United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
MALACHY E. MANNION UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the court is the defendants' motion for summary
judgment with respect to all of the plaintiffs' claims
against them. (Doc. 30). Based on the court's review of
the motion and related materials, the defendants' motion
will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED
following are the undisputed facts material to resolving the
defendants' motion for summary judgment. Named plaintiff
John Saranchuk began working for the Dupont Borough Police
Department (“the Police Department”) in 2006.
(Doc. 32; Doc. 34). When he was hired as a police officer,
Saranchuk worked on an hourly basis, and he did not initially
sign any contract dictating his work conditions or the number
of hours he would be assigned to work each week. (Doc. 32;
Doc. 34). Saranchuk was eventually promoted to the rank of
sergeant and began working up to forty hours per week, but he
received no benefits and was still considered an hourly
employee of the Dupont Borough. (Doc. 32). In March 2011,
Saranchuk was named the Police Department's
“Officer in Charge, ” which is the functional
equivalent of a Police Chief within the Dupont Borough.
Saranchuk's term as Officer in Charge, a group of police
officers working at the Police Department was organized for
the purpose of strengthening their ability to bargain
collectively with the Dupont Borough. (Doc. 1; Doc. 14). This
group was known as the Dupont Borough Police Officers
Association (“the Police Association”), and
Saranchuk became the group's first leader. (Doc. 1; Doc.
14). Several other named plaintiffs, including John Maciolek,
Jason Kwiatkowski, and Charles Yarick, were also affiliated
with the Police Association. (Doc. 1). Acting through the
Police Association, Saranchuk filed for arbitration with the
Dupont Borough and ultimately was able to extend and renew a
prior collective bargaining agreement for a new term, lasting
from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2016. (Doc. 1; Doc.
14). The Police Association's protracted arbitration
proceedings with the Dupont Borough cost both parties a great
deal of time and expense. (Doc. 1).
the Police Association's formation, many of the factual
circumstances regarding its subsequent impacts on Dupont
Borough personnel are murky and disputed by the parties. What
remains clear is that bad blood and mistrust began to develop
between members of the Police Association and leadership
figures at the Dupont Borough, including Mayor Dan Lello and
Dupont Borough Council Members Stanley Knick, Mark Kowalczyk,
Josephine Hansen, and Bernard Zielinski, all of whom are
named defendants in this action. (Doc. 1; Doc. 14; Doc. 32;
August 7, 2014, another named defendant, Sean Murray, was
appointed as the new Officer in Charge of the Police
Department. (Doc. 32; Doc. 34). All of the named defendants
who are members of the Dupont Borough Council (Knick,
Kowalczyk, Hansen, and Zielinski) voted in favor of
Murray's appointment as Officer in Charge. (Doc. 33-6). A
Luzerne County Detective then contacted Saranchuk and told
him to refrain from coming into work until further notice.
(Doc. 1; Doc. 14; Doc. 32, Exh. A). On that same evening, the
locks on Saranchuk's office were changed, barring his
access to the premises. (Doc. 33-4). The following morning, a
conversation transpired between defendant Murray and
plaintiff Kwiatkowski during which Murray insinuated that
Saranchuk was under investigation for misconduct during his
term as Officer in Charge. (Doc. 1; Doc. 32, Exh. E).
September 5, 2014, Saranchuk appeared for a
Loudermill pre-termination hearing, but he was
informed that the hearing would need to be rescheduled for a
future date and that the written accusations against him
would be provided at some future time. (Doc. 1; Doc. 14).
Thereafter, Saranchuk was officially terminated from his
employment with the Police Department, and he never again
returned to work there. (Doc. 1; Doc. 14; Doc. 32; Doc. 34).
While the plaintiffs allege that Saranchuk was fired in
retaliation for engaging in protected union activities
through the Police Association, the defendants counter this
assertion, arguing that Saranchuk had in fact lost the
confidence of the District Attorney and the Dupont Borough
leadership over the course of several incidents involving a
lack of professionalism, frequent miscommunications, and poor
police practices.(Doc. 1; Doc. 32, Exh. B).
other named plaintiffs affiliated with the Police Association
were also affected by this rapid personnel change within the
Police Department. Charles Yarick began working at the Police
Department in 2007. (Doc. 32, Exh. G; Doc. 34). Jason
Kwiatkowski and John Maciolek joined in 2013. (Doc. 32, Exh.
