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Shaffer v. Fayette County of Pennsylvania

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 15, 2014

Thomas W. SHAFFER, Plaintiff,
v.
FAYETTE COUNTY OF PENNSYLVANIA, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOY FLOWERS CONTI, Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Thomas W. Shaffer ("plaintiff" or "Shaffer") seeks reconsideration of the court's oral order dismissing with prejudice plaintiff's First Amendment retaliatory firing claim on June 3, 2014. ( See Hr'g Tr., June 3, 2014, ECF No. 22.) Plaintiff argues that Lane v. Franks, 134 S.Ct. 2369 (2014), decided June 19, 2014, constitutes an intervening change in the law governing the First Amendment rights of public employees. As explained below, Lane does not alter the law with respect to plaintiff's claim, and plaintiff's motion (ECF No. 20) will be denied.

II. Standard of Review

The court may grant a motion for reconsideration if the party seeking reconsideration establishes one of the following grounds: "(1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion...; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Max's Seafood Cafe v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999). Because of the interest in finality, district courts grant motions for reconsideration sparingly-the parties are not free to relitigate issues the court has already decided. Rottmund v. Cont'l Assurance Co., 813 F.Supp. 1104, 1107 (E.D. Pa. 1992); see Williams v. City of Pittsburgh, 32 F.Supp.2d 236, 238 (W.D. Pa. 1998).

III. Background

Plaintiff's amended complaint (ECF No. 9) asserted four claims against defendants Fayette County; two Fayette County commissioners in their individual and official capacities, Vince Zapotosky ("Zapotosky") and Al Ambrosini ("Ambrosini"); and Fayette County human resources manager Dominick Carnicella ("Carnicella") in his individual and official capacities (collectively "defendants"). The claims are

1. retaliatory firing in violation of the First Amendment (pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983);
2. reputational damage in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983);
3. defamation in violation of Pennsylvania law; and
4. sex discrimination in pay rate in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 206(d).

The relevant facts alleged in the amended complaint are as follows. Shaffer was employed by Fayette County as an assistant public defender. (Am. Compl. ¶ 10.) On June 27, 2013, Shaffer appeared before Magisterial District Judge Ronald Haggerty ("Judge Haggerty"), representing a defendant in his capacity as assistant public defender. On July 2, 2013, Carnicella suspended Shaffer from his assistant public defender position pending an investigation of Shaffer's actions before Judge Haggerty. ( Id. ) On July 16, 2013, Carnicella informed Shaffer that the investigation determined his actions before Judge Haggerty may have violated Fayette County policy. ( Id. ¶ 11.) Carnicella alleged that Shaffer used "foul, abusive or threatening language or gestures and disrespectful language." ( Id. ) Specifically, Carnicella alleged that Shaffer screamed "I am tired of your crap" at Judge Haggerty, called the judge "corrupt" and "biased toward the prosecution, " and said he would report the judge to the judicial review board. ( Id. ) Carnicella notified Shaffer that he could respond to the allegations at a hearing on July 18, 2013. ( Id. )

At the disciplinary hearing on July 18, 2013, Carnicella admitted that the investigation of the matter consisted of discussing the events of the hearing of June 27, 2013, with Judge Haggerty, two assistant district attorneys, and a police officer. ( Id. ¶ 13.) Carnicella knew that many other witnesses existed. ( Id. ) Shaffer brought to the disciplinary hearing seven affidavits from witnesses present at the hearing before Judge Haggerty. ( Id. ¶ 14.) These witnesses stated that Shaffer did nothing wrong. ( Id. ) Shaffer requested additional time to keep the record open and submit additional affidavits. ( Id. ¶ 15.) The additional time was necessary because Shaffer was not able to access records at the public defender's office and because Shaffer's client at the hearing was transferred to a state correctional institution. ( Id. ) Carnicella agreed to give Shaffer additional time. ( Id. ) On July 29, 2013, before Shaffer submitted additional affidavits or other evidence, Carnicella notified Shaffer that the Fayette County commissioners terminated his employment, effective immediately. ( Id. ¶ 16.)

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 11). The court held a hearing on the motion on June 3, 2014. After hearing from the parties, the court granted the motion in part and denied the motion in part.[1] Count 1 was dismissed ...


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