, Township Chairman, Individually, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 22) filed by Defendants Covington Township (the "Township"), Sergeant Bernard Klocko ("Sergeant Klocko"), and Thomas Yerke ("Yerke") (collectively, "Defendants"). This lawsuit, the second of two federal lawsuits brought by Plaintiff William A. Morgan ("Morgan") against Defendants, alleges he was terminated from his employment with the Township in retaliation for filing the first action. Defendants contend, however, that the doctrines of collateral estoppel and res judicata preclude Morgan from relitigating his retaliation claim in this action, or, alternatively, that his claim is barred by the doctrine of laches. Because the issue in this action was not previously litigated, the event giving rise to the claim in this case postdates the filing of the complaint in the first action, and Defendants have not established that they were prejudiced as a result of Morgan's delay in commencing the instant action, the motion for summary judgment will be denied.

I. Background

This action is the second federal lawsuit commenced by Morgan, a former Covington Township Police Officer, against the Township, Sergeant Klocko, and Yerke. In the present case, Morgan alleges that Defendants terminated his employment because he filed the previous lawsuit and petitioned the Government for redress. ( Compl., ยง 18.)

In moving for summary judgment, Defendants assert that this action is precluded by the prior lawsuit. Since Defendants' motion is based on the impact of the previous lawsuit on this litigation, it is necessary to detail the facts and history of the prior, related case.

A. The 2007 Action

Morgan commenced the prior action against the Township, Sergeant Klocko, and Yerke, the same Defendants as in this case, on October 27, 2007. See Morgan v. Covington Twp., et al., 3:07-cv-01972, (M.D. Pa. Oct. 27, 2007), ECF No. 1 (the "2007 Action"). The action stemmed from incidents that occurred in 2007 which resulted in disciplinary charges being brought against Morgan. After the Township filed disciplinary charges against him, Morgan invoked his right to a public hearing on the charges. See Morgan v. Covington Twp., No. 07-1972, 2009 WL 585480, at *3 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 6, 2009). Shortly thereafter, the disciplinary charges were suspended when Sergeant Klocko notified the Pennsylvania State Police of Morgan's possible commission of "official oppression." Morgan was placed on administrative leave with pay. See id. After the Pennsylvania State Police declined to investigate the claim, the case was referred to the Lackawanna County District Attorney. See id. The District Attorney determined that Morgan's actions did not rise to the level of criminal activity. See id.

The disciplinary charges against Morgan were then reinstated along with new charges. See id. Morgan was also continued on administrative leave with pay. See id. A public hearing was scheduled for October 5, 2007, then rescheduled for November 5, 2007. See id.

Prior to the public hearing, but while Morgan remained on administrative leave, he filed the complaint in the 2007 Action. See id. at *3-4. Morgan alleged the Township failed to train its employees, that his procedural due process rights were violated, and that Defendants violated the First Amendment by filing criminal charges against him after he requested a public hearing regarding his suspension. See id. at *4.

The Township proceeded with Morgan's administrative hearing. See id. at *3. Following the completion of the hearing on January 15, 2008, the Board voted to terminate Morgan's employment. See id. Morgan, though, did not seek to amend the complaint in the 2007 Action based on his termination. See Morgan v. Covington Twp., 648 F.3d 172, 175-76 (3d Cir. 2011).

On November 24, 2008, following the close of discovery, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on all of Morgan's claims. See Morgan v. Covington Twp., et al., 3:07-cv-01972, (M.D. Pa. Nov. 24, 2008), ECF No. 22. Defendants' motion was granted with respect to the procedural due process and failure to train claims, but summary judgment was denied as to the retaliation claim. See Morgan, 2009 WL 585480. As noted in that opinion, the retaliatory conduct at issue was "whether Plaintiff was referred for criminal investigation in retaliation for his requesting a public hearing regarding his suspension." See id. at *12. Trial was then scheduled to commence on April 20, 2009. See Morgan v. Covington Twp., et al., 3:07-cv-01972, (M.D. Pa. Mar. 13, 2009), ECF No. 35.

On April 9, 2009, less than two weeks before the 2007 Action was set for trial, Morgan sought to amend his First Amendment retaliation claim to include his termination. See Morgan, 648 F.3d at 176. The motion to amend was denied. See id.

Later that day, Morgan filed the Complaint in this action, Morgan v. Covington Twp., et al., 3:09-cv-0651, (M.D. Pa. Apr. 9, 2009), ECF No. 1 ("the 2009 Action"), alleging the Township, Sergeant Klocko, and Yerke terminated his employment because he petitioned the Government for redress and filed the 2007 Action. Although Morgan requested the 2009 Action be consolidated with the 2007 Action for trial, the actions were not consolidated. See Morgan, 648 F.3d at 176.

Following a three-day trial on Morgan's retaliation claim in the 2007 Action, the jury found in favor of all three Defendants. The jury first found that the Township and Yerke retaliated against Morgan for exercising his First Amendment right to petition. See Morgan v. Covington Twp., et al., 3:07-cv-01972, (M.D. Pa. Apr. 22, 2009), ECF No. 78. But, the jury found Defendants would have taken the same action against Morgan even if he had not requested a hearing. See id. As a result, a judgment was entered in favor of the Township, Sergeant Klocko, and Yerke in the 2007 Action. See Morgan v. Covington Twp., et al., 3:07-cv-01972, (M.D. Pa. Apr. 23, 2009), ECF No. 80. On May 22, 2009, Morgan filed a Notice of Appeal in the 2007 Action.

B. The 2009 Action

As noted, the 2009 Action was commenced against the Township, Sergeant Klocko, and Yerke after Morgan was informed that his termination would not be part of his claim in the 2007 Action. See Morgan v. Covington Twp., et al., 3:09-cv-0651, (M.D. Pa. Apr. 9, 2009), ECF No. 1. The single count Complaint alleges that Defendants retaliated against Morgan for petitioning the Government for redress and filing the 2007 Action. See id. The lone footnote to the Complaint states: "Morgan believes the termination was a continuing course of retaliatory conduct since it flows from the same ...


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