United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Malachy E. Mannion United States District Judge
before the court is defendants Lackawanna County and Brian
Loughney's motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc.
17). Also pending is plaintiff Casey Calpin's motion to
strike the exhibits attached to defendants' answer to
plaintiff's amended complaint. (Doc. 13). Based upon the
following analysis, the court will deny the defendants'
motion for judgment on the pleadings and, will grant in part
and deny in part the plaintiff's motion to strike.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
of relevant background, on October 3, 2016, the plaintiff
commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§1983, claiming that the defendants engaged in
retaliation due to her participation in First Amendment
protected activities. (Doc. 1). On October 4, 2016, the
plaintiff filed an amended complaint. (Doc. 3). The
plaintiff, a former correctional officer for Lackawanna
County Prison (“LCP”) for over 15 years,
testified at a deposition in a federal civil rights case,
namely, Pleasants v. Lackawanna County, Civil No.
13-1611, M.D.Pa., on March 1, 2016. On June 20, 2016, the
plaintiff was interviewed by defendant Loughney, Deputy
Director for Human Resources for defendant Lackawanna County,
and he possessed the deposition transcript from the
plaintiff's deposition in the Pleasants' case.
Loughney asked plaintiff if she testified truthfully in her
deposition and she responded that she did. Subsequently, on
July 14, 2016, the plaintiff was terminated by the defendants
allegedly “because she provided truthful testimony
under oath.” The plaintiff also alleges that after she
was terminated the defendants appealed her unemployment
compensation award “based solely on the testimony she
provided under oath at a deposition.”
amended complaint, the plaintiff asserts two claims relating
to her termination. In Count I, the plaintiff claims that
defendants, Loughney and Lackawanna County, terminated her in
direct retaliation for engaging in a First Amendment
protected activity, i.e., giving sworn deposition testimony
in a federal court case. The plaintiff also alleges that the
defendants retaliated against her due to her testimony by
appealing her award of unemployment compensation and by using
her testimony as evidence at the appeal hearing. The
plaintiff states that despite this evidence the unemployment
compensation referee upheld her award and found that the
defendants did not have just cause to terminate her and
failed to prove willful misconduct.
Count II, the plaintiff asserts a municipal liability claim
against Lackawanna County under §1983 because it failed
to train and supervise its employees in a way that would
ensure they did not harm employees engaging in truthful
testimony related to court proceedings.
relief, the plaintiff requests reinstatement, back pay and
front pay as well as compensatory damages against both
defendants as well as punitive damages as against Loughney.
November 9, 2016, the defendants filed an answer to the
amended complaint, which both denies any liability and raises
numerous affirmative defenses, including failure to state a
claim and qualified immunity. (Doc. 12). With their answer,
the defendants attached eight exhibits to support and
supplement their responses and statements made in the answer.
The plaintiff then filed a motion to strike the exhibits
attached to the defendants' answer, (Doc. 13), and a
brief in support of her motion, (Doc. 14). On November 18,
2016, the defendants filed a brief in opposition, (Doc. 16).
November 18, 2016, the defendants filed a motion for judgment
on the pleadings. (Doc. 17). The defendants filed their brief
in support on November 21, 2016. (Doc. 19). On December 5,
2016, the plaintiff filed a brief in opposition to the
defendants' motion, (Doc. 20), to which the defendants
filed a reply brief on December 21, 2016, (Doc. 23). Both
motions are ripe for this court's decision.
court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§§1331 and 1343.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) states, “[a]fter the
pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a
party may move for judgment on the pleadings.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Judgment will be granted if “the
movant clearly establishes there are no material issues of
fact, and he is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law.” Sikirica v. Nationwide Ins. Co., 416
F.3d 214, 220 (3d Cir. 2005). Generally, the standard for
deciding a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to
Rule 12(c) is identical to that for deciding a motion to
dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Turbe v. Gov't of
V.I., 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991). The court must
view “the facts presented in the pleadings and the
inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party.” Id.; see also Castaneira
v. Potteiger, 621 Fed.Appx. 116, 119-20 (3d Cir. 2015)
(not precedential); Washington v. Hanshaw, 552
Fed.Appx. 169, 171 (3d Cir. 2014) (not precedential).
