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Deforte v. Borough of Worthington

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 18, 2013

WILLIAM DEFORTE, Plaintiff,
v.
THE BOROUGH OF WORTHINGTON; KEVIN FEENEY, individually and as Mayor of the Borough of Worthington; BARRY ROSEN, individually and as a member of Council of the Borough of Worthington and in his capacity as elected constable for the Borough of Worthington and in his capacity as Public Safety Director for the Borough of Worthington; and GERALD RODGERS, individually and as a police officer of the Borough of Worthington; Defendants. EVAN TOWNSEND, Plaintiff,
v.
THE BOROUGH OF WORTHINGTON; KEVIN FEENEY, individually and as Mayor of the Borough of Worthington; BARRY ROSEN, individually and as a member of Council of the Borough of Worthington and in his capacity as elected constable for the Borough of Worthington and in his capacity as Public Safety Director for the Borough of Worthington; and GERALD RODGERS, individually and as a police officer of the Borough of Worthington; Defendants.

OPINION

MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.

These civil rights lawsuits stem from Plaintiffs William DeForte and Evan Townsend's termination from their respective positions as Chief of Police and Police Officer for the Borough of Worthington, Pennsylvania. Plaintiffs bring suit against (1) the Borough of Worthington; (2) Kevin Keeney, individually and as Mayor of the Borough of Worthington; (3) Barry Rosen, individually and as Councilmember of the Borough of Worthington, in his capacity as elected Constable for the Borough of Worthington, and in his capacity as Public Safety Director for the Borough of Worthington; and (4) Gerald Rodgers, individually and as a Police Officer of the Borough of Worthington.

Pending before the Court are Defendant Gerald Rodgers' Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, Dkt. 2: I3-cv-356, ECF No. 10 and Dkt. 2: I3-cv-357, ECF No. 10; and Defendants Kevin Feeney, Barry Rosen, and the Borough of Worthington's Partial Motions to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, Dkt. 2:13-cv-356, ECF No. 12 and Dkt. 2:13-cv-357, ECF No. 12. The Court has considered Plaintiffs' Complaints, Dkt. 2:13-cv-356, ECF No.1 and Dkt. 2: 13-cv-357, ECF No.1; the pending Motions; and Plaintiffs' Briefs in Opposition, Dkt. 2: 13-cv-356, ECF Nos. 21, 22, 23, 24. The matter is ripe for disposition, and for the reasons that follow, Defendant Gerald Rodgers' Motions to Dismiss are granted in their entirety, and Defendants Kevin Feeney, Barry Rosen, and the Borough of Worthington's Partial Motions to Dismiss are granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

When considering a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must accept the factual allegations in the Complaints as true and draw all reasonable inferences in Plaintiffs' favor. See Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). Therefore, for the purpose of the disposition of Defendants' Motions, the essential facts are as follows.

a. Plaintiff William DeForte

Plaintiff William DeForte ("Mr. DeForte") was hired as a member of the Worthington Borough Police on or about July 23, 2009. Compi. ¶ 11, Dkt. 2:13-cv-356, ECF No.1. Mr. DeForte was promoted to the position of Assistant Chief on or around September 8, 2009, and was subsequently promoted to the position of Chief of Police on March 9, 2010. Id. at ¶¶ 12-13. According to the Minutes of the November 5, 2012 Borough Council Meeting, Mr. DeForte was suspended from his duties as Chief of Police on October 26, 2012 "for insubordination and other possible offenses." Id. at ¶ 14. On November 5, 2012, Mr. DeForte was terminated from his position as Chief of Police. Id. at ¶ 15. During his tenure with the Borough of Worthington, Mr. DeForte had an exemplary record with no prior disciplinary events. Id. at ¶ 18. However, Mr. DeForte often clashed with Councilmember Rosen and Mayor Feeney over issues pertaining to the operation of the police department, id. at ¶ 19, ranging from Councilmember Rosen's alleged unlawful use of police powers when acting in his capacity as Constable, to Mayor Feeney's alleged use of a police emergency equipment grant to repair traffic lights in and out of Worthington Borough, to Mayor Feeney's alleged illegal seizure of keys from a riding lawnmower that belonged to a Worthington Borough resident, id. at ¶¶ 22, 26, 32, 34. Mr. DeForte also repeatedly advised Councilmember Rosen and Mayor Feeney that it was unlawful for a traffic citation quota to be imposed on the officers. Id. at ¶ 20. On October 24, 2010, Mr. DeForte confronted Mayor Feeney about Mayor Feeney's alleged theft of five (5) radios from the Worthington West Franklin Fire Department. Id. at ¶¶ 26-27. On October 26, 2010, Mayor Feeney allegedly removed a computer and hard drive from the police department. Id. at ¶ 36. After Mr. DeForte attempted to contact Mayor Feeney about the removal of the equipment, and after Councilmember Rosen denied knowing the equipment was removed, Mayor Feeney ultimately acknowledged that he took the computer. Id. at ¶¶ 37, 38, 43. Mayor Feeney then threatened to report Mr. DeForte to the ATF on a fireann issue. Id at ¶ 44. That same day, Mayor Feeney told Mr. DeForte that Mr. DeForte was suspended. Id at ¶ 45.

