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Mazzoni v. Jarbola

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 16, 2014

ANDREW J. JARBOLA, et al., Defendants.


A. RICHARD CAPUTO, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendants Andrew J. Jarbola, Lackawanna County, and Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office (collectively the "County Defendants") (Doc. 30), and the Motion for Summary Judgment of Defendant Lackawanna County Detectives Association ("LCDA") (Doc. 35). This dispute arises out of Plaintiff Robert Mazzoni's ("Mazzoni") termination from employment as a detective at the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office ("DA's Office").

Mazzoni asserts he was fired because he expressed his intent to run for office against an ally of District Attorney Jarbola ("DA, " "Jarbola"), in violation of his "rights of speech, association, political affiliation and his exercise of political freedom, as guaranteed by the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution." ( Compl., Doc. 1, ¶ 43.) The County Defendants assert that Mazzoni was terminated for cause. Mazzoni also asserts that the LCDA, his union, conspired with the DA's Office to violate his rights, and breached their duty to provide Mazzoni with fair representation. Because Plaintiff has set forth enough evidence, taken in the light most favorable to him and resolving all possible inferences in his favor, to demonstrate that there is a dispute of material fact as to the reasons why Mazzoni was fired and the reasons why the LCDA stopped the grievance process, the Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment will be denied. Because retaliatory motive is not enough to meet the intent standard required of a Defendant in order to receive punitive damages, and Plaintiff has not demonstrated any facts to indicate that the County Defendants acted with anything more than retaliatory intent in terminating him, County Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's request for punitive damages for his constitutional claim will be granted.

I. Background

A. Factual Background

1. Robert Mazzoni's Disciplinary History

Mr. Mazzoni began working as a detective for the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office in April 1992. (Doc 32, ¶ 1.) At that time, Mr. Jarbola was not yet the District Attorney. (Doc. 51, Pl. SMF, ¶ 2). Lackawanna County and the DA's Office were Mazzoni's employers. ( Compl., ¶ 25.) The District Attorney, in his official capacity, was the final authority and ultimate repository of the County's power in regard to the Plaintiff's employment. ( Id. )

Mazzoni's employment record reveals multiple disciplinary infractions and warnings. In 1992, Mazzoni was notified in writing that a District Judge had told the DA's Office that he had outstanding traffic citations, which he needed to pay. (Doc. 33-20, 2.) He was not disciplined, but was informed that "any further violations will be result [sic.] in disciplinary procedures." ( Id. ) Later in 1992, Mazzoni received a disciplinary letter for failing to report on a day when he was scheduled to work. (Doc. 33-19.) Mazzoni's personnel file contains a handwritten note from December 1992, which appears to be a list of his infractions, all regarding use of his county car. (Doc. 33-18.) Mazzoni admits that his county car was taken from him in the 1990s for improper use. (Doc. 51, ¶ 5.)

In 1995, a detective with the DA's Office's specialized drug task force sent Mazzoni's supervisor a memo complaining about Mazzoni's behavior, and asking that Mazzoni stop conducting independent drug investigations. (Doc. 33-16, 4.) It is unclear whether these matters were investigated, and whether Mr. Mazzoni was notified of this letter. In 1999, Mazzoni wrote a letter confirming that a two-week suspension without pay was a "just punishment" for an unnamed violation. (Doc. 33-17.)

In 2000, a memo to Mazzoni indicated that while his work quality was "very good, " Jarbola, by then District Attorney, was upset that Mazzoni had not turned in several arrest reports, following complaints from an Assistant District Attorney, and that failure to complete reports in the future would result in disciplinary action. (Doc. 33-15.) At the time, Mazzoni had a medical condition, and Mazzoni asserts that is why he failed to complete his paperwork. ( Id.; Doc. 51 ¶ 8.) In May 2001, a personnel file memo documented Mazzoni's absence without leave for two days. (Doc 14-30.) Mazzoni asserts that there is no indication that this was ever investigated or confirmed, and was never discussed with him. (Doc. 51, ¶ 9.)

In August 2001, Chief Thomas K. Dubas ("Dubas") wrote a memo to Jarbola, detailing what he described as Mazzoni's ongoing "open, flagrant" disobedience and improper behavior. (Doc. 33-13.) He wrote that Mazzoni's actions were going to lead to a lawsuit, and that Mazzoni was a danger and embarrassment to the office. He urged Jarbola to take immediate action. ( Id. ) His allegations included multiple instances of Mazzoni mishandling drug evidence, lying about cases and his attendance, and generally disobeying orders. ( Id. ) It is not clear that this was discussed with Mazzoni, or that any disciplinary action was taken in response to the memo. (Doc. 51, ¶ 10.)

