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Exeter Township v. Gardecki

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 10, 2019

EXETER TOWNSHIP, Plaintiff,
v.
ERIC GARDECKI, Defendant.

          OPINION DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM, ECF NO. 10-GRANTED

          JOSEPH F. LEESON, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Exeter Township has brought this action against its former IT administrator, Defendant Eric Gardecki. In its amended complaint, the Township asserts three claims: violation of the federal Stored Communications Act, violation of the Pennsylvania Stored Communications Act, and breach of fiduciary duty. Gardecki moves to dismiss the amended complaint for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is granted.

         II. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff Exeter Township filed its original complaint in April 2018 asserting claims for violations of the federal Stored Communications Act (SCA), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2701-2712, and the Pennsylvania Stored Communications Act, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. §§ 5741-5749, trespass to chattels, conversion, and breach of fiduciary duty. Defendant Eric Gardecki moved to dismiss in June 2018 and the Court granted Gardecki's motion to dismiss on December 14, 2018, but granted the Township leave to amend three counts.

         The Township filed its amended complaint on January 4, 2019. It includes three counts: (1) a claim for a violation of the Federal Stored Communications Act (Count I); (2) a claim for a violation of the Pennsylvania Stored Communications Act (Count II); and (3) a claim for a breach of fiduciary duty (Count III). Gardecki moves to dismiss the amended complaint in its entirety under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6).

         The Court discussed the factual background of this case previously. See Exeter Twp. v. Gardecki, No. 5:18-cv-01723, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 212275 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 14, 2018).[2] In its amended complaint the Township added several additional allegations clarifying the facts of the case. The Court will detail only the relevant portions of the additional factual pleadings.

         The Township employed Gardecki in the position of Township Information Technology (IT) Administrator. In his position as IT Administrator, Gardecki's duties included providing general computer support services to Township employees. As a Township employee, he was only authorized to act in the Township's best interest and was not authorized to take actions that would jeopardize the safety, security, or both, of the Township and its property. Gardecki was not authorized to make or retain copies of Township's electronic data for his own personal purposes and without the express consent of the Township. He was not authorized to access the Township's cloud-based server for the purpose of creating a copy of the server.

         On April 12, 2016, however, Gardecki accessed the server and created a copy of it onto a hard drive. The server contained Township's highly sensitive and confidential information as well as Township's electronic data such as email messages. After his termination, Gardecki retained the copy of the server and stole two additional hard drives that contained Township's confidential information. He stored them at his home in an unsecured location for over twenty months. Gardecki allegedly did so for his own personal benefit and to assist the Township's former zoning officer who had informed Gardecki about her intent to act as a whistleblower against the Township.

         As a result of Gardecki's unauthorized actions, the Township incurred more than $10, 000 in damages because it was forced to retain a forensic computer expert to determine if Gardecki had deleted, destroyed, or altered the Township's electronic data stored on the server.

         Now, Gardecki moves to dismiss a second time.

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a court to dismiss a complaint for its “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Rules generally demand “only a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Connelly v. Lane Constr. Corp., 809 F.3d 780, 786 (3d Cir. 2016) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal quotations omitted)).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). In rendering a decision on a motion to dismiss, this Court must “accept all factual allegations as true [and] construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233 (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002) (internal quotations omitted)). Only if “the ‘[f]actual allegations . . . raise a right to relief above the speculative level'” has the plaintiff stated a plausible claim. Id. at 234 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Id. (explaining that determining “whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief . . . [is] a context-specific task that requires the ...


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