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Caplin v. Lackawanna County

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 15, 2018

CASEY CAPLIN, Plaintiff,
v.
LACKAWANNA COUNTY, BRIAN LOUGHNEY, in his individual capacity, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          MALACHY E. MANNION UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Casey Caplin filed this civil rights action alleging violations of her First Amendment rights, pursuant to Pending before the court is defendants Lackawanna County and Brian Loughney's motion for summary judgment regarding both of plaintiff's claims which was filed under`. Plaintiff contends that she was unconstitutionally terminated as retaliation for testifying truthfully in another court case against the County. Defendants contend that plaintiff was terminated for admitting to wrongdoing in her testimony given in the other case, i.e., for admitting that she failed to report sexual misconduct at the County prison. Based upon the following analysis, the court will GRANT the defendants' motion for summary judgment.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         By way 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.[1] 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. On July 14, 2016, the plaintiff alleges that she was terminated by the defendants “because she provided truthful testimony under oath.” In her 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.

         In Count II, the plaintiff asserts a municipal liability claim against Lackawanna County under §1983 because it allegedly 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.

         As relief, the plaintiff requests reinstatement, back pay and front pay as well as compensatory damages against both defendants. She also seeks punitive damages as against Loughney.

         On November 9, 2016, the defendants filed an answer to the amended complaint. (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).

         On November 18, 2016, the defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. 17).

         On February 14, 2017, the court denied plaintiff's motion to strike the exhibits attached to defendants' answer to her amended complaint, except with respect to Exhibit C, her deposition transcript. The court also denied the defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Docs. 24 & 25). See also 2017 WL 590277 (M.D.Pa. Feb. 14, 2017).

         After discovery was completed, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, a statement of material facts, and an appendix with exhibits on September 20, 2017. (Docs. 34-36). On October 3, 2017, defendants filed their brief in support of their motion. (Doc. 39).

         Plaintiff filed her response to defendants' statement of material facts with exhibits and her brief in opposition to defendants' motion on October 9, 2017. (Docs. 40 & 41).

         On October 25, 2017, defendants filed a reply brief in support of their motion for summary judgment. (Doc. 45).

         Defendants' motion for summary judgment is now ripe for disposition.

         This court has jurisdiction over this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§1331 and 1343.Venue is appropriate in this court since the alleged constitutional violations occurred in this district and all parties are located here. See 28 U.S.C. §1391.[2]

         II. MATERIAL FACTS

         Plaintiff is a former correctional officer at the LCP where she worked for about 15 years. Plaintiff was terminated by the County effective July 14, 2016. The reason given by defendants for terminating plaintiff was for admitting in her March 1, 2016 deposition in the Pleasants case that she was not truthful in the LCP investigation regarding correctional officers involved in sexual misconduct with female inmates and failing to follow protocols in the LCP manual, i.e., by not reporting alleged sexual misconduct by prison staff.

         In her deposition in the present case, (Doc. 36-1), plaintiff testified that on November 23, 2011, she had specific information about corrections officers involved in sexual harassment or sexual misconduct with female inmates. Plaintiff also stated that sometime on or prior to June 9, 2011, a female inmate at LCP named Jennifer Pasco personally told her that “she blew CO Joe Black for pink sugar packets”, i.e., Sweet'n Low. In the deposition, plaintiff also stated that in her March 1, 2016 deposition in the Pleasants case she admitted that she did not immediately report Pasco's disclosure about performing oral sex on CO Black to a superior and, that she knew that sexual contact between inmates and correctional officers constituted a crime of institutional sexual assault and a violation of LCP policy. Plaintiff further admitted in her March 1, 2016 deposition that she violated LCP policy by not reporting the alleged sexual assault incident involving CO Black and Pasco. Plaintiff also confirmed that she understood the LCP policy to require a staff member to report a sexual assault incident to a higher-up upon learning of the incident.

         In this case, plaintiff claims that she was terminated by defendants due to her stated testimony in the Pleasants case at her March 1, 2016 deposition about what Pasco had told her regarding CO Black. She claims that she did not report Pasco's allegations since they were “rumor” and, since she did not personally witness Black assaulting Pasco. There is no dispute that plaintiff did not ever witness Black sexually assaulting any inmate at LCP. Plaintiff also claims that management at LCP was already aware about sexual misconduct by CO Black before she gave her testimony in the Pleasants case and about the specifics of the incidents with Pasco. Plaintiff testified that LCP management, including Robert McGuire, a captain at LCP and Vincent Mooney, former LCP Warden, was previously made aware of CO Black's sexual misconduct by a ...


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