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Carroll v. Clifford Twp.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 13, 2014

DONALD A. CARROLL, Plaintiff
v.
CLIFFORD TOWNSHIP, et al., Defendants

For Donald A. Carroll, Plaintiff: Cynthia L. Pollick, The Employment Law Firm, Pittston, PA.

For Clifford Township, Dennis Knowlton, Individually and his Official Capacity as Chairman/Supervisor, Chris Marcho, Individually and in his Official Capacity as Supervisor, Defendants: Amy R. Boring, Michael Zicolello, SCHEMERY & ZICOLELLO, Williamsport, PA.

OPINION

MALACHY E. MANNION, United States District Judge.

Page 399

MEMORANDUM

A trial on plaintiff police officer's claim for interference with his First Amendment

Page 400

right to freedom of association resulted in a verdict against defendants for one dollar. The jury also awarded punitive damages in the amount of $15,000.00 against defendant Clifford Township supervisor Chris Marcho and $15,000.00 against defendant Clifford Township supervisor Dennis Knowlton. At the " Charge" conference, defendant objected to the charge for punitive damages. The court reserved its ruling on the objection to punitive damages until after a verdict was reached. At issue now is whether the award of punitive damages can stand. The parties have briefed the appropriateness of the punitive damages award. (Docs. 76, 77). The court has thoroughly reviewed the evidence presented at trial and has determined that the award of punitive damages must be DISMISSED.

I. BACKGROUND

In this case, plaintiff Clifford Township police officer Donald Carroll brought several claims against Clifford Township and two of its township supervisors, Dennis Knowlton and Chris Marcho, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The third township supervisor, Barry Searle, commissioner of the township police force, was not a defendant in the case. Plaintiff's claims for First Amendment retaliation were disposed of at the summary judgment stage, leaving only one issue for trial - whether the defendants had violated plaintiff's First Amendment right to association by failing to sign his application to become a member of the Fraternal Order of Police (" FOP" ), a union for police officers.

At trial, the evidence showed that the plaintiff presented an FOP application form to the township supervisors in February 2012 after a township meeting. The application form has a space for an officer's mayor or supervisor to confirm that the applicant is employed, has passed his civil service exam, and has completed his probationary period. The township supervisors indicated to plaintiff that they would forward the form to the township solicitor for advice regarding whether to sign it or not. In the meantime, about three months later in May of 2012, the township police department was entirely disbanded for financial reasons. As a result, plaintiff's FOP application was never signed. Prior to the time of the department's disbandment, the supervisors had not received advice from their solicitor regarding whether they should sign the FOP application. (Tr. 52:14-17; 60:6-9).[1]

Evidence was brought out at trial that plaintiff had given an FOP application to non-defendant supervisor Barry Searle, either at Searle's home or in plaintiff's office, in March of 2011. Defendant Chris Marcho was not a supervisor at that time, and defendant Dennis Knowlton testified that he did not recall seeing the 2011 application. (Tr. 55:2-5). This is supported by Mr. Searle's testimony that he did not bring the 2011 application to the attention of Mr. Knowlton, (Tr. 172:21-22), and the plaintiff's testimony that he did not present the 2011 application to Mr. Knowlton, but gave it to Mr. Searle so he could " bring it up at the agenda of the township meeting." (Tr. 154-55). The plaintiff also testified that he had presented an FOP application to the Clifford Township supervisors in 2007. (Tr. 153-154). Neither Mr. Searle nor Mr. Marcho were supervisors in 2007, and although Mr. Knowlton was a supervisor, the plaintiff did not speak to Mr. Knowlton about his application in 2007. Instead, he dealt with another supervisor. (Tr. 154: 3-8).

Mr. Searle testified that he wanted to sign the February ...


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