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Benckini v. Upper Saucon Township Municipal Authority Sewage Treatment Plant

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

October 22, 2017

GENE C. BENCKINI t/a Benckini Nurseries, et al., Plaintiffs


          STENGEL, C.J.

         This matter arises from a string of litigation brought in this and other courts by pro se plaintiff Gene Benckini.[1] The claims in this action are the result of nearly forty years of friction between Mr. Benckini and the Upper Saucon Township Municipal Authority Sewage Treatment Plant and Upper Saucon Township Police Department. Viewing the complaint generously, Mr. Benckini alleges several civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the complaint. In response, Mr. Benckini filed Objections to the defendants' motion, and motioned the court for leave to amend the complaint. For the following reasons, I will deny the plaintiff's motion to amend, grant the defendants' motion to dismiss, and dismiss the case in its entirety with prejudice.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The tension between the parties in this case began in 1978 when “raw sewage sludge” began to spill onto Mr. Benckini's property from the Township's neighboring sewage treatment plant. Mr. Benckini alleges in his complaint that each time a spill occurred, the Township refused to clean the raw sewage off of his property. The sewage contaminated the Saucon Creek, which runs adjacent to Mr. Benckini's property, killing trout and turtles and turning the stream black “for over a mile and a half.” Mr. Benckini reported the sewage sludge spills to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in July 1979. Following Mr. Benckini's complaint to the DEP, the sewage treatment plant was closed down.

         Mr. Benckini alleges that these spills also contaminated the well on his property. At the time of these spills, Mr. Benckini lived with his dear friend Edwin Moyer, his elderly mother, and his five children on the property. Mr. Benckini asserts that exposure to the “sewage sludge” by way of airborne dust and contamination of the well over the course of approximately ten years caused health problems for himself and Mr. Moyer. Mr. Moyer suffered from liver cancer and passed away in 1995. Mr. Benckini was diagnosed with leukemia in 1993 and prostate cancer in 2003.

         Mr. Benckini believes that the township and police department began conspiring against him almost immediately after he reported the sewage spills to the DEP. He alleges this conspiracy has resulted in the defendants creating an “all-out war” against him and a “hostile environment.” Mr. Benckini alleges that as a result of this conspiracy, the Upper Saucon Township police spread malicious lies about him, constantly badgered him, and charged him with “bogus claims.” Mr. Benckini additionally avers that Police Chief Coyle and Officer Amy Hawk aided and abetted Charles Grant of Grant's Auto Salvage in the theft of his truck and nursery equipment.


         A complaint must set forth “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). This statement must “give the defendant fair notice of what the . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). A complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, but a plaintiff must provide “more than labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action” to show entitlement to relief as prescribed by Rule 8(a)(2). Id. at 1965; Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005). A defendant may attack a complaint by a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), I may consider “the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record.” Pension Ben. Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). The court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007), and all reasonable inferences permitted by the factual allegations, Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (3d Cir. 2007), viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007). The court is not, however, “compelled to accept unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences or a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (quotations and citations omitted). If the facts alleged are sufficient to “raise a right to relief above the speculative level” such that the plaintiffs' claim is “plausible on its face, ” a complaint will survive a motion to dismiss. Bell Atlantic Corp., 127 S.Ct. at 1965, 1974; Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234-35 (3d Cir. 2007).

         When presented with a pro se complaint, the court should construe the complaint liberally and draw fair inferences from what is not alleged as well as from what is alleged. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003). Such a complaint “must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.” Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976). “[A] district court should not dismiss a pro se complaint without allowing the plaintiff leave to amend unless amendment would be inequitable or futile. Hill v. Rozum, 447 Fed.Appx. 289, 290 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 235 (3d Cir.2004); Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp., 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir.2002)).


         A. Application of Res Judicata

         Res Judicata, or claim preclusion, is designed to avoid piecemeal litigation of claims arising from the same events. GE v. Deutz AG, 270 F.3d 144, 158-59 (3d Cir. 2001). Whether two suits are based on the same cause of action turns on the essential similarity of the underlying events giving rise to the various legal claims. Id. In order to successfully invoke res judicata, a party must show that “there has been: (1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving (2) the same parties or their privies and (3) a subsequent suit based on the same causes of action.” United States v. Athlone Industries, Inc., 746 F.2d 977, 983 (3d Cir. 1984). “The law is clear that summary judgment is a final judgment on the merits sufficient to raise the defense of res judicata in a subsequent action between the parties.” Hubicki v. ACF Industries, Inc., 484 F.2d 519, 524 (3d Cir. 1973).

         1. Claims Arising from ...

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