PHILADELPHIA – A federal judge ruled a former Bethel Township police officer’s claims of wrongful termination without due process under the Police Tenure Act (PTA) and the Fourteenth Amendment would proceed, while other claims against the township, its police chief and five supervisors were defeated by summary judgment.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s Judge Timothy J. Savage ruled April 14 that Raymond Jaglowicz’s termination claims will move forward, but defendant/Bethel Township Police Chief Tom Worrilow is not personally liable and fellow defendants/Bethel Township Supervisors John Camero III, Ed Miles, Miles Davey, Jean Stoyer and Todd Apple are entitled to qualified immunity.
Bethel Township Police Department
Bethel Township appoints its police officers for one-year terms at an annual township reorganization meeting held every January. Jaglowicz began his initial one-year term employment with the Bethel Township Police Department in January 2010, and was re-appointed each year until January 2015.
At the 2015 reorganization meeting, Bethel Township supervisors voted unanimously to appoint Worrilow as “Part-Time Police Chief” and 18 other individuals as “Part-Time Police Officers” for one year, but this group did not include Jaglowicz.
Jaglowicz argued he was not re-appointed because he used a Taser to arrest a suspect on Sept. 16, 2014 and a citizen’s complaint regarding the incident was filed the following month. However, a subsequent investigation from Worrilow found no criminal misconduct on Jaglowicz’s part, and the chief recommended his re-appointment for duty in the upcoming year.
“In his complaint, Jaglowicz claimed that when they terminated his employment, the defendants deprived him of procedural due process under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and the PTA,” Savage said. “He also claimed Bethel Township breached its oral employment contract and failed to create a police pension fund in violation of the Municipal Police Pension Law (MPPL).”
Yet, Jaglowicz’s counsel admitted his client could not sustain claims of due process under the Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendments based on a liberty interest, any claim under the Equal Protection Clause, a violation of the MPPL or claims against Worrilow.
Which left Jaglowicz’s only remaining claims, according to Savage, “under the PTA and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment based on a property interest against Bethel Township and the five township supervisors, and for breach of contract against the township only.”
The PTA protects any full-time police officer employed by a township of the second class from being fired, suspended or demoted except for reasons of: “(1) Physical or mental disability affecting his ability to continue in service, in which case the person shall receive an honorable discharge from service; (2) Neglect or violation of any official duty; (3) Violating of any law which provides that such violation constitutes a misdemeanor or felony; (4) Inefficiency, neglect, intemperance, disobedience of orders, or conduct unbecoming an officer; (5) Intoxication while on duty.”
Though the defense attempted to argue Bethel Township was not subject to the PTA, Savage explained the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania determined it applies to all townships of the second class in the state, regardless of the size of their force. The defense also claimed Jaglowicz was “not a full-time police officer.”
“Jaglowicz performed the normal functions of a police officer. He did what any full-time police officer did. It is not clear whether he was available for duty at all times and on call at all times. If he was, he was protected by the PTA,” Savage said.
“To support his claims that he was a full-time police officer, Jaglowicz has produced time sheets, showing he worked shifts on all days of the week and often worked between 38 and 40 hours per week. There is no evidence that he held any other employment during the last year he was employed by Bethel Township,” Savage added.
Savage said because a reasonable jury could find Jaglowicz’s availability for work qualified him as a full-time officer under the PTA, the Court would deny the defendants' summary judgment motion as to the PTA claim.
As for Jaglowicz’s deprivation of a property interest without due process claim, Savage said it requires “notice and an opportunity to respond,” even if it’s brief and informal.
“Although Worrilow interviewed Jaglowicz about the Taser incident, Jaglowicz never received notice that the township was considering taking action regarding his employment as a result of the citizen’s complaint. At the time of the interview, Jaglowicz had no notice that the investigation of the citizen’s complaint could lead to his being denied reappointment,” Savage said.
Savage also denied the defendants summary judgment on Jaglowicz’s Monell claim.
“Contrary to Bethel’s argument that there is an insufficient basis for municipal liability, we conclude there is. Anyone not reappointed by the supervisors was effectively terminated pursuant to the policy. If the termination was without due process, it was the result of the policy,” Savage said.
Yet, Savage explained Bethel Township did not breach an oral contract for employment, because Jaglowicz was classified at “at-will status” and there was no promise of his re-appointment, and the township supervisors were entitled to qualified immunity because they “reasonably believed” their actions were legal.
Savage concluded, “Because a reasonable factfinder could find that Jaglowicz was terminated in violation of both the PTA and the Fourteenth Amendment, we shall deny Bethel Township’s motion for summary judgment regarding those claims, and grant it as to the remaining claims. We shall grant the individual defendants’ motion for summary judgment.”
The plaintiff is represented by Kevin B. Watson of Cipriani & Werner, in Blue Bell.
The defendants are represented by Robert P. DiDomenicis of Holsten & Associates, in Media.
U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:15-cv-04902
From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at firstname.lastname@example.org