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Flora v. Luzerne County

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 10, 2014

AL FLORA, JR., Plaintiff,
LUZERNE COUNTY and ROBERT LAWTON, County Manager, in his official capacity, Defendants.


MALACHY E. MANNION, District Judge.

Pending before the court are the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction, (Doc. No. 4), and the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, (Doc. No. 9)[1]. Based upon the court's review of the motions and related materials, the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction will be dismissed and the defendants' motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint will be granted.


By way of relevant background, the plaintiff filed the instant civil rights action on April 22, 2013, in which he alleges that he was removed from his position as the Chief Public Defender for Luzerne County in retaliation for his efforts to secure funding for the Luzerne County Office of the Public Defender, ("OPD"), and to enforce the rights of OPD clients.

On May 6, 2013, the plaintiff filed his motion for preliminary injunction, (Doc. No. 4), along with a brief in support thereof, (Doc. No. 5). The defendants filed a brief in opposition to the plaintiff's motion, (Doc. No. 7), along with supporting exhibits, (Doc. No. 8), on May 29, 2013.

On June 4, 2013, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. (Doc. No. 9). A brief in support of the defendants' motion was filed on June 18, 2013. (Doc. No. 11). After having been granted an extension of time to do so, (Doc. No. 13), on July 19, 2013, the plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to the defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. No. 14). A reply brief was filed by the defendants on August 2, 2013.


a. Preliminary Injunction

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65 governs the granting of injunctive relief, such as temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions. Injunctive relief is not granted as a matter of right. Kerschner v. Mazurkewicz , 670 F.2d 440, 443 (3d Cir. 1982). It is well-established that injunctive relief is extraordinary in nature and should issue only in limited circumstances. See American Tel. and Tel. Co. v. Winback and Conserve Program, Inc. , 42 F.3d 1421, 1426-27 (3d Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1103 , 115 S.Ct. 1838, 131 L.Ed.2d 757 (1995). Such relief should not be granted unless the movant, by a clear showing, carries the burden of persuasion. Mazurek v. Armstrong , 520 U.S. 968, 972, 117 S.Ct. 1865, 138 L.Ed.2d 162 (1997). See also Adams v. Freedom Forge Corp. , 204 F.3d 475, 486 (3d Cir. 2000) (moving party bears the burden of establishing the factors for injunctive relief). The Third Circuit has indicated that "[u]pon an application for a preliminary injunction to doubt is to deny." Madison Square Garden Corp. v. Braddock , 90 F.2d 924, 927 (3d Cir. 1937). Whether injunctive relief is granted is at the sound discretion of the trial judge. Orson, Inc. v. Miramax Film Corp. , 836 F.Supp. 309, 311 (E.D.Pa. 1993).

In determining whether to grant injunctive relief, courts within the Third Circuit consider the following factors: (1) whether the movant has shown a reasonable probability of success on the merits; (2) whether the movant will be irreparably injured by denial of the relief; (3) whether granting preliminary relief will result in even greater harm to the nonmoving party; and (4) whether granting the preliminary relief will be in the public interest. Rogers v. Corbett , 468 F.3d 188, 192 (3d Cir. 2006). See also United States v. Bell , 414 F.3d 474, 478 n.4 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing ACLU of N.J. v. Black Horse Pike Reg'l Bd. of Educ. , 84 F.3d 1471, 1477 n.2 (3d Cir. 1996) (en banc)).

While each factor need not be established beyond a reasonable doubt, they must combine to show the immediate necessity of injunctive relief. Stilp v. Contino , 629 F.Supp.2d 449, 457 (M.D.Pa. 2009) (citing Swartzwelder v. McNeilly , 297 F.3d 228, 234 (3d Cir.2002)). While the moving party must produce evidence sufficient to convince the court that all four factors favor injunctive relief and the court must endeavor to balance all four factors, "[a] failure to show a likelihood of success or a failure to demonstrate irreparable injury must necessarily result in the denial of a preliminary injunction." Jones v. Taylor, 2013 WL 1899852 (M.D. Pa. May 7, 2013) (quoting In re Arthur Treacher's Franchise Litig. , 689 F.2d 1137, 1143 (3d Cir.1982)).

b. Motion to Dismiss

The defendants' motion to dismiss is brought pursuant to the provisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). This rule provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated, Hedges v. United States , 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005), and dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the complaint as true, the plaintiff has failed to plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, " Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (2007) (abrogating "no set of facts" language found in Conley v. Gibson , 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The facts alleged must be sufficient to "raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. at 1965. This requirement "calls for enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" necessary elements of the plaintiff's cause of action. Id . Furthermore, in order to satisfy federal pleading requirements, the plaintiff must "provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief, " which "requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Phillips v. County of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (brackets and quotations marks omitted) (quoting Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65).

In considering a motion to dismiss, the court generally relies on the complaint, attached exhibits, and matters of public record. See Sands v. McCormick , 502 F.3d 263 (3d Cir. 2007). The court may also consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] documents." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus. , 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). Moreover, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading, may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n , 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in determining a motion to dismiss. See Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel , 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

Generally, the court should grant leave to amend a complaint before dismissing it as merely deficient. See, e.g., Fletcher-Harlee Corp. v. Pote Concrete Contractors, Inc. , 482 F.3d 247, 252 (3d Cir. 2007); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp. , 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002); Shane v. Fauver , 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker , 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).


a. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss[2]

Taking the allegations in the plaintiff's complaint as true, as the court must do in considering the defendants' motion to dismiss, the Pennsylvania Public Defender Act ("Act") requires each County to appoint a public defender, who is directed to provide representation to indigent criminal defendants where constitutionally mandated. 16 P.S. ยงยง9960.3, 9960.6.

Until April 17, 2013, the plaintiff was the Chief Public Defender in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. The plaintiff had been with the OPD as an attorney since 1980. In 1990, the plaintiff became the First Assistant Public Defender. In March 2010, the plaintiff became the acting Chief Public Defender. In May 2010, prior to the adoption of the Home Rule Charter, the plaintiff was appointed the Chief Public Defender by the Luzerne County Board of Commissioners. As the Chief Public Defender, the plaintiff oversaw both units of the OPD, which consisted of the Adult Unit and the Juvenile Unit.

The OPD is charged with providing representation to indigent criminal defendants in seventeen magisterial districts, the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, and the state appellate courts. The OPD is also responsible for providing representation in state parole, county probation/parole revocation, and mental health civil commitment proceedings.

When the plaintiff became the Chief Public Defender, the OPD was experiencing problems due to insufficient funding. The plaintiff's highest priority was improving juvenile representation in the wake of federal court proceedings involving two judges of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. To this extent, state records revealed that between 2003 and 2008, approximately 50% of juveniles appeared in Luzerne County Juvenile Court without the benefit of counsel-nearly ten times the state average. Virtually all of the unrepresented juveniles were adjudicated delinquent.

In October 2009, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered vacatur and expungement of all Luzerne County juvenile adjudications of delinquency or consent decrees between January 1, 2003, and ...

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