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Gilson v. Pennsylvania State Police

United States District Court, Third Circuit

October 16, 2013

WILLIAM GILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE POLICE, an agency of the COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.

In this civil action, Plaintiff William Gilson, a former Pennsylvania State Trooper, alleges that his rights under federal and state law were violated when he was terminated from his employment with the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP"). The named Defendants include the PSP as well as several current or former PSP officers. The Court's subject matter jurisdiction is premised upon 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343, and 1367(a).

Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for leave to file a third amended complaint (ECF No. 42). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion will be granted.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

This action was commenced on January 6, 2012 with the filing of Plaintiff's complaint (ECF No. 1). This original pleading asserted five causes of action as follows: claims asserted under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for the alleged denial of procedural due process (Count 1) and equal protection (Count II); a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 300bb-3 for alleged interference with rights protected by the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act ("COBRA") (Count III); and claims under Pennsylvania state law for defamation (Count IV) and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count V). (See Pl.'s Compl. at ¶¶ 110-172.) The case was originally assigned to then United States District Judge Sean 1. McLaughlin.

After Defendants filed a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 13), Plaintiff filed his First Amended Complaint ("FAC") on April 30, 2012 (ECF No. 16). In this pleading, Plaintiff added a claim, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985, asserting that the Defendant officers had conspired to deny him his equal protection rights. (See Pl.'s FAC at ¶¶ 202-214.) Defendants then filed a motion to dismiss the First Amended Complaint (ECF No. 20), and Plaintiff filed his response and brief in opposition to that motion (ECF Nos. 24 and 25). Oral argument was scheduled for October 19, 2012. (See Text Order of 8/14/12.)[1]

Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint (ECF No. 30), which was granted on November 16, 2012 (ECF No. 32). Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") (ECF No. 33) retained all of the claims previously asserted and added four additional ones: i.e., two Title VII claims premised on alleged sex discrimination (Count VII) and hostile work environment (Count VIII), and two claims under the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act invoking those same theories (Counts IX and X). ( See Pl.'s SAC at ¶¶ 269-427.) Defendants filed their answer to the Second Amended Complaint on January 31, 2013 (ECF No. 37) and, thereafter, the parties continued to engage in discovery.

On August 6, 2013, Plaintiff filed the pending motion for leave to file a Third Amended Complaint (ECF No. 42). Plaintiff's proposed Third Amended Complaint ("TAC") (ECF No. 42-2) seeks to add two additional § 1983 claims based upon the alleged denial of Plaintiff's procedural due process rights. Specifically, proposed Count XI asserts that the putative basis for Plaintiff's termination i.e., his alleged commission of a "serious act of deception" - is an arbitrary standard which is void for vagueness both facially and as applied in this case. ( See Pl.'s TAC at ¶¶ 428-438.) Proposed Count XII names two new PSP officials as Defendants and asserts that these officials, along with certain other Defendants, deprived Plaintiff of a protected liberty interest in future employment by erroneously informing Plaintiff's prospective employers that he was discharged for sexual harassment and sexual impropriety and that these charges were upheld in arbitration. ( See id. at ¶¶ 439-457.) Defendants filed their response to the instant motion (ECF No. 47) on September 5, 2013, [2] arguing that leave for further amendment of the Complaint should be denied because the proposed amendments would be futile.

In the meantime, this case had been transferred to the undersigned. The issues raised by Plaintiff's motion have been adequately joined and the matter is ripe for disposition.

II. DISCUSSION

Rule 15 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that district courts "should freely give leave [to amend pleadings] when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). However, courts may deny leave where there is a finding of undue delay, bad faith, prejudice to the opposing party, or futility. See Jang v. Boston Scientific Scimed, Inc., ___ F.3d ___, 2013 WL 4752020 at * 9 (3d Cir. Sept. 5, 2013) ( citing Cureton v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 252 F.3d 267, 273 (3d Cir.2001)).

"Futility' means that the complaint, as amended, would fail to state a claim upon which relief could be granted." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1434 (3d Cir.1997) ( citing Glassman v. Computervision Corp., 90 F.3d 617, 623 (1st Cir. 1996)). Accordingly, in assessing "futility, " we apply the same standard of legal sufficiency as would apply under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Id. Pursuant to this standard, dismissal of a claim is appropriate only if, accepting all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and viewing them in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff, the court finds that the Plaintiff's claim lacks facial plausibility. Warren Gen. Hosp. v. Amgen Inc., 643 F.3d 77, 84 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Although the Court must accept the allegations in the Complaint as true, "[it is] not compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences, or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation." Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165 (3d Cr. 2013) ( quoting Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir.2007)).

When the foregoing standard is applied, the following alleged facts and/or reasonable inferences (which are, of course, at this time only allegations and not concluded facts) can be gleaned from the Third Amended Complaint:

• Plaintiff worked for the Pennsylvania State Police ("PSP") for some sixteen years, during which time he undertook significant responsibilities and had a favorable employment record. Plaintiff served at PSP Troop E Headquarters in Erie, Pennsylvania, and his commanding officer was Captain Mark Schau (now Major Schau), one of the named Defendants in this case. (TAC ¶¶ 3, 23, 26-37, 108, 114, 131.)
• Defendant William Sibbald, Jr. is a member of PSP Troop E who served with Plaintiff. Trooper Sibbald developed a personal animus toward Plaintiff and made numerous disparaging remarks about Plaintiff to fellow officers, including comments to the effect that Plaintiff was a "freak" and a "pervert, " that Plaintiff should not be a member of the PSP, and that Defendant Sibbald would not trust Plaintiff to back him up during an incident. (Id. at ¶¶ 9, 42-47, 89-90.)
• On or about August 17, 2009, PSP officers, including Plaintiff and Defendant Sibbald, were summoned to a mobile home park for the purpose of detaining a mental patient who had refused to take his medication and who required a mental health commitment. Among those present at the scene was a crisis worker by the name of Sandra Grgic. (Id. at ¶¶ 50-51.)
• After the matters at the mobile home park were completed, and as Plaintiff and Grgic were walking to their vehicles, Plaintiff briefly touched the Grgic's elbow in order to attract her attention so that he could speak with her matter-of-factly about which hospital would receive the patient. (Id. at ¶¶ 52-53.)
• Although Grgic did not initially complain about the incident, she later filed a complaint with the PSP after Sibbald contacted her and urged her to do so. In her complaint, Grgic inaccurately claimed that, while walking to her car, Plaintiff had walked alongside of her, engaged her in conversation, put his left arm around her waist, and pulled her ...

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