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Morris v. West Manheim Township

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

February 13, 2014



A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is Defendant Kevin Null's ("Null") Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings. (Doc. 60.) For the reasons that follow, the motion will be granted.

I. Background

Plaintiffs David and Pamela Morris (collectively, "Plaintiffs") commenced this action against Defendants West Manheim Township, two police officers, Chief Timothy Hippensteel ("Hippensteel") and Officer Schneider ("Schneider"), the West Manheim Township Manager Null, and two private citizens, Scott Strausbaugh ("Strausbaugh") and Mark Barney ("Barney"), for alleged violations of their civil rights. ( Compl. , ¶ 1.) As set forth in the Complaint, in October 2007, Plaintiffs acquired a property at 222 Hobart Road, Hanover, Pennsylvania (the "Property"). ( Compl. , ¶ 7.) The Property carried with it access to an easement for use of a driveway to allow safe exit and entry from their home to Hobart Road. ( Id. at ¶ 8.) The easement had been in uninterrupted use since the 1950s. ( Id. at ¶ 11.)

On or about August 18, 2010, David and Pamela Morris were plaintiffs in a prior federal lawsuit, Morris v. Kesselring, et al. , No. 1:09-cv-1739 (M.D. Pa.) (the "2009 Action"), asserting claims for violations of their federally guaranteed rights. ( Id. at ¶ 5.)[1] Around this time, Strausbaugh and Barney placed posts and gates across the easement. ( Id. at ¶ 9.)

Thereafter, on August 18, 2010, Plaintiffs spoke with Schneider who told them they were not allowed to use the easement. ( Id. at ¶ 10.) Schneider told Plaintiffs they would be charged with criminal trespass or burglary if they touched or removed the gates or posts. ( Id. ) Schneider indicated that his orders came from Hippensteel and that the Supervisors voted on it. ( Id. )

Plaintiffs then spoke with Hippensteel, the Chief of the West Manheim Township Police Department. ( Id. at ¶ 12.) Hippensteel informed Plaintiffs that they would be arrested if they used the easement or interfered with the gates and posts. ( Id. at ¶ 13.)

Plaintiffs then initiated their own investigation to determine if permits had been issued for the erection of the gates or posts on the easement. ( Id. at ¶¶ 14-15.) Plaintiffs spoke with Heather Neiderer at the West Manheim Township municipal building. Plaintiffs were informed that no permits had been requested or issued, but Ms. Neiderer was not allowed to further discuss the blockage of the easement. ( Id. at ¶ 16.) Ms. Neiderer then asked Null to speak with Plaintiffs. ( Id. ) Null "told the plaintiffs that he was not interested in talking to the plaintiffs about the Township's role in facilitating the blockage of their right of way, a valuable property right." ( Id. at ¶ 17.) Null further stated to Plaintiffs that "he did not want to bother with it' dismissing their requests for information and assistance for help out of hand. Null, speaking for the Township as one of its chief policymakers and leaders, yet they [sic] confirmed the threats and directives provided by the police officer defendants." ( Id. at ¶ 18.) Without use of the easement, Plaintiffs are required to drive a considerable distance through unsafe traffic conditions to access their mailbox. ( Id. at ¶ 19.)

Prior to Strausbaugh and Barney's actions, Plaintiffs received no notice, warnings, or indications that the easement would be blocked. ( Id. at ¶¶ 20-21.) West Manheim Township ratified and enforced Strausbaugh and Barney's conduct via police edict. ( Id. at ¶ 20.)

Based on the foregoing, Plaintiffs filed the Complaint in this action on August 17, 2012 asserting two claims against all Defendants. ( Compl .) Count I asserts a retaliation claim under the First Amendment, while Count II alleges that all Defendants violated Plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process rights by depriving them of their property interest in the use of the easement.

Defendants West Manheim Township, Hippensteel, Strausbaugh, Barney, and Schneider all filed motions to dismiss the Complaint. The motions to dismiss were granted and the claims against these Defendants were dismissed with prejudice. (Docs. 18; 19; 54; 55.)

Null, however, filed an Answer with Affirmative Defenses on June 13, 2013. (Doc. 46.) Null was subsequently granted leave to file an Amended Answer with Affirmative Defenses, which was filed on September 18, 2013. (Doc. 59.)

On October 10, 2013, Null filed the instant motion for judgment on the pleadings, (Doc. 60), and a brief in support on October 24, 2013. (Doc. 61.) Plaintiffs filed a brief in opposition to Null's motion on November 29, 2013. (Doc. 68.) As such, the ...

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