F; Doc. 34). All three plaintiffs, at least initially, worked
there on an hourly basis. (Doc. 32, Exh. E). Beginning in
September 2014, during the aftermath of Saranchuk's
ouster and Murray's appointment as Officer in Charge, all
three plaintiffs saw their work hours gradually reduced from
the Police Department's work schedule. (Doc. 1; Doc. 14).
At the same time, the Dupont Borough began hiring new police
officers to fill the resulting vacancies in the work
schedule. (Doc. 1; Doc. 14). These trends continued until the
plaintiffs either were left with a minimal number of work
hours or were effectively terminated from their employment at
the Police Department. (Doc. 1; Doc. 32; Doc. 34). The
defendants remained in contact with one another throughout
the time leading up to these events, just as local officials
working on behalf of the same municipality might be expected
to do, but the extent of each defendant's knowledge of,
or acquiescence to, this reduction in the plaintiffs'
work hours remains in dispute. (Doc. 33; Doc. 34).
plaintiffs, who are now former officers of the Police
Department, perceived these work reductions as arbitrary
disciplinary actions without any sound basis, but the
defendants, who are current and former municipal government
officials within the Dupont Borough, claim that the work
reductions were in fact due to specified instances of
misconduct from the plaintiffs. (Doc. 1; Doc. 14). While the
Dupont Borough leadership did receive several citizen
complaints from local residents about the plaintiffs'
handling of police matters within the town, numerous factual
disputes and unresolved allegations remain regarding the
factual accuracy of these complaints.
plaintiffs further allege that they were threatened,
harassed, and defamed throughout the course of their dealings
with the defendants. (Doc. 1; Doc. 34). The defendants deny
this, asserting that any purported hostile interactions or
harsh exchanges with the plaintiffs stemmed from genuine
concerns over their fitness as police officers. (Doc. 14;
Doc. 32). The parties dispute the specifics of these
confrontations, including who they were directed toward and
what motivated them, but said incidents unquestionably
escalated tensions between the parties. (Doc. 1; Doc. 32;
Doc. 33-11; Doc. 33-13).
5, 2015, the plaintiffs filed the instant action, (Doc. 1),
against the abovementioned Dupont Borough officials, in both
their individual and official capacities, and against the
Dupont Borough itself, bringing a broad range of federal and
state claims for relief: Count I for violations of the Due
Process Clause “under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and the
Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments;” Count II for
“civil rights conspiracy to deprive the plaintiffs'
federally-protected rights under 42 U.S.C.
§§1985-1986 and the Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth
Amendments;” Count III for “Equal
Protection” Clause violations under 42 U.S.C.
§1983 and the Fourteenth Amendment; Count IV for
“Monell liability” under 42 U.S.C.
§1983; Count V for “civil conspiracy;” Count
VI for “intentional infliction of emotional
distress;” Count VII for breach of the “implied
covenants of good faith and fair dealing;” Counts VIII
and IX for “intentional interference with advantageous
relations;” Count X for “abuse of process;”
Count XI for “defamation;” and Count XII for
“loss of consortium.”
20, 2015, the defendants filed their answer, (Doc. 14), to
the alleged claims for relief. The parties then engaged in
fact discovery, and on February 13, 2017, the defendants
moved for summary judgment on all counts in the
plaintiffs' complaint and on the affirmative defense of
qualified immunity. (Doc. 30; Doc. 31). Thereafter, the
plaintiffs filed their brief in opposition to the
defendants' summary judgment motion. (Doc. 33). This
matter has been fully briefed and is now ripe for summary
SUMMARY JUDGMENT STANDARD
court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A factual dispute is
“genuine” if a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the non-moving party, and it is
“material” if proof of its existence or
nonexistence would affect the outcome of the trial under the
governing substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248-57 (1986); Gray v. York
Newspapers, Inc., 957 F.2d 1070, 1078 (3d Cir. 1992).
“[T]his standard provides that the mere existence of
some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not
defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary
judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuine issue
of material fact.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at
determine whether a genuine dispute of material fact exists,
the court should consider the “pleadings, depositions,
answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together
with the affidavits, if any.” Celotex Corp. v.