In February 2004, Mazzoni was suspended without pay for "not following proper office procedures." (Doc. 33-12.) In May 2005, Mazzoni was suspended for three days without pay for having glasses of wine on his table while at lunch during the work day. (Doc. 32, ¶ 12; see also Doc. 33-40, Pl. Dep. 37:7-38:5.) In December 2005, Mazzoni's pay was docked for ten days for disciplinary reasons. (Doc. 33-10.) Also in 2005, Mazzoni was suspended a second time, though the parties dispute why. (Doc. 32, ¶ 14; Doc. 51, ¶ 14.) At some point, Jarbola removed Mazzoni's county cell phone for excessive personal calls. (Doc. 32, ¶ 5.) In 2009, Mazzoni was verbally reprimanded for refusing to attend a scheduled presentation at a local high school. (Doc. 32, ¶ 17.)

A number of other detectives testified in depositions that in 2008 and 2009, there were instances when Mazzoni would deviate from protocol and run into a house after a suspect, or turn a "routine bust" into a "buy bust, " which made them feel like they were at risk. (Doc. 32, ¶ 18.) None ever filed a written complaint, and Mazzoni received no discipline for these actions. (Doc. 51, ¶ 18.) Mazzoni disputes that the officers were ever at risk, and also disputes the underlying facts. ( Id. ) Jarbola testified that from what he knew prior to when Mazzoni was terminated, he did not feel that Mazzoni's actions endangered other officers or detectives. ( Id. )

Mazzoni "produced results" at his job, and had the most arrests and convictions of any officer in the drug unit since Jarbola took office. (Doc. 32, ¶ 27-8.) From December 14, 2005, to the date of his termination on or about April 12, 2010, his personnel file contains no written record of any disciplinary action. (Doc. 51, ¶ 31.)

The County Defendants assert that officers and agents from the State Police, Attorney General's Office, Federal Bureau of Investigations and the local police all refused to work with Mazzoni. (Doc. 32, ¶ 21.) Mazzoni disputes this. (Doc. 51, ¶ 21.) The DA's Office wrote that Mazzoni socialized with Al Abda, a convicted felon, which concerned the DA's office. ( Id. at ¶ 19.) Jarbola had also socialized with Mr. Abda. ( Id. )

2. Events Immediately Preceding Mazzoni's Termination

On or about February 2010, Mazzoni asserts that he told Jarbola that he intended to run for sheriff. (Doc. 51, Pl. SMF, ¶ 2.) Jarbola vehemently denies this. (Doc. 58, ¶ 2.) Mazzoni contends that when he informed Jarbola of his intentions, Jarbola told him not to run. (Doc. 51, Pl. SMF, ¶ 3.) Mazzoni asserts that this was because Jarbola was a political ally and "close friend" of the incumbent sheriff, John Szymanski. ( Id. at ¶¶ 4-5.) Jarbola and Szymanski served together on the prison board, and Jarbola made political contributions to Szymanski's campaign. ( Id. ) Jarbola says that he and Szymanski are friends, but he did not contribute more than $100 to his campaign, and never campaigned for him. (Doc. 58, ¶¶ 4-5).

Mazzoni contends that after he told Jarbola about his intention to run for sheriff, Jarbola's demeanor toward him changed, and he was no longer friendly. (Doc. 41, Pl. SMF, at ¶ 8.) Jarbola asserts that in 2008, Paul Mazzoni, father of Robert Mazzoni, had told Jarbola that his son was planning to run for sheriff. (Doc. 32, ¶ 47.)

On or about April 10, 2010, Mazzoni saw a former confidential information in an oncoming vehicle. (Doc. 51, ¶ 11.) Mazzoni knew that there was a felony warrant out for the former informant, so turned on his emergency lights and turned around to stop the vehicle. ( Id. ) He ran through two red lights and exceeded the speed limit in pursuit. ( Id. at ¶ 16.) The DA's Office contends that this was a violation of policy, but Mazzoni asserts that there was no official pursuit policy at that time. ( Id. )

An argument between Mazzoni and Jarbola ensued as a result of this incident. Jarbola accused Mazzoni of lying about his attempt to apprehend the informant, and of trying to get another detective to file a false report to "cover" for Mazzoni. ( Id. at ¶ 13.) Jarbola testified that most of the reason for Mazzoni's termination was because Mazzoni lied about this incident, encouraged the filing of a false report, and threatened another detective. ( Id. )

Jarbola testified that Mazzoni's lies had no effect on any of the office's cases and that there was probably no negative effect of Mazzoni demanding another detective lie for him. ( Id. at ¶¶ 18-19.) Jarbola also testified that what he really took offense to was lying, and that he was upset because Mazzoni lied in a report and to him. ( Id. at ¶ 20.)

