Stuby v. Bedford Cnty.

Decision Date21 October 2013
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 3:12-47
CourtU.S. District Court — Western District of Pennsylvania
PartiesCHARLES E. STUBY and LUKAS J. BERKEY, Plaintiffs, v. BEDFORD COUNTY and CHARWIN REICHELDERFER, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants.

JUDGE KIM R. GIBSON

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER OF COURT

GIBSON, J.

I. SYNOPSIS

Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 20), filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Plaintiffs oppose the motion. (See Doc. No. 24). For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motion will be DENIED.

II. JURISDICTION AND VENUE

The Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C §§ 1331 and 1343. Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1391(b)(2) because a substantial portion of the events or omissions giving rise to the claims occurred in the Western District of Pennsylvania.

III. BACKGROUND

This case stems from Plaintiffs' termination from employment as deputy sheriffs. (See generally Doc. No. 1). According to the Plaintiffs, Defendant Reichelderfer fired them after Plaintiff Stuby, supported by Plaintiff Berkey, ran in an election for Bedford County Sheriff against Defendant Reichelderfer, the incumbent Sheriff. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 25-37). PlaintiffStuby alleges that Defendants fired him because of his political affiliation and because of his decision to run for political office (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 25-31), and Plaintiff Berkey alleges that Defendants fired him because of his political affiliation (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 32-37). (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 25-37). Plaintiffs assert a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Plaintiffs filed a complaint (Doc. No. 1) on February 24, 2012, and Defendants filed an answer (Doc. No. 8) on April 9, 2012. Thereafter, the parties conducted discovery. On December 7, 2012, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 20), a brief in support (Doc. No. 21), a concise statement of material facts1 (Doc. No. 22), and an appendix of supporting exhibits (Doc. No. 23). On January 3, 2013, Plaintiffs filed a brief in opposition (Doc. No. 24) to Defendants' motion for summary judgment, a response to Defendants' concise statement of material facts (Doc. No. 25), Plaintiffs' concise statement of material facts (Doc. No. 26), and an appendix of supporting exhibits (Doc. No. 27). On January 16, 2013, Defendants filed a reply brief (Doc. No. 28)2 and a response (Doc. No. 29) to Plaintiffs' concise statement of material facts. With leave from the Court (see Order of Court, Doc. No. 34), Plaintiffs filed a supplemental appendix (Doc. No. 35) on January 25, 2013. This matter is now ripe for adjudication.

The following facts are not in dispute. Plaintiffs, Charles Stuby ("Stuby") and Lukas Berkey ("Berkey"), worked as deputy sheriffs for the Bedford County Sheriff's Office. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 7-8; Doc. No. 8 at ¶¶ 7-8). Defendant Charwin Reichelderfer ("Reichelderfer"), a Republican, became Bedford County Sheriff in January 2008. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 9; Doc. No. 8 at ¶ 9). As deputy sheriffs for Bedford County, Plaintiffs reported to the Sheriff, Defendant Reichelderfer. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 9; Doc. No. 8 at ¶ 9).

In 2011, Plaintiff Stuby ran as a Democrat in the election for Bedford County Sheriff against Defendant Reichelderfer, the incumbent Sheriff. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 14-17; Doc. No. 8 at ¶¶ 14-17). Plaintiff Berkey, also a Democrat, supported Plaintiff Stuby in his campaign for Sheriff. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 17-18; Doc. No. 8 at ¶¶ 17-18). Plaintiff Berkey's wife served as the campaign treasurer for Plaintiff Stuby. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 19; Doc. No. 8 at ¶ 19). Defendant Reichelderfer was aware that Plaintiff Stuby was running for Sheriff and was aware that Plaintiff Berkey supported Plaintiff Stuby's campaign. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 17-18; Doc. No. 8 at ¶¶ 17-18).

On November 8, 2011, Defendant Reichelderfer was reelected as Bedford County Sheriff. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 21; Doc. No. 8 at ¶ 21). Two days later, on November 10, 2011, Defendant Reichelderfer fired both Plaintiffs. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 22-24; Doc. No. 8 at ¶¶ 22-24). Thereafter, Plaintiffs initiated this action by filing a complaint. (Doc. No. 1).