Catrett, 477 U.S. 317 (1986); Turner v.
Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 340 (3d Cir. 1990).
In doing so, the court must view all the evidence and any
inferences drawn therefrom in the light most favorable to the
non-moving party. Andreoli v. Gates, 482 F.3d 641,
647 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers
Co., 206 F.3d 271, 278 (3d Cir. 2000)). However, the
court's function at the summary judgment stage “is
not . . . to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of
the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue
for trial.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. See
also Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d
241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (noting that the court may neither
weigh the evidence nor make credibility determinations).
seeking to establish that a fact is or is not genuinely
disputed may not rely on unsubstantiated allegations; rather,
they must support such assertions by “citing to
particular parts of materials in the record” to
demonstrate that the adverse party's factual assertion
either lacks support from cited materials or is unsupported
by admissible evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(1). See
also Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 324 (requiring
evidentiary support for factual assertions made during
summary judgment). A party's failure to properly support
or contest an assertion of fact may result in that fact being
considered undisputed for purposes of the summary judgment
motion, although the court may also grant parties an
opportunity to properly provide support for an asserted fact.
prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the moving party
must affirmatively identify those portions of the record that
demonstrate the absence of a genuine dispute of material
fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323-24. The moving
party can satisfy this burden by showing that “on all
the essential elements of its case on which it bears the
burden of proof at trial, no reasonable jury could find for
the non-moving party.” In re Bressman, 327
F.3d 229, 238 (3d Cir. 2003). See also Id.
moving party meets this initial burden, the non-moving party
“must do more than simply show that there is some
metaphysical doubt as to material facts” to avoid
summary judgment. Boyle v. County of Allegheny, 139
F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (quoting Matsushita Elec.
Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986)).
Rather, the non-moving party must provide “sufficient
evidence” for a jury to return a verdict in its favor;
“if the [non-movant's] evidence is merely colorable
or not significantly probative, summary judgment should be
granted.” Id. (quoting Armbruster v.
Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994)).
preliminary matter, several of the plaintiffs' claims
under Count I of the complaint fail as a matter of law.
Specifically, the complaint alleges “violations of
[the] plaintiffs' substantive and procedural due process
rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and the Fifth, Sixth, and
Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
Constitution.” (Doc. 1, at 30).
establish a claim under §1983, a plaintiff must allege
(1) a deprivation of a federally protected right, and (2)
commission of the deprivation by one acting under color of
state law.” Lake v. Arnold, 112 F.3d 682, 689
(3d Cir. 1997). Notably, §1983 “is not itself a
source of substantive rights” but merely provides
“a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere
conferred.” Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386,
393-94 (1989) (citing Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S.
137, 144 n.3 (1979)). The first step in any suit brought
under §1983 is to “isolate the precise”
constitutional right allegedly infringed. Id. at
394. “The validity of the claim must then be judged by
reference to the specific constitutional standard which
governs that right, rather than to some generalized . . .
plaintiffs' claims under the Fifth Amendment cannot be
sustained as applied to the facts at hand, as the Fifth
Amendment restricts only the actions of the federal
government, not those of state or local government officials.
See, e.g., Nguyen v. U.S. Catholic
Conference, 719 F.2d 52, 54 (3d Cir. 1983). The court
will therefore grant summary judgment in favor of the
defendants as to the Fifth Amendment claims against them.
similar vein, the Sixth Amendment relates solely to the
rights of criminal defendants, but the plaintiffs' claims
here are civil in nature. SeeU.S. Const. amend. VI
(“In all criminal prosecutions”). The court will
therefore grant summary judgment in favor of the defendants
as to the Sixth Amendment claims against them.
while the plaintiffs do mention in passing that these facts
give rise to potential “First Amendment
retaliation” implications, they do not allege any First
Amendment claims as official counts in the complaint. (Doc.
1, at 28). The court will therefore refrain from undertaking
a First Amendment analysis herein. With respect to Count I of
the complaint, this leaves for consideration the
plaintiffs' §1983 claims for violations of the Due
Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court will
now undertake an analysis of the remaining counts in the
complaint. (Doc. 1; Doc. 30; Doc. 31).
