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Casselli v. City of Phila.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

September 22, 2014

CASSELLI, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL., Defendants

Page 369

For NICHOLAS CASSELLI, LAWRENCE LOVE, Plaintiffs: REGINALD C. ALLEN, LEAD ATTORNEY, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For CITY OF PHILADELPHIA, GREGORY HOLMAN, POLICE OFFICERS DETECTIVE, STEPHEN REEDER, BADGE#2352, SERGEANT BROWN, Defendants: NIYA L. BLACKWELL, LEAD ATTORNEY, CITY OF PHILADELPHIA LAW DEPT, PHILADELPHIA, PA.

For AMERICAN POSTAL WORKERS UNION AFL-CIO PHILADELPHIA, PA AREA, GWEN IVEY, LAURA TILLERY, FRANK KEENAN, Defendants: NANCY A. WALKER, WALKER LAW OFFICES PC, MEDIA, PA.

Page 370

MEMORANDUM

William H. Yohn Jr., United States District Judge.

Plaintiffs Nicholas Casselli and Lawrence Love bring this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim, and related state law claims against the City of Philadelphia and Philadelphia police officers; state actions for malicious prosecution, defamation, and false light invasion of privacy against the American Postal Workers Union, AFL-CIO Philadelphia, PA Area Local (" APWU" ), and APWU officials Gwen Ivey, Laura Tillery, and Frank Keenan; and a breach of contract claim against the APWU and the United States Postal Service.[1]

Before me are defendants Ivey, Tillery, Keenan, and the APWU's (" defendants" ) motion to dismiss, plaintiffs' response, and defendants' reply.[2] For the reasons set forth below, I will deny defendants' motion to dismiss the claims for malicious prosecution and defamation as to Ivey, Tillery, Keenan, and the APWU; deny the motion to dismiss the claim for false light invasion of privacy as to Ivey, Tillery, and the APWU; and grant the motion to dismiss

Page 371

the claim for false light invasion of privacy as to Keenan only.

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The complaint alleges that on June 27 of 2012 or 2013[3] the plaintiffs, former APWU officers, removed personal items from a filing cabinet at the APWU headquarters. Thereafter, defendants Ivey and Tillery accused the plaintiffs of stealing APWU documents from the filing cabinet. In response to these accusations, the United States Postal Service (" USPS" ), including the USPS " internal police force," conducted an investigation and determined that the incident should be handled as " an internal postal service matter" and that there was " no evidence" requiring referral to Philadelphia police for criminal investigation.

Despite this finding by the USPS police, defendants Ivey and Tillery pursued criminal charges against the plaintiffs. The complaint alleges that in the pursuit of these charges Ivey, Tillery, and Keenan all made false statements to Philadelphia police regarding the alleged theft of APWU documents. The plaintiffs were arrested and charged with theft, receiving stolen property, and conspiracy for theft. The Philadelphia Municipal Court dismissed the charges for lack of jurisdiction because the alleged crime occurred on federal property.

At various points throughout their complaint the plaintiffs allege that Ivey and Tillery: " have persisted in a pattern of telling numerous [APWU] officials and [APWU] members at [p]lantiffs' place of employment, and within their union, that they have committed crimes, including theft and burglary and breaking and entering" ; have made false statements about the plaintiffs at four APWU meetings between November 1, 2012 and August 23, 2013; have slandered and libeled the plaintiffs as criminals; have acted with malice to harm the plaintiffs' personal and professional reputations out of a personal animus; have " stated and documented that the [APWU membership] accepted and approved three judicial decisions regarding charges against [p]laintiffs...for 'taking and destroying [APWU] records on June 27, 2012'" despite knowing the statement " was materially false" ; and have " orchestrated the writing and production of a flyer that was disseminated at [p]laintiffs' place of employment.