3. Mazzoni's Termination and Subsequent Grievance

On April 12, 2010, Jarbola met with Mazzoni and told him that he could no longer work as a detective. (Doc. 51, Pl. SMF, ¶ 9.) Jarbola told him that he could "resign, retire, or find another job." ( Id. ) On May 26, 2010, Jarbola met with Mazzoni and informed Mazzoni of the disciplinary issues behind Mazzoni's termination. ( Id. at ¶ 22.) Jarbola provided a list of reasons for Mazzoni's termination. ( Id. at ¶¶ 33-4.) Included in this list were submitting a false reimbursement and possible violations of the Wiretap Act. ( Id. at ¶¶ 34-6.) Jarbola later testified that the false reimbursement had nothing to do with the termination. ( Id. at ¶ 35.) Jarbola also testified that he did not know of the possible wiretap violations until after Mazzoni was terminated. ( Id. at ¶¶ 36-7.)

Mazzoni was given the opportunity to respond, but did not on the advice of his union counsel. (Doc. 32, ¶ 23; Doc. 51, Pl. SMF, ¶ 23.) On June 3, 2010, Jarbola sent Mazzoni a letter terminating him as an employee of the DA's Office. (Doc 33-1.) He also sent a letter to the Personnel Director for Lackawanna County, informing her that Mazzoni had been terminated. (Doc. 33-2).

The Lackawanna County Detectives Association ("LCDA, " "the union") is the exclusive collective bargaining representative for all Lackawanna County Detectives, including Mazzoni. (Doc. 36, ¶ 2.) Lackawanna County and the LCDA were parties to a collective bargaining agreement effective January 2006, which was extended to January 2014. (Doc. 26, ¶ 4.) Under this contract, no employee could be discharged "without good cause." (Doc. 1, Ex. A. ) Plaintiff puts forth evidence to demonstrate that shortly after he was terminated, the union held a meeting and unanimously decided to pursue his grievance. (Doc. 51, Pl. SMF, ¶ 41; Doc. 50, ¶ 8.) The deposition of Brian Kosch, a fellow detective, attests to this. (Doc. 33-32, Kosch Dep. 28:4-30:7.) Both Defendant LCDA and County Defendants argue that this meeting did not occur, and present supporting evidence in the form of deposition testimony. (Doc. 32, ¶ 41; Doc. 36, ¶ 8.) After the union made the initial decision to pursue the grievance, the union's leadership sent emails to keep the membership apprised of the ongoing progress of the grievance, in which it expressed its plans to take the grievance to arbitration. (Doc. 50, ¶ 8.)

On June 4, 2010, Detective Thomas J. Davis, President of the LCDA, submitted a grievance to Jarbola regarding Mazzoni's termination, claiming that there was no just cause for termination. (Doc 32, ¶ 26.) On June 8, Jarbola sent a letter to an attorney for the LCDA, stating that he did not believe the grievance was arbitrable, and that he was denying the grievance on the merits because there was just cause for Mazzoni's termination. ( Id. at ¶ 28.) On June 9, Detective Davis, on behalf of the LCDA and Mazzoni, submitted a memo to the Human Resources Director of Lackawanna County regarding the next step of the grievance procedure, "step 3, " to be conducted by the Human Resources Department. ( Id. at ¶ 29.) On July 2, the Human Resources Department conducted step 3 of the grievance procedure. ( Id. at ¶¶ 30-31.)

On July 12, the Human Resources Director sent a letter to a LCDA lawyer and Detective Davis that the grievance was denied. ( Id. at ¶ 32.) On that same day, Detective Davis, on behalf of the LCDA and Mazzoni, submitted a memo to Human Resources providing notice to proceed to arbitration. ( Id. at ¶ 33.) The Association completed every step of the grievance process except for arbitration, and had begun to schedule an arbitration. ( Id. at ¶ 34.) Prior to September, the union members received ...

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