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Burkley v. Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

January 8, 2014

KENNETH B. BURKLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
MUNICIPAL AUTHORITY OF WESTMORELAND COUNTY, COMMISSIONER CHARLES ANDERSON, individually, COMMISSIONER R. TYLER COURTNEY, individually, AND MAWC BOARD MEMBERS A. KEITH STASO, RANDY ROADMAN, JEROME DEFABO, SR., BRUCE ROBINSON, AND ANTHONY BOMPIANI, all individually, Defendants

For KENNETH B. BURKLEY, Plaintiff: James J. Loll, LEAD ATTORNEY, Beaver, PA; Timothy Paul Dawson, LEAD ATTORNEY, Adamsburg, PA.

For MUNICIPAL AUTHORITY OF WESTMORELAND COUNTY, COMMISSIONER CHARLES ANDERSON, Individually, COMMISSIONER R. TYLER COURTNEY, Individually, and, MAWC BOARD MEMBER A. KETH STASO, MAWC BOARD MEMBER RANDY ROADMAN, MAWC BOARD MEMBER JEROME DEFABO, SR., MAWC BOARD MEMBER BRUCE ROBINSON, and, MAWC BOARD MEMBER ANTHONY BOMPIANI, all individually, Defendants: Douglas G. Smith, LEAD ATTORNEY, Marla N. Presley, Jackson Lewis P.C., Pittsburgh, PA.

OPINION

Page 670

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Nora Barry Fischer, United States District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff Kenneth B. Burkley brings this § 1983 action, claiming that his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution were violated when he was terminated from his position as Solicitor of the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County (" MAWC" or " the Authority" ) (Docket No. 9). He names as Defendants the MAWC, along with individual Defendants: Commissioner Charles Anderson, Commissioner R. Tyler Courtney, and MAWC Board Members: A. Keith Staso, Randy Roadman, Jerome DeFabo, Sr., Bruce Robinson, and Anthony Bompiani. ( Id. ).

Plaintiff first filed a complaint on July 16, 2013. (Docket No. 1). Following the Defendants' motion to dismiss said complaint, (Docket No. 6), Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on October 4, 2013, which incorporates most of the allegations set forth in his initial complaint, modifying one paragraph, (Docket No. 9). The Amended Complaint brings one claim, charging that the Defendants infringed his First Amendment right to free association, guaranteed through the Fourteenth Amendment. (Docket No. 9 at 1, ¶ 1; Docket No. 1 at 9, ¶ ¶ 29, 31); See U.S. Const. amends. I, XIV. Plaintiff requests compensatory and punitive damages as well as various equitable relief, including reinstatement to the Solicitor position. (Docket No. 9 at 1, ¶ 1; Docket No. 1 at 9-10, ¶ 32). Defendants moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint on the grounds that it fails to state a claim. (Docket No. 10); Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(b)(6). The matter having been fully briefed (Docket Nos. 11; 12; 13; 16) is now ripe for review.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

A. The Parties

Plaintiff Kenneth Burkley is an individual residing in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. (Docket No. 9 at 1, ¶ 1; Docket No. 1 at 1, ¶ 2). He is an attorney who has practiced law in Pennsylvania for over thirty-eight years. (Docket No. 9 at 1, ¶ 1; Docket No. 1 at 5, ¶ 13). Plaintiff worked as Solicitor [1] for the Authority beginning in January 2002, continuing in this position until he was fired on January 16, 2013. ( Id. ). Plaintiff further states that he has been an active member of the Democratic Party in Westmoreland County for many years. (Docket No. 9 at 1, ¶ 1; Docket No. 1 at 5, ¶ 15). Plaintiff's political activities included running for the United States Congress as a Democratic candidate in 1990 and 1992, as well as serving as the party's Chairman in Westmoreland County from 1998 until 2002. ( Id. ). Additionally, Plaintiff notes that he often acts as a spokesperson for the Democratic Party, including being quoted in local newspapers, and that he supported Democratic candidates in the most recent election for County Commissioner. ( Id. ).

Defendant MAWC is a government entity established pursuant to the Pennsylvania Municipality Authorities Act. (Docket No. 9 at 1, ¶ 1; Docket No. 1 at 2, ¶ 3); 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5601 et seq. [2] The Authority provides sewage and water services to

Page 671

customers in Westmoreland County. [3] (Docket No. 9 at 2, ¶ 2(B)). The individual Defendants include the two County Commissioners and the five Members of the MAWC Board. (Docket No. 9 at 1, ¶ 1; Docket No. 1 at 2-4, ¶ ¶ 5-11). County Commissioners are elected to their positions and have hiring and firing authority over employees and appointed individuals in Westmoreland County. (Docket No. 9 at 1, ¶ 1; Docket No. 1 at 2, ¶ ¶ 4-6). The Commissioners also appoint the five Board Members of the Authority. ( Id. ). See also 53 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5610(a)(1). Board Members share with the Commissioners voting authority to hire or fire appointed individuals at the MAWC. (Docket No. 9 at 1, ¶ 1; Docket No. 1 at 2, ¶ 4).

B. The Position of Solicitor to the MAWC

As stated above, Plaintiff was terminated from the position of Solicitor in January 2013. (Docket No. 9 at 1, ¶ 1; Docket No. 1 at 5, ¶ 13). Plaintiff asserts that as Solicitor, he " provided quality legal services to the MAWC Board members," earning an annual salary of $120,000. (Docket No. 9 at 1-2, ¶ ¶ 1, 2(A); Docket No. 1 at 9, ¶ 32(a)). The only other information about the actual substantive duties of Solicitor contained in the Amended Complaint provides that the Solicitor " position calls for legal opinions and legal assistance in bond issues and other water authority related legal matters." (Docket No. 9 at 1, ¶ 2).

Beyond these general averments about the MAWC and the Solicitor position, the Amended Complaint adds multiple allegations related to whether political affiliation is relevant to the Solicitor's duties or whether the Solicitor's role impacts policy. ( Id. at 1-3). For example, Plaintiff avers that the Solicitor " is not a policy maker," that the job duties " do not require an attorney from any particular political party or political affiliation," and that " [p]olitics plays no role in the daily operations and policies of the MAWC." ( Id. at 1-2, ¶ 14(C), (D)). Consistent with this characterization, Plaintiff alleges that during his time in the office, political persuasion was essentially irrelevant. ( Id. at 2). To that end, Plaintiff alleges that he provided service " free of any political influence," he " communicated with [Board members] without regard to any particular political affiliation, he " did not make policy . . . nor did he provide legal advice on MAWC policy matters," and his political affiliation " did not interfere with or impede his work." ( Id. at 2, ¶ 14(A), (F), (G), (H)).

C. Facts Surrounding Plaintiff's Termination as MAWC Solicitor

Plaintiff's claim centers on his termination from the MAWC Solicitor position in January 2013. ( Id. ; Docket No. 1). In 2011, Defendants Anderson and Courtney, both Republicans, were elected to the Board of County Commissioners, creating a Republican majority. (Docket No. 9 at 1, ¶ 1; Docket No. 1 at 5-6, ¶ 16). Plaintiff contends that around this time, Defendants Anderson and Courtney " told several people that one of their ...


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