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Blythe Township v. Larish

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 10, 2013

BLYTHE TOWNSHIP and FKV, LLC, Plaintiffs.
v.
JAMES LARISH, MICHAEL PETROZINO, TOM BRENNAN, JOHN BURKE, VALERIA DAVIS, WILLIAM DEMPSEY and JOHN HOUSEKNECHT, Defendants/Third-Party Plaintiffs.
v.
JOHN DOE, UNKNOWN REPRESENTATIVES OR OFFICIALS OF THE COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, Third-Party Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

JAMES M. MUNLEY, District Judge.

Before the court is the third-party defendants' motion to dismiss the third-party complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The issues have been fully briefed and the matter is ripe for disposition.

Background

The instant civil rights action arose from Plaintiff Blythe Township and FKV, LLC's (collectively "plaintiffs") attempt to open and operate the Blythe Township Recycling and Demolition Site (hereinafter "BRADS"). (Doc. 1, Compl. (hereinafter "Compl.") ¶ 12; Doc. 14, Am. Third-Party Compl. (hereinafter "Am. Third-Party Compl.") ¶ 8). Plaintiffs allege that Defendants James Larish, Michael Petrozino, Tom Brennan, John Burke, Valeria Davis, William Dempsey and John Houseknecht's (collectively "Council Defendants"), individually and as members of the St. Clair Borough Council, violated plaintiffs' due process rights in contravention of the Fourteenth Amendment and interfered with their ability to contract.[1] (Compl. ¶¶ 78-477; Am. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 12).

The Council Defendants answered the complaint on March 4, 2013 (Doc. 5) and filed a third-party complaint against John Does, unknown representatives or officials of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Environmental Protection (hereinafter "Commonwealth Defendants") on March 18, 2013 (Doc. 7). Subsequent to being served with the third-party complaint, the Commonwealth Defendants filed a motion to dismiss. (Doc. 12). In response, the Council Defendants filed an amended third-party complaint alleging that the Commonwealth Defendants, in their individual capacity, conspired with the Council Defendants to violate plaintiffs' constitutional rights. (Am. Third-Party Compl. ¶¶ 2, 9-19).

Specifically, the Commonwealth Defendants initially approved plaintiffs' environmental assessment permit. (Compl. ¶ 42; Am. Third-Party Compl. ¶¶ 11, 15). The Commonwealth Defendants, however, never informed plaintiffs of their approval. (Compl. ¶ 42; Am. Third-Party Compl. ¶¶ 11, 15). Rather, the Council Defendants held secret meetings with a federally elected official to reverse the Commonwealth Defendants' initial decision approving plaintiffs' environmental assessment permit. (Compl. ¶¶ 41-45; Am. Third-Party Compl. ¶¶ 9-10, 15-16). Moreover, the Council Defendants and Commonwealth Defendants conspired to create a hostile meeting location for public comments pertaining to plaintiffs' environmental assessment permit. (Compl. ¶¶ 32-40; Am. Third-Party Compl. ¶¶ 13-14). As a result of these actions, the Commonwealth Defendants reversed their initial approval of plaintiffs' environmental assessment permit for BRADS, which required plaintiffs to appeal to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board. (Compl. ¶¶ 45, 48; Am. Third-Party Compl. ¶ 18).

The Council Defendants' third-party complaint contains one count alleging that the Council Defendants and Commonwealth Defendants conspired, under state law, to deprive plaintiffs of their constitutional rights. After the Council Defendants served this amended third-party complaint, the Commonwealth Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss. The parties then briefed the issues bringing the case to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs' original civil rights complaint invokes the court's federal question jurisdiction. 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 redress deprivations of constitutional or statutory rights by way of damages or equitable relief). The court has supplemental jurisdiction over the third-party complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) ("[I]n any civil action of which the district courts have original jurisdiction, the district courts shall have supplemental jurisdiction over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.").

Standard of Review

The third-party defendants filed their motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The court tests the sufficiency of the complaint's allegations when considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. All well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be viewed as true and in the light most favorable to the non-movant to determine whether, "under any reasonable reading of the pleadings, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief.'" Colburn v. Upper Darby Twp. , 838 F.2d 663, 665-66 (3d Cir. 1988) (quoting Estate of Bailey by Oare v. Cnty. of York , 768 F.2d 503, 506 (3d Cir. 1985)). The plaintiff must describe "enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' [each] necessary element" of the claims alleged in the complaint. Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). Moreover, the plaintiff must allege facts that "justify moving the case beyond the pleadings to the next stage of litigation." Id. at 234-35. In evaluating the sufficiency of a complaint the court may also consider "matters of public record, orders, exhibits attached to the complaint and items appearing in the record of the case." Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman , 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 n.2 (3d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted). The court does not have to accept legal conclusions or unwarranted factual inferences. See Curay-Cramer v. Ursuline Acad. of Wilmington, Del., Inc. , 450 F.3d 130, 133 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist. , 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)).

Discussion

The Commonwealth Defendants present the court with two issues. First, they contend that the Council Defendants' state law civil conspiracy claim should be dismissed. Second, the Commonwealth Defendants argue that the doctrine of sovereign immunity bars this claim. The Council Defendants state that they have pled an actionable state law civil conspiracy claim and that ...


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