United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
Richard Caputo, United States District Judge.
before me is the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc.
12) filed by Defendants Mark McAndrew
(“McAndrew”), John Tigue (“Tigue”),
and Lackawanna County (the “County”)
(collectively, where appropriate, “Defendants”).
In his one-Count Complaint, Plaintiff John Symonies
(“Symonies”) claims that Defendants deprived him
of his protected property interest in his employment as a
County deputy sheriff without due process of law.
Specifically, Symonies contends that he was constructively
discharged from his employment following a “sham”
pretermination due process hearing where the outcome was
predetermined. Because Symonies was not deprived of a
protected property interest without due process of law,
Defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings will be
served as a County deputy sheriff for over thirty-three (33)
years, i.e., from 1984 until his employment ended in
2018. (See Compl., ¶ 7). Symonies was a union
member. (See id. at ¶ 8).
about December 19, 2017, Symonies received a letter from
Justin MacGregor (“MacGregor”), the County's
human resource director, advising of a due process hearing
concerning his alleged misconduct. (See id. at
¶ 10). That letter stated in part:
Sheriff McAndrew recently received a letter from Chief Guy
Salerno of the Blakely Police Department, outlining several
concerns his officers have raised about your conduct as a
Deputy Sheriff. In the letter, Chief Salerno alleges that you
often exhibit unprofessional behavior when his officers
transport a prisoner to the processing center, including
“snide comments” and tearing up officers'
business cards. The practice of handing business cards to
prisoners is a tool used by law enforcement officers to
encourage cooperation in criminal investigations.
After receiving the letter from Chief Salerno, the Sheriff
began an internal investigation and interviewed two Deputy
Sheriffs with knowledge of these incidents occurring.
Deputy A stated that they have witnessed you urge prisoners
not to cooperate with law enforcement, refer to charges for
DUI and paraphernalia as “stupid charges, ” and
throw away police officers' business cards.
Deputy B stated that they have witnessed you throw away
police officers' business cards and tell prisoners not to
cooperate with law enforcement. Deputy B also stated that
they have witnessed you tell prisoners, “your arrest is
not lawful and you should sue the officer.”
(Defs.' Answer, Ex. “B”). The letter
further advised that at the due process hearing, scheduled
for December 22, 2017, Symonies would be “provided any
and all evidence” supporting the County's
contention that he committed misconduct and violated
Sheriff's Office policy. (Id.). Symonies was
informed that if the County's information was accurate,
he could be subject to “discipline, up to and including
termination.” (Id.). He was further told that
he would “be given a full opportunity to give your side
of the story and to clarify any inaccuracy. You are entitled
to union representation at this hearing.”
about the same day he received the due process notice,
Symonies contacted his union representative, deputy sheriff
Joseph George (“George”), requesting his
attendance at the due process hearing. (See Compl.,
to the hearing, George met with Tigue. (See id. at
¶ 16). At that time, Tigue advised George that McAndrew
would not be in attendance at the hearing, but that McAndrew
instructed him how to handle the hearing. (See id.
at ¶¶ 17-18). George inquired what this meant, and
Tigue explained that he was told by McAndrew to give Symonies
the option to retire or be terminated. (See id. at
to the hearing, Symonies prepared a letter directed to
McAndrew stating that he “would like to respond to the
allegation and the Loudermill Hearing. I did Not commit those
acts that's alleged.” (Defs.' Answer, Ex.
“C”). Symonies also requested that George be kept
informed of the outcome of the investigation, and also that
George conduct his own investigation into the allegations.
due process hearing, George objected on the basis that the
hearing was a sham because its outcome was predetermined.
(See id. at ¶¶ 20-21). The County
proceeded with the hearing over George's objection.
(See id. at ¶ 22). Symonies denied the
allegations at the hearing. (See id. at ¶ 23).
George also argued at the hearing that the allegations
against Symonies were vague as they did not include the
dates, times, or names of the complaining Blakely police
officers. (See id. at ¶ 25). When asked for
that information, MacGregor indicated that he could not
provide those details and only stated that the alleged
misconduct occurred within the past year. (See id.
at ¶¶ 26-27). MacGregor explained at the hearing
that the internal investigation involved interviewing two
unidentified deputy sheriffs who observed Symonies throwing a
business card in the trash. (See id. at ¶ 28).
