A civil rights lawsuit brought by a southwestern Pennsylvania county commissioner
against two of her colleagues has been dismissed by a federal judge.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Cynthia Reed Eddy, who sits in the Western District of Pennsylvania, granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment in the case of Angela M. Zimmerlink v. Fayette County et al.
Zimmerlink, who sits on the three-member Fayette County Board of Commissioners, filed suit against the county, and fellow commissioners Vincent A. Vicites and Vincent Zapotosky back in 2010 over allegations that she was intentionally left out of certain deliberations due to retaliatory reasons.
The plaintiff, the sole Republican on the elected body, claimed that she was left out of certain meetings because she was a persistent and outspoken critic of the defendant commissioners’ policies, including budgetary and fiscal matters, human resources issues, zoning practices and county contract awards.
Zimmerlink alleged in her complaint that the actions of her fellow commissioners violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights because Zimmerlink was kept from fulfilling her duties as an elected county commissioner.
In her memorandum opinion accompanying her order granting summary judgment to the defendants, Eddy wrote that the plaintiff “failed to adduce a material issue of fact necessary to set forth a claim of First Amendment retaliation or a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment,” and that the county itself is likewise entitled to summary judgment on the Section 1983 civil rights claim because Zimmerlink has failed to adduce evidence illustrating how Fayette County violated her constitutional rights.
“Although Plaintiff engaged in protected activity by engaging in political speech, there is not sufficient evidence to show that the retaliation Plaintiff suffered was sufficient to deter a person of ordinary firmness from speaking,” the judge wrote.
On the equal protection claim, the judge wrote that even if such a claim was deemed cognizable, the plaintiff has “failed to adduce evidence that Defendants had no rational basis for treating her differently.
“To the contrary, it is axiomatic and expected in the political arena that elected officials treat political allies differently than political foes,” Eddy wrote.
Lastly, the judge wrote that Fayette County itself is entitled to summary judgment on the claims because Zimmerlink failed to show on the record how any municipal law, policy, custom, rule or regulation contributed to the alleged violation of her constitutional rights, which is a requirement under the Monell standard.
The case of Monell v. New York City Dept. of Soc. Servs. is the general legal standard when it comes to municipal liability claims.
Pittsburgh’s Tribune-Review newspaper reported recently that defendant Zapotosky is still a Fayette County commissioner while Vicites had lost his re-election bid last fall.
Fayette County is located in southwestern Pennsylvania. Its county seat, Uniontown, is located a little more than an hour away from Pittsburgh.