Based on these facts, the plaintiffs filed a complaint in this court raising claims for malicious prosecution, defamation, and false light invasion of privacy against Ivey, Tillery, Keenan, and the APWU. Casselli also brought a claim for breach of contract against the APWU and the USPS.[4] On January 2, 2014, defendants Ivey, Tillery, Keenan, and the APWU moved to dismiss

Page 372

the claims against them for malicious prosecution, defamation, false light invasion of privacy, and breach of contract. On January 24, 2014, plaintiffs responded to the motion to dismiss with a memorandum of law which, at 49 pages, exceeded the 25 page maximum for the memorandum as outlined in the court's scheduling order. On March 26, 2014, I ordered that the plaintiffs' response be stricken without prejudice to the plaintiffs' filing an amended response not to exceed 35 pages. On March 31, 2014, the plaintiffs filed an amended response. On April 1, 2014, I dismissed the breach of contract claim against the APWU and the USPS by stipulation of the parties. On April 7, the defendants replied to the plaintiffs' response to the motion to dismiss.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure tests the legal sufficiency of a complaint. " [U]nder Rule 12(b)(6) the defendant has the burden of showing no claim has been stated." Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991). In deciding a motion to dismiss, courts must " accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). " To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). " A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. " Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" will not suffice. Id. " This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).

When faced with a motion to dismiss, " courts generally consider only the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint[,] and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). However, " a court may consider an undisputedly authentic document that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the document." Id. As the Third Circuit explained, " [t]he rationale underlying this exception is that the primary problem raised by looking to the documents outside the complaint--lack of notice to the plaintiff--is dissipated where the plaintiff has actual notice...and has relied upon these documents in framing the complaint." In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Lit., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426 (3d Cir. 1997) (internal quotations omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

A. The Norris-La Guardia Act and the Pennsylvania Labor Anti-Injunction Act

As an initial matter, the defendants argue that all charges against the APWU should be dismissed pursuant to both Section 6 of the Norris-La Guardia Act, 29 U.S.C. § 106 and Pennsylvania's Labor Anti-Injunction Act, 43 P.S. § 206h.

Page 373

Under Section 6 of the Norris-La Guardia Act " no association or organization participating in a labor dispute, shall be held responsible or liable in any court of the United States for the unlawful acts of individual officers, members, or agents, except upon clear proof of actual participation in, or actual authorization of, such acts, or of ratification of such acts after actual knowledge thereof." 29 U.S.C. § 106. The Norris-La Guardia Act defines a labor dispute as " any controversy concerning terms or conditions of employment, or concerning the association of representation of persons in negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing, or seeking to arrange terms or conditions of employment, regardless of whether or not the disputants stand in the proximate relation of employer or employee." 29 U.S.C. § 113.

The defendants argue that the APWU cannot be held liable because the complaint does not allege that it participated in, authorized or ratified the acts alleged in the complaint. However, by the plain language of the statute, Section 6 applies only to claims involving a labor dispute. As the complaint does not allege that the claims at issue in this case involve a controversy or negotiation concerning the terms or conditions of employment, they do not involve a labor dispute as defined in the statute. To support their argument, the defendants cite a single case involving criminal actions arising from a picket line. Gajkowski v. Internat'l Bro. of Teamsters, 519 Pa. 320, 548 A.2d 533 (Pa. 1988). This case is inapposite as a picket line involves a " controversy concerning terms or conditions of employment." As the defendants cite no cases that support their argument, I am guided by the clear language of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, including its definition of labor disputes, and decline to apply it to claims that do not involve labor disputes.

The language in the Pennsylvania Labor Anti-Injunction Act tracks nearly identically to the Norris-LaGuardia Act. " No...association or organization participating or interested in a labor dispute, as herein defined, shall be held responsible or liable in any civil action at law or suit in equity...for the unlawful acts of individual officers, members or agents, except upon proof...by the weight of evidence in other cases, and without the aid of presumptions of law or fact, both of--(a) the doing of such acts by persons who are officers, members or agents of any such association or organization; and (b) actual participation in, or actual authorization of, such acts, or ratification of such acts after actual knowledge thereof by such association or organization." 43 P.S. § 206h. And labor dispute is defined within the Labor Anti-Injunction Act as " any controversy concerning terms or conditions of employment, or concerning the association or representation of persons in negotiating, fixing, maintaining, changing, or seeking to arrange terms or conditions of employment or concerning employment relations or any other controversy arising out of the respective interests of employer and employee, regardless of whether or not the disputants stand in proximate relation of employer and employee, and regardless of whether or not the employees are on strike with the employer." 43 P.S. § 206c. Again, the ...


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