George also requested the date of that incident so he could
review surveillance video to check if Symonies was working
that day, but MacGregor could not provide specific
information regarding the date and time of that alleged
misconduct. (See id. at ¶¶ 29-30). At the
conclusion of the hearing, George requested that no
disciplinary action be taken against Symonies. (See
id. at ¶ 31).
hour after the hearing concluded, MacGregor phoned George and
advised that after speaking with McAndrew, the outcome of the
hearing was the same as what George had been told earlier -
Symonies could either retire that day or be fired. (See
id. at ¶ 32). In response, George told MacGregor it
was not his place to inform Symonies of the County's
decision. (See id. at ¶ 33).
about January 2, 2018, Tigue informed Symonies that he could
either retire or he would be terminated. (See id. at
¶ 35). Symonies submitted a letter of resignation and
retirement the next day. (See id. at ¶ 36;
see also Defs.' Answer, Ex. “A”).
on the foregoing, Symonies filed the instant action on April
26, 2019. (See Compl., generally). In his
one-Count Complaint, Symomies contends that Defendants
deprived him of his property interest in his employment as a
County deputy sheriff without due process of law. (See
id., generally). More particularly, Symonies
alleges that he was “constructively discharged”
and that the due process hearing he was provided was a
“sham.” (See id., generally).
filed their Answer and Affirmative Defenses to the Complaint
on July 1, 2019. (See Defs.' Answer,
generally). Two days later, Defendants filed the
instant motion for judgment on the pleadings. (See
Doc. 12, generally). That motion has now been fully
briefed, so it is ripe for disposition.
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides: “[a]fter the
pleadings are closed -- but early enough not to delay trial
-- a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate
“if the movant clearly establishes that there are no
material issues of fact, and he is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law.” Sikirica v. Nationwide Ins.
Co., 416 F.3d 214, 220 (3d Cir. 2005). “‘A
motion for judgment on the pleadings based on the defense
that the plaintiff has failed to state a claim is analyzed
under the same standards that apply to a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion.'” Zimmerman v. Corbett, 873 F.3d
414, 417 (3d Cir. 2017) (quoting Revel v. Port Auth. of
NY, NJ, 598 F.3d 128, 134 (3d Cir. 2010)). “In
considering a motion for judgment on the pleadings, a court
must accept all of the allegations in the pleadings of the
party against whom the motion is addressed as true and draw
all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving
party.” Id. at 417-18 (citing Allah v.
Al-Hafeez, 226 F.3d 247, 249 (3d Cir. 2000)). “In
ruling on a motion for judgment on the pleadings, ‘the
court reviews not only the complaint but also the answer and
written instruments attached to the pleadings.'”
Barnard v. Lackawanna Cnty., 194 F.Supp.3d 337, 340
(M.D. Pa. 2016) (quoting Brautigam v. Fraley, 684
F.Supp.2d 589, 591 (M.D. Pa. 2010)); see also L-7
Designs, Inc. v. Old Navy, LLC, 647 F.3d 419, 422 (2d
Cir. 2011) (“On a 12(c) motion, the court considers the
complaint, the answer, any written documents attached to
them, and any matter of which the court can take judicial
notice for the factual background of the case.”).
sole claim in this action is for an alleged deprivation of a
protected property interest in his County employment as a
deputy sheriff without due process of law, i.e., a
procedural due process claim. The Due Process Clause of the
Fourteenth Amendment provides that “[n]o state shall .
. . deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without
due process of law[.]” U.S. Const. amend XIV, § 1.
“To state a claim under § 1983 for deprivation of
procedural due process rights, a plaintiff must allege that
(1) he was deprived of an individual interest that is
encompassed within the Fourteenth Amendment's protection
of ‘life, liberty, or property,' and (2) the
procedures available to him did not provide ‘due
process of law.'” Hill v. Borough of
Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 233-34 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing
Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 116 (3d Cir. 2000)).
Defendants challenge both elements of Symonies'
procedural due process claim.