However, the court need not accept inferences drawn by the
plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth
in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys.
v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004)
(citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d
902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). The court also need not accept
legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 554, 555 (2007)
(citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286
viable complaint must include “enough facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 554 (rejecting the traditional
12(b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355
U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). “Factual allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Id. at 555. See also Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009) (quoting Twombly,
550 U.S. at 554, and providing further guidance on the
standard set forth therein) (holding that, while the
complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, it
must contain more than a “formulaic recitation of the
elements” of a claim and must state a claim that is
plausible on its face).
deciding the defendants' motion, the court should
generally consider only the allegations contained in the
complaint, the exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of
public record, and “undisputably authentic”
documents which plaintiff has identified as the basis of his
claim. See Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp. v. White
Consolidated Industries, Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d
Cir. 1993). In addition, unlike a motion to dismiss, in
ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, “the
court . . . reviews not only the complaint but also the
answer and written instruments attached to the
pleadings.” Brautigam v. Fraley, 684
F.Supp.2d 589, 591 (M.D. Pa. 2010).
state a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must meet two
threshold requirements. She must allege: 1) that the alleged
misconduct was committed by a person acting under color of
state law; and 2) that as a result, she was deprived of
rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution
or laws of the United States. West v. Atkins, 487
U.S. 42 (1988); Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535
(1981), overruled in part on other grounds, Daniels v.
Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-331 (1986). If a defendant
fails to act under color of state law when engaged in the
alleged misconduct, a civil rights claim under section 1983
fails as a matter of jurisdiction, Polk Cnty. v.
Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 315 (1981), and there is no need
to determine whether a federal right has been violated.
Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 838 (1982).
“A defendant in a civil rights action must have
personal involvement in the alleged wrongs; liability cannot
be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat
superior.” Rode v. Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d
1195, 1207-08 (3d Cir. 1988). See also Sutton v.
Rasheed, 323 F.3d 236, 249 (3d Cir. 2003) (citing Rode).
“Personal involvement can be shown through allegations
of personal direction or of actual knowledge and
acquiescence.” Rode, 845 F.2d at 1207. Accord
Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh, 120 F.3d 1286,
1293-96 (3d Cir. 1997); Baker v. Monroe Twp., 50
F.3d 1186, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1995).
respect to punitive damages for a §1983 violation, this
remedy is only available “when the defendant's
conduct is shown to be motivated by evil motive or intent, or
when it involves reckless or callous indifference to the
federally protected rights of others.” Smith v.
Wade, 461 U.S. 30 (1983). Regarding federal civil rights
claims, “reckless indifference” refers to the
defendant's knowledge of the illegality of his actions,
not the egregiousness of his actions. Alexander v.
Riga, 208 F.3d 419, 431 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing
Kolstad v. Am. Dental Ass'n, 527 U.S. 526, 536
Lackawanna County is a municipal agency, the standards
annunciated in Monell apply to it. See Malles v. Lehigh
County, 639 F.Supp.2d 566 (E.D.Pa. 2009). Under the
Supreme Court precedent of Monell v. Dep't. of Soc.
Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 694 (1978), a municipality can be
held liable under §1983 only if the plaintiff shows that
the violation of his federally protected rights resulted from
the enforcement of a “policy” or
“custom” of the local government. A court may
find that a municipal policy exists when a
“‘decisionmaker possess[ing] final authority to
establish municipal policy with respect to the action'
issues an official proclamation, policy, or edict.”
Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480
(3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Pembaur v. City of
Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481 (1986)). It is also
possible for a court to find the existence of a municipal
policy in “the isolated decision of an executive
municipal policymaker.” City of St. Louis v.
Praprotnik, 485 U.S. 112, 139 (1988). “A course of
conduct is considered to be a ‘custom' when, though
not authorized by law, ‘such practices of state
officials [are] so permanent and well settled' as to
virtually constitute law.” Andrews, 895 F.2d at 1480
(citations omitted). There must be a “direct causal
link” between the municipal policy or custom and the
alleged constitutional violation. City of Canton, Ohio v.
Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 385 (1989).
defendants' brief in support of their motion for judgment
on the pleadings, (Doc. 19), argues that, pursuant to Rule
12(c), the plaintiff's amended complaint must be
dismissed for failure to set forth actionable claims against
them. Specifically, the defendants make the following
arguments: 1) the plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation
claim fails as a matter of law since the wrongdoing she
admitted to while testifying in her deposition was not
protected speech; 2) defendant Loughney is entitled to
qualified immunity from suit; and 3) the plaintiff failed to
allege that defendant Loughney was motivated by evil intent
or that his conduct involved reckless or callous
indifference, which thereby precludes her claim for punitive
Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendants'
the theories for dismissal primarily rely on facts included
in exhibits attached to the defendants' answer to the
amended complaint. (Doc. 12). Therefore, at the outset, the
court must determine whether the exhibits attached to
defendants' answer may be considered for present
this court considered a very similar issue in the case of
Barnard v. Lackawanna County and Loughney, Civil No.
15-2220, M.D.Pa.In Barnard, the plaintiff, an employee of
Lackawanna County, participated in union picketing with the
Lackawanna County Children & Youth unionized workers and
she was subsequently suspended without pay allegedly due to
her presence at the rally. The plaintiff claimed that her
suspension by defendants Loughney and Lackawanna County was
in retaliation for engaging in First Amendment protected
activities. The defendants filed an answer to plaintiff's
complaint which contained exhibits, some of which were
similar to the exhibits submitted by the same ...