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Dunkel v. Mt. Carbon/North Manheim Fire Co.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

September 9, 2013

JEFFREY DUNKEL, Plaintiff
v.
MT. CARBON/NORTH MANHEIM FIRE COMPANY d/b/a/ Mt. Carbon Fire Company, LARRY MOORE, CHRIS WALTERS, KYLE STROKELITUS, ROSE BOOTERBAUGH, LEN RADZIEWICZ and CAL ETHERINGTON, Defendants

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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For Jeffrey Dunkel, Plaintiff: Emily M. Bell, LEAD ATTORNEY, Clymer, Musser, Brown & Conrad PC, Lancaster, PA; Joshua M. Autry, LEAD ATTORNEY, Clymer, Musser & Conrad, P.C., Lancaster, PA.

For Mt. Carbon/North Manheim Fire Company, doing business as Mt. Carbon Fire Company, Defendant: Bryon R. Kaster, Christine L. Line, Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, P.C., Camp Hill, PA.

For Larry Moore, Chris Walters, Kyle Strokelitus, Rose Booterbaugh, Len Radziewicz, Cal Etherington, Defendants: Bryon R. Kaster, Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, P.C., Camp Hill, PA.

OPINION

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JAMES M. MUNLEY, United States District Judge.

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's civil rights complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 13). This matter is fully briefed and ripe for disposition. For the following reasons, the court will grant in part and deny in part the motion to dismiss.

Background

This civil rights lawsuit arises from Defendants Larry Moore, Chris Walters, Kyle Strokelitus, Rose Booterbaugh, Len Radziewicz and Cal Etherington's (collectively " trustees" ) decision to terminate Plaintiff Jeffrey Dunkel's (hereinafter " Dunkel" ) membership in the Mt. Carbon/North Manheim Fire Company (hereinafter the " fire company" ). On February 5, 2012, a man in the community went missing. (Doc. 1, Compl. (hereinafter " Compl." ) ¶ 15). Dunkel, a friend of the man's family, used the fire company's parking lot and building as a public meeting point to coordinate searches. (Id. ¶ ¶ 15-18).

On March 1, 2012, twenty individuals, including at least six members of the fire company, attended a search party meeting at the fire company. (Id. ¶ ¶ 18, 32, 38). The meeting lasted less than an hour. (Id. ¶ 18). Following the meeting, " many of the people involved remained to socialize and drank beverages, some of which were alcoholic." (Id.) Because alcohol was present during the meeting, the trustees, without notice to Dunkel, suspended him for two weeks. (Id. ¶ ¶ 18-20, 32, 38).

Subsequent to Dunkel's March 2012 suspension, he posted a message on Facebook. (Id. ¶ 21). Dunkel's post called the fire company's trustees " cowards" for suspending him. (Id. ¶ 21). Dunkel also complained that the trustees suspended him for helping a family in need. (Id.)

A week after Dunkel posted his message on Facebok, the trustees invited Dunkel to the fire company's next meeting. (Id. ¶ ¶ 7, 11, 22). As the mayor of Mount Carbon, however, Dunkel's work schedule prohibited him from attending. (Id.) At the fire company's next meeting, the trustees provided a letter to its members accusing Dunkel of furnishing alcohol to non-members and posting fire company business online. [1] Based upon these allegations, the trustees terminated Dunkel's membership. (Id. ¶ ¶ 22, 25).

Over the next seven months, Dunkel made several unsuccessful attempts to gain reinstatement with the fire company. (Id. ¶ ¶ 26-32). Eventually, the trustees invited Dunkel to a meeting on November 19, 2012. (Id. ¶ 32). At the meeting, the trustees refused to explain why Dunkel was terminated. (Id. ¶ 34). Instead, the

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trustees stated " our lips are sealed." (Id. ¶ 35). Moreover, the trustees " took no vote or other action on Mayor Dunkel's request for reinstatement." (Id. ¶ 42). Additionally, after the meeting, the trustees handed out copies of their March 17, 2012 letter to anyone in the general public who asked for a copy. (Id. ¶ ¶ 38, 40).

In response to his termination from the fire company, Dunkel filed a three-count complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (" section 1983" ). Count I alleges the trustees and Mt. Carbon/North Manheim Fire Company (collectively " defendants" ) deprived Dunkel of a constitutionally protected property interest in his membership with the fire company in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Count II asserts a First Amendment retaliation claim against the defendants. Count III avers the defendants deprived Dunkel of a liberty interest in his reputation in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment. On May 2, 2013, defendants moved to dismiss all counts. The parties then briefed the issues bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

The court has federal question jurisdiction over this civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (" The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." ); 28 U.S.C. § § 1343(a)(3), (4) (granting district courts jurisdiction over civil actions brought to ...


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