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Chirdon v. Borough of Plum

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

February 20, 2015

Timothy CHIRDON et al., Plaintiffs,

For TIMOTHY CHIRDON, ROBIN CHIRDON, Plaintiffs: Thomas J. Farnan, LEAD ATTORNEY, Robb Leonard Mulvihill LLP, Pittsburgh, PA.

For BOROUGH OF PLUM, Defendant: Andrew G. Kimball, LEAD ATTORNEY, Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, Pittsburgh, PA; Jeremy B. Darling, Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, P.C., Pittsburgh, PA.

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Joy Flowers Conti, Chief United States District Judge.

I. Introduction

This case involves a dispute over the right to remove a small bridge or box culvert. Plaintiffs Timothy and Robin Chirdon (collectively the " Chirdons" ) allege that the bridge was their property and defendant Borough of Plum (" Plum" ) removed the bridge in violation of the their constitutional rights. Plum asserts there was no constitutional violation because it had a contractual right to remove the bridge. This case also involves the question about when a municipal entity can be held liable for the constitutional violations of its officials.

The parties engaged in robust pre-answer motion practice, including several motions to dismiss, one of which was granted in part and denied in part, an amendment as a matter of course, and a motion to for leave to amend, which was granted. The Chirdons' second amended complaint (ECF No. 48) contains two counts asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count one seeks redress for the deprivation of a property interest without due process of law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Count three[1] asserts that Plum's removal of the bridge constituted an illegal seizure under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plum filed a motion for summary judgment (ECF No. 53), seeking judgment on both counts. Because the Chirdons failed to adduce sufficient evidence to establish municipal liability, the court will grant Plum's motion.

II. Factual Background

A. Origin of the Dispute over the Bridge

The Chirdons, who are husband and wife, live on a roughly triangular piece of property in Plum. (Combined Concise Statement of Material Facts (" CCS" ) ¶ 1, ECF No. 69; Pls.' Ex. G, ECF No. 64-7.) The Chirdons have lived on this property since 2000. (T. Chirdon Dep. 5:21-23, Apr. 8, 2014, ECF No. 56.) Their property is bordered along one side by McJunkin Road and along another side by Finley Road. (CCS ¶ 2.) A creek runs through the Chirdons' property parallel to Finley Road. (CCS ¶ 3.) A small bridge--described as a box culvert--crossed the creek. Prior to 2008, the Chirdons' only paved access to a public roadway was a driveway leading over the bridge to Finley Road. (CCS ¶ ¶ 8-9.)

On many occasions since the Chirdons moved to the property, the creek overflowed its banks and flooded the Chirdons' yard. (T. Chirdon Dep. 18:18-19:18.) The water entered the Chirdons' garage and basement at least four times between 2000 and 2008. ( Id. at 25:4-22.) Timothy Chirdon called Plum many times to report the issue. ( Id. at 19:24-21:24.) Plum undertook some efforts to alleviate the flooding, including cutting back overgrown vegetation around the creek several times per year, but these efforts did not fix the problem. ( Id. at 22:4-8.) In 2008, the Chirdons had a series of discussions with William Berchick (" Berchick" ), Plum's director of public works, about performing

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more substantial flood relief work. ( Id. at 25:23-26:16.) Plum believed the box culvert, which formed the bridge over the creek, impeded the flow of water in the creek and contributed to the flooding events. (Thomas Dep. 41:18-42:15, Mar. 26, 2014, ECF Nos. 56, 64-4.) The Chirdons and Berchick discussed a plan under which Plum would remove the culvert bridge. In return, Plum would install a new driveway connecting to the public roadway at McJunkin Road. (T. Chirdon Dep. 26:17-28:12.)

The parties dispute whether these discussions ever resulted in a definite agreement. No formal written contract was signed. ( Id. at 29:14-30:3.) The Chirdons had a number of specific requirements for the paving of the driveway. ( Id. at 29:3-13.) Eventually, Plum created a " spec sheet" that listed the requirements for the driveway, and Timothy Chirdon and Plum borough manager Michael Thomas (" Thomas" ) signed the sheet. ( Id. at 29:23-30:3; Thomas Dep. 8:5-21.) The driveway was constructed in November 2008, but the paving was not done according to the specifications agreed to by the Chirdons and the Chirdons' porch was damaged by the contractor. (T. Chirdon Dep. 33:3-34:3; R. Chirdon Dep. 10:14-16, Apr. 8, 2014, ECF No. 56.) On July 1, 2009, the Chirdons' attorney sent Plum a letter ...

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