United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
KELLY J. VAY, Plaintiff,
ALLEGHENY COUNTY OF PENNSYLVANIA; WILLIAM MCKAIN, County Manager in his individual and official capacity; KARL WILLIAMS, Medical Examiner, in his individual and official capacity; ROBERT HUSTON, Administrator, Laboratory Director of the Medical Examiner of Allegheny County, in his individual and official capacity; STEPHEN PILARSKI, former Administrator of the Office of the Medical Examiner of Allegheny County and currently Deputy Manager of Allegheny County, in his individual and official capacity; and MICHAEL BAKER, former Manager of Morgue Operations, in his individual capacity, Defendants.
Barry Fischer United States District Judge
action involves allegations by Plaintiff that Defendants
retaliated against her by suspending her for twenty-six days
after she sent a letter to a county executive that outlined
matters of public concern. In her Complaint, Plaintiff
asserts claims against Defendants under the First Amendment
for retaliation. (Docket No. 1). Presently before the Court
is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Grounds of
Res Judicata. (Docket No. 55). The matter has been fully
briefed, and the parties filed supplemental materials
following oral argument. (See Dockets Nos. 55-57, 59-63,
66-72, 75, 77-78). Also pending before the Court is
Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendants' Supplement.
(Docket No. 76). After careful consideration of the
parties' positions and having evaluated all of the
evidence in light of the appropriate standard governing
motions for summary judgment, and for the following reasons,
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment will be GRANTED,
and Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendants'
Supplement will be DENIED, as moot.
following facts are not contested. On June 16, 2014,
Plaintiff Kelly Vay filed a complaint at Civil Action No.
14-769 (“Vay I”) and asserted Equal Protection
claims against Robert Hudson, Stephen Pilarski, Michael
Baker, and Michael Chichwak under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for
gender discrimination, hostile work environment, and
retaliation. (Docket No. 56 at & 1; Docket No. 60 at
& 1). After the Court granted Plaintiff leave to file an
amended complaint, she added Allegheny County as a defendant
under Title VII. (Docket No. 56 at && 2-3; Docket No.
60 at && 2-3). The Court subsequently granted
Plaintiff leave to file a second amended complaint to add a
claim against Allegheny County under the Pennsylvania Human
Relations Act (“PHRA”). (Docket No. 56 at
&& 4-5; Docket No. 60 at && 4-5). After
Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to file a third amended
complaint, which Defendants opposed, the Court denied the
motion, finding that Plaintiff had failed to demonstrate good
cause. (Docket No. 56 at && 6-8; Docket No. 60 at
August 9, 2015, Plaintiff filed the instant action
(“Vay II”) and asserted a First Amendment
retaliation claim against Allegheny County, William McKain,
Karl Williams, Mr. Pilarski, and Mr. Baker. (Docket No. 56 at
& 9; Docket No. 60 at & 9). Plaintiff claimed that
“‘[i]ndividual Defendants acted under color of
law in violating Vay's First Amendment rights when they
suspended her for 20 days on August 20, 2013 because of the
letter to the County Executive and the newspaper article of
August 3, 2013.'” (Docket No. 56 at & 10
(quoting Docket No. 1 at & 35); Docket No. 60 at &
10). In their answer to Plaintiff's complaint, Defendants
raised res judicata as an affirmative defense. (Docket No. 56
at & 12; Docket No. 60 at & 12).
I, Plaintiff claimed that her twenty-six day suspension in
August of 2013 was a result of gender discrimination and was
received in retaliation for opposing gender discrimination in
the workplace. (Docket No. 56 at & 11; Docket No. 60 at
& 11). Vay I was transferred to the Honorable Mark A.
Kearney on October 30, 2016. (Docket No. 56 at & 13;
Docket No. 60 at & 13). Following a jury trial, a verdict
was entered in favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff.
(See Docket Nos. 367, 368 at Vay I, Civil Action No.
14-769). Plaintiff filed an appeal on March 9, 2017.
(See Docket No. 369 at Vay I).
the trial in Vay I, Defendants filed in this action a motion
for summary judgment on the basis of res judicata, a concise
statement of material facts and supporting exhibits, and a
brief in support of their motion. (Docket Nos. 55, 56, 57).
