Nicholas Malfitano Jan. 15, 2016, 8:42am


PHILADELPHIA – The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has upheld a trial court decision which dismissed a civil rights complaint filed by a Pennsylvania police chief against his town’s Board of Supervisors.

Judges Julio M. Fuentes, Michael A. Chagares and Morton I. Greenberg ruled on Wednesday that litigation initiated by Conewago Township Police Chief David Williams against the Conewago Township Board of Supervisors and members Luann Boyer, Marcy Krum, Ted Bortner, and Robert Legore, would remain dismissed. Chagares authored the court’s opinion in this matter.

The U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania previously dismissed Williams’ complaint for failure to state a claim.

Williams alleges the defendants harbored personal animosity towards him because he previously disciplined Boyer’s husband (a fellow police officer), refused the Board’s request that another officer be fired when that same officer suffered a work-related injury and refused the Board’s request that other officers be retaliated against for their involvement in negotiating the police department’s collective bargaining agreement.

Williams also alleged retaliation from the board in several administrative aspects that supposedly led him to develop chest pains requiring hospitalization – which Williams claims led Krum to “harass” him for taking medical leave. Though Williams is still employed by the township, he claims the defendants are working to terminate his employment, which he believes is “in jeopardy”.

Williams brought claims against the defendants for “deprivation of his constitutionally protected liberty interest in his reputation” and “for interference and retaliation under the Family and Medical Leave Act” (FMLA). 

The District Court dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim because “Williams failed to allege a tangible ‘plus’ factor for his liberty interest claim, failed to allege that he requested and was denied medical leave, and failed to allege any adverse employment action taken in retaliation.”

Chagares said the District Court properly dismissed Williams’ liberty interest claim, since Williams listed no additional punishment or deprivation that he faced from the Board, such as suspension.

“But unless and until he is actually suspended or terminated, his interest in keeping his job is not implicated,” Chagares said.

As to Williams’ FMLA retaliation claim, the Third Circuit said, “Williams’ allegations also do not plausibly state a claim”, as the unbecoming conduct Williams claims members of the Board engaged in towards him took place before his medical leave, not afterwards.

“Nearly all of the defendants’ ‘repeated abusive conduct’ cited by Williams occurred before he was hospitalized, making it impossible for Williams to prove that the conduct was in retaliation for his attempt to exercise his FMLA rights,” Chagares said. 

“The only alleged misconduct occurring after his medical leave was Krum’s harassing Williams after two days, while he was still unwell, for a doctor’s note,” and “informing Williams that his sick time was a ‘big mystery’, implying that it had no medical basis and that Williams is some kind of lying malingerer,” Chagares added.

On behalf of the Third Circuit, Chagares then affirmed the ruling of the District Court.

The plaintiff is represented by Timothy M. Kolman, Wayne A. Ely and W. Charles Sipio of Kolman Ely, in Penndel.

The defendants are represented by Sheryl L. Brown of Siana Bellwoar & McAndrew, in Chester Springs.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-1871

U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania case 1:14-cv-01761

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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