IV. LEGAL STANDARDS
A. Summary Judgment

"Summary judgment is appropriate only where . . . there is no genuine issue as to any material fact . . . and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Melrose, Inc. v. Pittsburgh, 613 F.3d 380, 387 (3d Cir. 2010) (quoting Ruehl v. Viacom, Inc., 500 F.3d 375, 380 n.6 (3d Cir. 2007)); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Fed. R. Civ.P. 56(a).3 Issues of fact are genuine "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); see also McGreevy v. Stroup, 413 F.3d 359, 363 (3d Cir. 2005). Material facts are those that will affect the outcome of the trial under governing law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. The Court's role is "not to weigh the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but only to determine whether the evidence of record is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Am. Eagle Outfitters v. Lyle & Scott Ltd., 584 F.3d 575, 581 (3d Cir. 2009). "In making this determination, 'a court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party and draw all inferences in that party's favor.'" Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 278 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Armbruster v. Unisys Corp., 32 F.3d 768, 777 (3d Cir. 1994).

The moving party bears the initial responsibility of stating the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. If the moving party meets this burden, the party opposing summary judgment "may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials" of the pleading, but "must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001) (quoting Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 n.11 (1986)). "For an issue to be genuine, the nonmovant needs to supply more than a scintilla of evidence in support of its position—there must be sufficient evidence (not mere allegations) for a reasonable jury to find for the nonmovant." Coolspring Stone Supply v. Am. States Life Ins. Co., 10 F.3d 144, 148 (3d Cir. 1993).

B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

A plaintiff may assert a cause of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for certain violations of his constitutional rights. 42 U.S.C. § 1983 provides in relevant part:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

Although the statute '"is not itself a source of substantive rights,' . . . [it] provides 'a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'" Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393-94 (1989) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). To state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must allege (1) that some person has deprived the plaintiff of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States and (2) that the person who deprived the plaintiff of that right acted under the color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). Plaintiffs' Complaint alleges that Defendants violated Plaintiffs' First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, setting forth claims pursuant to § 1983 for discrimination based on political affiliation and speech. (See Doc. No. 1).

C. Discrimination Based on Political Affiliation

"[P]ublic agencies may not hire, transfer, promote, or discharge public employees based on their political affiliations unless their work requires political allegiance." Robertson v. Flore, 62 F.3d 596, 599 (3d Cir. 1995) (noting this principle flows from the Constitution's prohibition against discharging public employees based on speech regarding issues of public concern). In a trilogy of cases, the Supreme Court formulated principles for deciding cases involving claims of discrimination based on political association: Elrod v. Burns, 427 U.S. 347 (1976); Branti v. Finkel, 445 U.S. 507 (1980); and Rutan v. Republican Party of Ill., 497 U.S. 62 (1990).

Based on these precedents, the Third Circuit adopted a three-part test to evaluate a claim of employment discrimination based on political association in violation of the First Amendment. See Goodman v. Pa. Tpk. Comm'n, 293 F. 3d 655, 663 (3d Cir. 2002); Galli v. N.J. Meadowlands Comm'n, 490 F. 3d 265, 270-71 (3d Cir. 2007). To establish a prima facie case, a plaintiff must show (1) that he worked at a public agency in a position that does not require political affiliation, (2) that he maintained an affiliation with a political party, and (3) that this affiliation was a substantial or motivating factor in the government's adverse employment decision. Galli, 490 F. 3d at 271; see also, Robertson, 62 F.3d at 599; Goodman, 293 F.3d at 663. Implicit in the final prong of the test '"is a requirement that the plaintiff produce sufficient evidence to show [that] the defendant knew of [the] plaintiff's political persuasion,' which requires proof of both knowledge and causation." Galli, 490 F. 3d at 275 (quoting Goodman, 293 F.3d at 664) (alterations in original).

If a plaintiff is able to show that his political association is a substantial or motivating factor in the adverse employment decision, the burden shifts to the employer to show "by a preponderance of the evidence that it would have reached the...

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