Procedural Due Process
procedural due process analysis involves a two-step inquiry:
(1) whether the plaintiff was deprived of an interest that is
encompassed by the Fourteenth Amendment's protection of
“life, liberty, and property, ” and (2) whether
the procedures given to the plaintiff comport with all
constitutional requirements such that they amounted to
“due process of law.” Hill v. Borough of
Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 234 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing
Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 116 (3d Cir. 2000));
Mariano v. Borough of Dickson City, 40 F.Supp.3d
411, 421 (M.D. Pa. 2014). To have a property interest in a
job, “a person must have more than a unilateral
expectation of continued employment; rather, she must have a
legitimate entitlement to such continued employment.”
Elmore v. Cleary, 399 F.3d 279, 282 (3d Cir. 2005)
(citing Bd. of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577
(1972)). Whether a legitimate entitlement, and therefore a
property interest, exists is a question of state law.
See, e.g., Kelly v. Borough of Sayreville,
107 F.3d 1073, 1077 (3d Cir. 1997) (noting that
“[s]tate law creates the property rights protected by
the Fourteenth Amendment”).
court must first determine whether the plaintiffs had a
protected property interest in their continued employment.
The plaintiffs argue that their property interest is derived
from a collective bargaining agreement that was renewed and
extended for a new term by Saranchuk and the Police
Association. (Doc. 1; Doc. 33; Doc. 34). The defendants
respond by arguing that the plaintiffs were in fact hourly
employees with no protected property interest to speak of.
(Doc. 31; Doc. 32). The Third Circuit has previously relied
on a Pennsylvania state statute in determining that members
of a borough “police force” generally do have a
protected property interest in their employment. See
Dee v. Borough of Dunmore, 549 F.3d 225, 230-31 (3d
Cir. 2008) (relying on 8 Pa. Cons. Stat. §1190). The
definitions section of this same statute, however,
specifically excludes “police serving . . . on an
hourly or daily basis” from the general definition of
“police force.” 8 Pa. Cons. Stat. §1170. As
a result, borough police officers who work on a full-time or
salaried basis have a protected property interest in their
employment, while those working on a part-time, hourly, or
daily basis do not. See Mariano v. Borough of
Dickson City, 2014 WL 5795679, at *5 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 6,
2014); Stevens v. Telford Borough, 2014 WL 4056952,
at *2 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 14, 2014); Rosati v. Borough of
Hellertown, 1992 WL 396769, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 24,
1992). State statutory law, therefore, does not confer a
property interest upon the plaintiffs here.
plaintiffs' only other potential source of a protected
property interest would be the collective bargaining
agreement that was supposedly extended to cover the
plaintiffs here. (Doc. 1; Doc. 14). Importantly, however, it
is the precise terms of a collective bargaining agreement
that can confer a property interest, not the agreement's
mere existence alone. See, e.g., Wilson v. MVM,
Inc., 475 F.3d 166, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing
Kelly, 107 F.3d at 1077). The parties here do not
dispute that some variety of collective bargaining agreement
exists. (Doc. 1; Doc. 14). Far less clear, however, are the
precise terms of said agreement. The defendants, who now move
for summary judgment on this issue, claim that
“pursuant to Article 3 of the contract . . . the police
officers . . . are not guaranteed any specific number of days
or hours of work per week.” (Doc. 14, at 6). The
plaintiffs, opposing summary judgment, assert that
“[t]hrough the past practice clause included in the
collective bargaining agreement . . . [the plaintiffs were]
guaranteed to work at least 32 hours per week.” (Doc.
34, at 16). Rather than offering the agreement's
substantive terms in their entirety as evidentiary support,
both parties instead rely on contradictory allegations
regarding what the collective bargaining agreement purports
summary judgment phase, if a factual issue arises that cannot
be resolved without a credibility determination, the court
must credit the non-moving party's evidence over that
presented by the moving party. See Anderson, 477
U.S. at 255. This dispute of material fact about the
collective bargaining agreement's precise contours and
protections thus precludes summary judgment on the
plaintiffs' procedural due process claims. The court will
therefore deny the defendants' motion for summary
judgment as to the plaintiffs' Fourteenth Amendment
procedural due process claims against them. Without any
resolution at this phase on ...