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Fouse v. Beaver County

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 1, 2015

THOMAS FOUSE, Plaintiff,
v.
BEAVER COUNTY ET AL., Defendants.

OPINION

MARK R. HORNAK, District Judge.

This is a case brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Thomas Fouse, a former Sergeant at the Beaver County Correctional Facility ("Jail"), against (a) Beaver County, (b) William Schouppe, the Jail's Warden, and (c) Mario Monac, the Jail's former Lieutenant and Mr. Fouse's direct supervisor. ECF No. 27, at ¶¶ 1-5.

Before the Court is the second round of Motions to Dismiss filed by all Defendants under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), ECF Nos. 28; 31, which argue that the Plaintiff's now-Amended Complaint, ECF No. 27, fails to state causes of action for a "stigma-plus" due process violation, First Amendment retaliation, and conspiracy to violate Mr. Fouse's rights. After reviewing the Motions, the briefs filed in support and in opposition thereto, ECF Nos. 30; 32; 33; 34; 35; 36; 38; 39; 40, the oral arguments presented on January 29, 2015. and for the reasons set forth below, the Motions to Dismiss will be granted in part and denied in part. All claims against all Defendants, other than the stigma-plus claim against Defendant Schouppe, will be dismissed with prejudice.

I. BACKGROUND

While the Amended Complaint contains an (over) abundance of facts, those few that are actually relevant to the disposition of these Motions are as follows: On June 12, 2013, Sergeant Fouse and Lieutenant Monac were both involved in the booking process of a woman who had been arrested and brought to the Jail, Jane Doe. ECF No. 27, at ¶¶ 10-13, 18-19. Mr. Fouse took possession of over $2, 800 of Jane Doe's money, wrote out a receipt, and followed Defendant Monac's instructions to refrain from depositing the money into the Jail's safe and instead to leave the money in a white envelope, along with two other such envelopes on the counter at the Jail. Id. at ¶¶ 16, 18-19. When it came time to stow the money in the safe, Mr. Fouse alleges that he watched Defendant Monac place two of the three envelopes in his back pocket and leave the area. Id. at ¶ 28. Later, Mr. Fouse returned to the counter and, believing the remaining envelope contained Jane Doe's money, [1] dropped the envelope into the safe, informing Defendant Monac that he did so afterward. Id. at ¶¶ 37-38.

On or about July 9, 2013, Mr. Fouse learned that Jane Doe's money was missing and the money he had dropped into the safe had in fact belonged to a different detainee. Id. at ¶¶ 39-43. Warden Schouppe instituted an investigation into the matter a few days later, and suspended Defendant Monac pending the results of that investigation because Schouppe had allegedly seen a video showing that Defendant Monac had the envelopes in his pocket when he left the room. Id. at ¶¶ 49, 51. Mr. Fouse met with both Defendant Schouppe and with Tony Amadio, the Prison Board Chairman, around this time to provide his account of the matter. Id. at ¶¶ 51-53. At each meeting, he was told that they knew Defendant Monac had taken the money and that Mr. Fouse would not be disciplined. Id.

The investigation turned criminal in early August of 2013, and Mr. Fouse met with Beaver County Detectives on several occasions regarding the incident. Id. at ¶¶ 59-62. At one such meeting, Mr. Fouse informed the detectives that "he believed Schouppe and Monac were retaliating against him for his truthful statements regarding the events of July 12, 2013, and for his previous testimony in personnel matters involving another officer's claims regarding Monac's conduct." Id. at ¶ 62. Mr. Fouse says that he had been a witness in 2007 and 2008 as an Assistant Union Steward in an EEOC proceeding against Defendant Monac in support of another officer's charge of discrimination. Id. at ¶¶ 63, 65. Mr. Fouse informed the detectives that he also testified in that matter "regarding the sexual harassment that his wife had undergone, at the hands of Monac, while she was employed as a corrections officer at the jail, and how this affected their marriage." Id. at ¶ 64. He claims he spoke in 2007 or 2008 about both the sexual harassment his wife allegedly endured and Defendant Monac's "sexual harassment of female inmates, " and states that the matters were of "great personal concern" as well as of public concern. Id. at ¶ 66. Mr. Fouse alleges that the encounter "made [Fouse] become unnerved, having to recount the effects of Monac's sexual harassment of Fouse's wife." Id. at ¶ 70.