On October 28, 2012, Mayor Feeney contacted Mr. DeForte and threatened to press charges against him for theft. Id. at ¶ 50. Sometime thereafter, Defendant Officer Rodgers asked Mr. DeForte about an upper half of a gun that Mr. DeForte built for him. Id. at ¶ 53. Mr. DeForte had sold the upper half to Officer Rodgers. Id at ¶ 54. Officer Rodgers made an allegation that Mr. DeForte improperly sold Officer Rodgers a gun that belonged to the Borough of Worthington. Id. at ¶ 55. Mr. DeForte later learned that following his October 26, 2010 suspension, someone with access to the Worthington Police Department may have switched the "upper" on Officer Rodgers' gun with the "upper" on a gun issued to another patrol officer, and that patrol officer's gun was now missing. Id. at ¶ 57.

On October 30, 2012, Mr. DeForte was contacted by the Solicitor of Pine Township (where he had been recently hired as a police officer) and was advised that Pine Township was disbanding its police force. Id at ¶ 60. Mr. DeForte had worked with Pine Township for approximately one month to put the force together, and October 31, 2012 was going to be the first day with active patrol officers. Id at ¶ 61. Mr. DeForte learned that on October 30, 2012, Mayor Feeney removed certain belongings from the Pine Township Police Department. Id at ¶ 62. Mayor Feeney apparently advised both Pine Township and the State Police that there was stolen property at the Pine Township Police Department belonging to the Borough of Worthington. Id at ¶ 63. On or about November 5, 2012, [1] the Borough of Worthington terminated Mr. DeForte for what Mayor Feeney alleged was "insubordination or other possible offenses." Id. at ¶ 65.

On March 11, 2013, Mr. DeForte filed suit in this Court against Defendants, alleging in Count I against Worthington Borough "Violation of Plaintiff's Right to Procedural Due Process, 42 U.S.c. § 1983"; in Count II against all individual Defendants in their official and individual capacities, "Conspiracy to Violate the Plaintiff's Right to Procedural Due ProcessNiolation of Borough Code"; in Count III against Worthington Borough, "Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law"; and in Count IV against all Defendants in their official and individual capacities, "Tortious Interference with Business Relations."

b. Plaintiff Evan Townsend

Plaintiff Evan Townsend ("Mr. Townsend") was hired by the Worthington Borough Police Department on January 3, 2011. PI.'s CompI. ¶ 14, Dkt. 2:13-cv-357, ECF No.1. On November 5, 2012, Mr. Townsend was terminated from his position as Patrol Officer. Id. at ¶ 16. Mr. Townsend was provided no prior notice that termination was a possibility at the November 5, 2012 meeting, and was not given a statement of charges or an opportunity to be heard. Id. at ¶ 17. During his tenure with the Borough, except for a previous termination for writing an insufficient number of traffic citations, Mr. Townsend had an exemplary record with no prior disciplinary events. Id. at ¶¶ 18, 19. Mr. Townsend often clashed with Councilmember Rosen and Mayor Feeney over issues pertaining to the operation of the police department. Id. at ¶ 20. Like Mr. De Forte, Mr. Townsend advised Council member Rosen and Mayor Feeney that it was unlawful for a traffic citation quota to be imposed on the officers. Id. at ¶ 21. Mr. Townsend reported to then-acting Chief of Police Mr. DeForte, Mayor Feeney's alleged theft of radios from the Worthington Fire Department. Id. at ¶¶ 23, 24. On November 5, 2012, Mr. Townsend was fired. Id. at ¶ 25.

On October 30, 2012, Mr. Townsend was contacted by the Solicitor of Pine Township (where he too had been recently hired as a police officer) and was advised that Pine Township was disbanding its police force. [d. at'll 30. Like Mr. DeForte, Mr. Townsend learned that on October 30, 2012, Mayor Feeney removed certain belongings from the Pine Township Police Department. [d. at ¶ 32. Mayor Feeney apparently advised both Pine Township and the State Police that there was stolen property belonging to the Borough of Worthington at the Pine Township Police Department. Id. at ¶ 33.

On March 11, 2013, Mr. Townsend filed suit in this Court against Defendants, alleging in Count I against Worthington Borough "Violation of Plaintiffs Right to Procedural Due Process, 42 U.S.C. § 1983"; in Count II against all individual Defendants in their official and individual capacities, "Conspiracy to Violate the Plaintiff's Right to Procedural Due ProcessNiolation of Borough Code"; in Count III against Worthington Borough, "Pennsylvania Whistleblower Law"; and in Count IV against all Defendants in their official and individual capacities, "Tortious Interference with Business Relations." On July 12, 2013, this Court granted the parties' Consent Motion to Relate Cases, such that Mr. DeForte's case, Dkt. 2:13-cv-356, and Mr. Townsend's case, Dkt. 2: 13-cv-357, were consolidated for all pre-trial proceedings. Jui. 18, 2013 Order, Dkt. 2: 13-cv-356, ECF No. 20.[2]

II. DISCUSSION

a. Standard of Review

To survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must allege "enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). The District Court must accept the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions." Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 663 (2009». "Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. In short, a motion ...


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