Plaintiff responded with a brief in opposition to the motion
for summary judgment, a response to Plaintiff's statement
of material facts and supporting exhibits, and a statement of
additional facts. (Docket Nos. 59, 60, 62). Defendants filed
a reply and a response to Plaintiff's statement of
additional facts. (Docket Nos. 66, 67). Plaintiff filed a
sur-reply. (Docket No. 68). The Court heard oral argument on
June 29, 2017, at which time Plaintiff orally moved to stay
this matter pending the appeal in Vay I. (Docket Nos. 72,
73). The Court took Defendant's oral motion under
advisement and granted Defendants' request to supplement
the record. (Docket No. 72). The Court denied Plaintiff's
oral motion to stay on June 30, 2017. (Docket No. 74). On
June 30, 2017, Defendants filed their first supplement, which
included Additional Exhibits in Support of their Concise
Statement of Material Facts, on June 30, 2017. (Docket No.
75). On July 18, 2017, Defendants filed a second supplement.
(Docket No. 78).
judgment may only be granted “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(c). Pursuant to Rule 56, the Court must enter
summary judgment against the party “who fails to make a
showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element
essential to that party's case, and on which that party
will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex
Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). A motion for
summary judgment will only be denied when there is a genuine
issue of material fact, i.e., if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving
party. McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d
Cir. 2005). The mere existence of some disputed facts is
insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 247-48
determining whether the dispute is genuine, the court's
function is not to weigh the evidence, to determine the truth
of the matter, or to evaluate credibility. The court is only
to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving
party. McGreevy, 413 F.3d at 363; Simpson v. Kay
Jewelers, 142 F.3d 639, 643 n.3 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing
Fuentes v. Perskie, 32 F.3d 759, 762 n.1 (3d Cir.
1994)). In evaluating the evidence, the court must interpret
the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party, and draw all reasonable inferences in its favor.
Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 147 (3d Cir.
2007). As to materiality, the relevant substantive law
identifies which facts are material. Anderson, 477
U.S. at 248. “Only disputes over facts that might
affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will
properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.”
Id. “Factual disputes that are irrelevant or
unnecessary will not be counted.” Id.
parties dispute whether this action is barred under the
doctrine of res judicata by Vay I. “Res judicata bars a
party from initiating a subsequent suit against the same
adversary based on the same cause of action as a prior
suit.” Marmon Coal Co. v. Dir., Office of
Workers' Comp. Programs, 726 F.3d 387, 394 (3d Cir.
2013). For a res judicata defense to succeed, the proponent
must establish that: “(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
cause of action.” Id. (internal quotations
omitted). Identifying a “cause of action” for res
judicata purposes turns on the “essential similarity of
the underlying events giving rise to the various legal
claims.” Id. (internal quotations omitted).
The parties do not dispute that a final judgment on the
merits was entered in Vay I and that the same parties or
their privities were involved in Vay I as in the instant
action. (See Docket Nos. 57, 59). Thus, the issue of
res judicata turns on whether the instant action is based
upon the same cause of action asserted in Vay I.
Third Circuit takes “a ‘broad view' of what
constitutes the same cause of action.” Sheridan v.
NGK Metals Corp., 609 F.3d 239, 261 (3d Cir. 2010)
(quoting Churchill v. Star Enters., 183 F.3d 184 (3d
Cir. 1999)). Although there is no simple test to be used,
courts look “to whether there is an ‘essential
similarity of the underlying events giving rise to the
various legal claims, '” rather than the specific
legal theory involved. Corestates Bank, N.A. v. Huls Am.,
Inc., 176 F.3d 187, 194 (3d Cir. 1999) (quoting
United States v. Athlone Indus., 746 F.2d 977, 984
(3d Cir. 1984)); see also Lubrizol Corp. v. Exxon
Corp., 929 F.2d 960, 963 (3d Cir. 1991) (explaining that
“the term ‘cause of action' cannot be
precisely defined, nor can a simple test be cited for use in
determining what constitutes a cause of action for res
judicata purposes”) (internal quotations omitted);
Davis v. United States Steel Supply, Div. of United
States Steel Corp., 688 F.2d 166, 171 (3d Cir. 1982)
(noting that res judicata does not rest on “the
specific legal theory invoked”). This principle is