On October 23, 2013, Defendant Monac attended a public Prison Board Meeting and read a prepared statement allegedly containing false and defamatory statements about Mr. Fouse, and other Jail officers told Mr. Fouse, and Mr. Fouse agreed (though he was not at the meeting), that it "sounded more as if Schouppe had authored the document."[2] Id. at ¶ 76. Mr. Fouse and others were also "bewildered that the Prison Board, which included Schouppe as a member, would permit [Monac] to read such a personnel matter in a public meeting, " which should have been handled in an "executive session." Id.

The morning after the Prison Board Meeting, Defendant Schouppe informed Mr. Fouse that "he had a letter, " presumably from the Prison Board, "stating that he [Fouse] was being suspended, without pay." Id. at ¶¶ 79, 83. Then, on November 1, 2013, Defendant Schouppe called Mr. Fouse and informed him that the Prison Board had voted to terminate him. Id. at ¶ 84.

Also on November 1, 2013, Defendant Schouppe took a phone call from Chief Johnston, Mr. Fouse's boss at Mr. Fouse's secondary employment at the Conway Police Department. Id. at ¶ 85. Defendant Schouppe allegedly told Chief Johnston "that Fouse was involved with the theft of the missing money, and that he was going to be charged in the incident." Id. at ¶ 86. The Amended Complaint states that after that call, Johnston called Mr. Fouse and "gave him the option to resign or be fired" because of the money envelope incident. Id. at ¶ 87. Mr. Fouse alleges that he felt compelled to resign, though he maintains that Defendant Schouppe's statements were false, and that Schouppe knew they were false, because (1) Mr. Fouse has never been criminally charged with any offense relating to the theft of the money; and (2) the District Attorney had publicly stated at the Prison Board Meeting (which Defendant Schouppe attended) that "no one was going to be charged with the theft of Jane Doe's money." Id. at ¶ 89-90.

This Court previously dismissed with prejudice any claims Mr. Fouse sought to bring on theories of procedural due process under Cleveland Board of Education v. Loudermill, 470 U.S. 532 (1985), and its progeny, along with those alleging a constitutional invasion of privacy and equal protection violations. Fouse v. Beaver Cnty., No. 14-00810, 2014 WL 5585933, at *3 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 3, 2014).

The Court then permitted Mr. Fouse to amend his Complaint as to claims dealing with a "stigma-plus" due process violation, retaliation, and conspiracy. Id. at *4. Mr. Fouse filed his Amended Complaint on November 24, 2014. ECF No. 27.[3] The Defendants have moved to dismiss all such claims. ECF Nos. 28; 31.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Courts assessing a complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must "(1) identify[] the elements of the claim, (2) review[] the complaint to strike conclusory allegations, and then (3) look[] at the well-pleaded components of the complaint and evaluat[e] whether all of the elements identified in part one of the inquiry are sufficiently alleged." Malleus v. George, 641 F.3d 560, 563 (3d Cir. 2011). Although courts must accept the veracity of all well-pleaded facts, they need not credit legal conclusions. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009)). The alleged facts must be "sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief.'" Id. at 211 (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950). Essentially, to withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint must "raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element[s]." Thompson v. Real Estate Mortg. Network, 748 F.3d 142, 147 (3d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff pleads a single, really long, narrative claim[4] in attempting to assert multiple theories of liability for alleged constitutional violations actionable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. To overcome the Motions to Dismiss such claims, Mr. Fouse must plausibly allege that he was deprived of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States by a person acting with the authority of state law. Morrow v. Balaski, 719 F.3d 160, 165-66 (3d Cir. 2013) (en bane), as amended June 14, 2013, cert. denied, 134 S.Ct. 824 (2013). Courts considering § 1983 claims must first determine whether any federal right has in fact been violated. Nicini v. Morra, 212 F.3d 798, 806 (2000) (en banc).

Mr. Fouse appears to assert constitutional violations against all three Defendants in "Count I" in the form of (1) a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim based on a stigma-plus theory, (2) a First Amendment retaliation claim, and (3) a conspiracy claim stemming from one or both of the others. The Court will address each in turn.

A. Stigma-Plus Claim

Although there is no protectable constitutional liberty interest in one's reputation alone, a plaintiff can allege a due process violation by showing a "stigma, " i.e., reputational harm, in addition to, or "plus, " a "deprivation of some additional right or interest." Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 236 (3d Cir. 2006). This is called a "stigma-plus" claim, where "[t]he creation and dissemination of a false and defamatory impression ...


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