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Wallett v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission

United States District Court, Third Circuit

November 5, 2013

ROBERT M. WALLETT, Plaintiff,
v.
PENNSYLVANIA TURNPIKE COMMISSION; JOSEPH G. BRIMMEIER; and GEORGE M. HATALOWICH, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

SYLVIA H. RAMBO, District Judge.

In this political patronage case asserted pursuant to the provisions of 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 and the First Amendment, Plaintiff sued his former employer, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission, and two of its former executives, alleging that his demotion and subsequent termination was a result of his refusal to participate in their "pay-to-play" scheme. This court previously entered judgment in favor of Defendants, and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the same. Presently pending before the court is Plaintiff's motion for relief from judgment (Doc. 63), which he filed following the 33rd Statewide Grand Jury's recommendation that charges be levied against the two individual defendants for their actions in connection with the alleged pay-to-play scheme underlying Plaintiff's Section 1983 action. The instant motion requires the court to decide whether the Grand Jury's presentment and preliminary hearing testimony of three witnesses is newly discovered evidence impacting the court's prior holding that Plaintiff failed to set forth any evidence tending to establish Defendants knew that, by refusing to participate in their pay-to-play scheme, Plaintiff did not support their administration. For the following reasons, the motion for relief from judgment will be denied.

I. Background

Because the court writes primarily for the parties, and because the facts alleged in the complaint have already been summarized by both this court, Wallett v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n , Civ. No. 10-CV-2092, 2012 WL 3579575 (M.D. Pa. Aug. 17, 2012) (" Wallett I "), and the Third Circuit, Wallett v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n , No. 12-3491, 2013 WL 2382608 (3d Cir. May 30, 2013) (" Wallett II "), the court will outline only the facts essential to this memorandum.

A. Facts

During a Republican administration, Plaintiff, Robert M. Wallett, was hired as an at-will employee to the position of Director of Maintenance for the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission ("Commission"). Several years later, the newly-elected Democrat Governor Edward Rendell appointed Defendant Joseph Brimmeier ("Defendant Brimmeier") as the Chief Executive Officer of the Commission.

Several months following his appointment, Defendant Brimmeier demoted Plaintiff to Director of Facilities. In his role as Director of Facilities, Plaintiff participated in the selection process for outside contractors, which included his recommending entities that had submitted a letter of interest for work contracted through the Commission. The Technical Review Committee ("TRC"), which was a committee of Commission employees who provided recommendations to the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commissioners for all outside engineering contracts, consisted of several individuals, including Defendant Brimmeier and Chief Operating Officer George Hatalowich ("Defendant Hatalowich"). Pertinent to his lawsuit, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Brimmeier and Defendant Hatalowich (collectively "Defendants") improperly influenced members of the TRC to recommend the professional services contracts be awarded to politically connected entities that made political contributions.

Plaintiff's employment was terminated in May 2009, when Defendant Brimmeier eliminated the position of Director of Facilities. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff interviewed for the newly created position of Manager of Facilities and Energy Management Operations. A panel of Commission employees, including Defendant Hatalowich, ultimately hired another individual, who had qualifications similar to those of Plaintiff, for the position.

B. Plaintiff's Lawsuit and Appeal Thereof

The basis of Plaintiff's Section 1983 lawsuit centered on his allegation that he was terminated from employment, and subsequently not hired for the newly created position, due to Defendants' knowledge that he refused to participate in the pay-to-play scheme. However, Plaintiff was unable to present evidence substantiating his claims, and after the period for discovery had concluded, the court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment due to Plaintiff's inability to demonstrate more than a scintilla of evidence that Defendants were aware both of Plaintiff's failure to participate in the alleged pay-to-play scheme and Plaintiff's lack of support for Defendants' administration. In so holding, the court highlighted that the record lacked evidence tending to suggest "Defendants were actually aware of Plaintiff's political affiliation or that they made any employment actions based on their desire that Plaintiff participate either more or less in any political processes, " Wallett I , 2012 WL 3579575 at *6, and emphasized Plaintiff's failure to establish that Defendants "were even aware of his political leanings, " Id. at *7. Because of Plaintiff's failure, the court granted judgment in favor of Defendants.

Plaintiff unsuccessfully appealed the court's decision. In affirming this court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendants, the Third Circuit similarly determined that "the evidence in the record does not support [Plaintiff]'s assertion that Defendants were aware of his failure to support their alleged pay-to-play scheme." Wallett II , 2013 WL 2382608, *2. The Third Circuit framed the central issue as "whether Defendants knew that, by refusing to participate in their pay-to-play scheme, [Plaintiff] did not support their administration, " Id. , and held that "[t]he inferences that may be drawn by [Plaintiff], even when read in the light most favorable to him, do not sustain the conclusion that Defendants were aware of [Plaintiff]'s supposed lack of support for them, " Id. at *3. Accordingly, the Third Circuit affirmed the entry of summary judgment. (Doc. 62.)

C. The Instant Motion

The basis of the instant motion relates to the 33rd Statewide Grand Jury's factual presentment that recommends criminal charges be filed against several individuals, including Defendants, due to their "orchestrating a massive pay to play' scheme involving jobs and state contracts." (Doc. 64, p. 2 of 15.) The 85-page presentment, which the court has reviewed in its entirety, outlines the Grand Jury's findings related to the existence of the pay-to-play scheme, and sets forth its conclusions that there exists a prima facie case that both Defendants engaged in conflicts of interest and other improper actions in their selection of "preferred Turnpike firms, " whereby Defendants exerted influence over the TRC's selection process in order to award public contracts to those firms that made significant political contributions or otherwise provided Defendants with lavish gifts. ( See generally Doc. 64-1.) In short, the presentment clearly set forth the Grand Jury's finding that Defendants were key players in the ...


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