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Myers v. Mahoning Township

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 20, 2019

WAYNE MYERS, Plaintiff,
v.
MAHONING TOWNSHIP and WILLIAM LYNN, T.S. SCOTT, and DEAN VANBLOHN, individually and in their official capacities as Township officials, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Matthew W. Brann United States District Judge

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 2, 2019 Plaintiff Wayne Myers filed a two-count complaint against Defendants Mahoning Township (the “Township”), William Lynn, T.S. Scott, and Dean VanBlohn (all four together, the “Township Defendants”). On October 4, 2019, the Township Defendants filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The motion is now ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies it in part and grants it in part. However, the Court will provide Myers with leave to amend his complaint with respect to his First Amendment retaliation claim.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court dismisses a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff has failed to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” A motion to dismiss “tests the legal sufficiency of a pleading”[1] and “streamlines litigation by dispensing with needless discovery and factfinding.”[2] “Rule 12(b)(6) authorizes a court to dismiss a claim on the basis of a dispositive issue of law.”[3] This is true of any claim, “without regard to whether it is based on an outlandish legal theory or on a close but ultimately unavailing one.”[4]

         Following the Roberts Court's “civil procedure revival, ”[5] the landmark decisions of Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly[6] and Ashcroft v. Iqbal[7]tightened the standard that district courts must apply to 12(b)(6) motions. These cases “retired” the lenient “no-set-of-facts test” set forth in Conley v. Gibson and replaced it with a more exacting “plausibility” standard.[8]

         Accordingly, after Twombly and Iqbal, “[t]o 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.'”[9] “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.”[10] “Although the plausibility standard does not impose a probability requirement, it does require a pleading to show more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.”[11] Moreover, “[a]sking for plausible grounds . . . calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of [wrongdoing].”[12]

         The plausibility determination is “a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”[13] No. matter the context, however, “[w]here a complaint pleads facts that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, it ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.'”[14]

         When disposing of a motion to dismiss, the Court “accept[s] as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw[s] all inferences from the facts alleged in the light most favorable to [the plaintiff].”[15] However, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in the complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.”[16] “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”[17]

         As a matter of procedure, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has instructed that:

Under the pleading regime established by Twombly and Iqbal, a court reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint must take three steps. First, it must tak[e] note of the elements [the] plaintiff must plead to state a claim. Second, it should identify allegations that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Finally, [w]hen there are well-pleaded factual allegations, [the] court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.[18]

         “Generally, consideration of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is limited to consideration of the complaint itself.”[19] Typically, to consider materials outside the complaint, a motion to dismiss must be converted to a motion for summary judgment.[20] However, “[c]onsideration of materials outside the complaint is not entirely foreclosed on a 12(b)(6) motion.”[21] It is permissible to consider full text of documents partially quoted in complaint.[22] It is also permissible to consider documents relied upon by plaintiff in drafting the complaint and integral to the complaint.[23] “However, before materials outside the record may become the basis for a dismissal, several conditions must be met.”[24] “For example, even if a document is ‘integral' to the complaint, it must be clear on the record that no dispute exists regarding the authenticity or accuracy of the document.”[25] It must also be clear that there exist no material disputed issues of fact regarding the relevance of the document.[26] In this matter, I find that these conditions have been met, and will consequently consider the Township Defendants' attachments.

         B. Facts

         The facts alleged in Myers' complaint, which I must accept as true for the purposes of this motion, are as follows. I also include certain other facts from documents integral to Myers' complaint. The parties do not dispute the accuracy or authenticity of these documents.

         1. The Parties

         Myers was on the Township's Board of Supervisors from 2013 to 2017, when he resigned. Scott and Lynn are on the Board and were on the Board at the time of Myers' below deposition. VanBlohn is the Township's Zoning Officer.[27]

         2. Myers' October 31, 2018 Deposition Testimony

         On October 31, 2018, Myers testified at a deposition relating to a lawsuit the Township had filed against Christine DeLong, a former Secretary/Treasurer of the Township. Myers testified on DeLong's behalf and “expressed his belief” that DeLong was wrongfully caused to resign just before being eligible for retirement benefits. Myers also testified that he resigned from the Board in 2017 because Lynn and Scott had violated the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act. The Sunshine Act requires agencies to deliberate and take official action on agency business in an open and public meeting.[28]

         3. Myers' Efforts to Waive Municipal Requirements and Improve his Property

         Myers owns and operates a school bus company on his property in the Township.[29] In order to expand and improve his company's parking lot, he needed approval from the Township.[30] Before his deposition, Myers had been in discussions with the Township about applications for permits to effectuate this. He had received a zoning permit to pave a portion of his parking lot, and he had completed the first portion of the work he needed to do, without the Township requiring further approval.[31]

         Before his deposition, Myers expressed his belief that Lynn and Scott had violated the law; he also expressed that he was cooperating in DeLong's court case. Myers was advised he would need a “Subdivision and Land Development Plan, ” per the Township's Subdivision and Land Development Ordinance (“SALDO”) to pave the remaining portion of his parking lot. VanBlohn directed Myers to apply for a waiver of this requirement. Myers did so.[32]

         4. SALDO's Requirements and Procedures

         Per SALDO, developers in the Township need to include a Land Development Plan with “[a]ll proposed land development proposals.”[33]

         SALDO includes the following definitions:[34]

• “Land development”: “The improvement of one lot or two or more contiguous lots, tracts or parcels of land for any purpose involving . . . [a] group of two or more residential or nonresidential buildings, whether proposed initially or cumulatively, or a single nonresidential building on a lot or lots regardless of the number of occupants or tenure . . .”
• “Land development, Commercial”: “The subdivision or development of a tract of land into lots or spaces which are designed or intended for commercial purposes, including but not limited to restaurants, shopping centers, motels and other similar types of activities or services which generate revenue, whether or not for profit.”
• “Development”: “Any man-made change to improved or unimproved real estate, including but not limited to the construction, reconstruction, renovation, repair, expansion or alteration of buildings or other structures; the placement of mobile homes or manufactured housing; streets or other paving; utilities; filling, grading and excavation; mining; dredging; drilling operations; storage of equipment or materials; and the subdivision of land. (See also “land development.”)”

         Any applicant who feels that SALDO's provisions would cause an “unique and undue hardship” to their proposed development may apply for a waiver of these provisions. They must do so in writing to the Board. SALDO provides that the Board may grant such a waiver if they find that substantial justice and the public interest would be served, “provided that such a waiver or modification will not have the effect of nullifying the intent or purpose” of the SALDO.[35]

         5. The Board Denies Myers' Waiver Application

         At a subsequent December 17, 2018 meeting of the Board, the Board denied Myers' application for a waiver. The Board gave Myers no prior notice. Myers learned that his application had been denied when he received a letter from VanBlohn dated February 8, 2019.[36]

         C. ...


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