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Kelly v. Borough of Sayreville

March 5, 1997





On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey

(D.C. Civ. No. 94-05460)


GREENBERG, Circuit Judge.

Argued February 11, 1997

(Filed: March 5, 1997)


Charles Kelly, a police officer, appeals in this action involving his ongoing disputes with the appellees, the municipality which employs him and its chief of police, from the district court's order dismissing his complaint brought under 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983. The district court entered the order on the grounds that by reason of prior New Jersey administrative proceedings involving the subject matter of Kelly's current action, the New Jersey entire controversy doctrine barred this case and that, in any event, the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Kelly v. Borough of Sayreville, 927 F. Supp. 797 (D.N.J. 1996). Inasmuch as we hold that the district court properly dismissed the complaint on the latter ground, we need not consider the entire controversy ruling, though we note that we have significant reservations concerning the district court's disposition of that issue.

1. Jurisdiction and Standard of Review

The district court had jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 1331 and 1343(a)(3), and we have jurisdiction over Kelly's timely appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section(s) 1291. We exercise plenary review over the district court's dismissal of Kelly's complaint. See Schrob v. Catterson, 948 F.2d 1402, 1408 (3d Cir. 1991). In considering this appeal from an order dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, we accept Kelly's allegations as pleaded as true, and we draw all reasonable inferences in his favor. See id. at 1405. We can affirm the dismissal only if it is certain that Kelly cannot attain relief under any set of facts that he could prove. See id. at 1408.

2. Background

On November 20, 1992, appellees, the Borough of Sayreville and its Chief of Police, Douglas Sprague, filed a formal written preliminary notice of disciplinary action against Kelly, a Sayreville police officer who serves as the president and employee representative of the Sayreville Policemen's Benevolent Association Local No. 98. The disciplinary notice delineated 12 charges against Kelly and stated that Sayreville and Sprague were seeking his permanent removal from the police department. In response, Kelly and the PBA filed an application for an order to show cause with temporary restraints and an unfair practice charge with the New Jersey Public Employment Relations Commission ("PERC") alleging that in bringing the charges the appellees violated the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. Section(s) 34:13A-1 et seq. (West 1988), and infringed Kelly's First Amendment free speech rights.

PERC issued an order to show cause on the application on January 4, 1993, and a PERC hearing examiner held a hearing on the order to show cause on February 17, 1993. The examiner, however, did not restrain the prosecution of the disciplinary proceedings against Kelly because Sayreville agreed to postpone those proceedings pending the disposition of the PBA unfair practice charge. A PERC hearing examiner then held hearings on the unfair practice charge on May 27 and 28, and June 3, 8, and 17, 1993. At these hearings, the PBA requested that PERC order the withdrawal of the disciplinary proceedings directed toward Kelly's removal from the police department.

On December 6, 1993, the examiner issued a report and recommendation finding that Sayreville had violated the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act. He recommended that PERC order Sayreville to cease and desist from violating the Act, that the disciplinary charges against Kelly be withdrawn, and that Sayreville expunge any references to the charges from his personnel file. H.E. No. 94-11, at 33-34 (Dec. 6, 1993). On April 29, 1994, PERC issued its decision and order remanding the matter to the hearing examiner for clarification of his report and recommendation. P.E.R.C. No. 94-104 (Apr. 28, 1994). The examiner then issued a supplemental recommended order on July 22, 1994. H.E. No. 95-5 (July 22, 1994). On May 24, 1995, PERC issued its final decision, incorporating the hearing examiner's findings and ordering that the disciplinary proceedings against Kelly be withdrawn and that Sayreville cease and desist from discriminating against Kelly on the basis of his actions in the performance of his duties as PBA president. P.E.R.C. No. 95-97, at 12 (May 23, 1995). Neither the hearing examiner nor PERC considered Kelly's First Amendment claim on the merits, P.E.R.C. No. 94-104, at 3, and neither Kelly nor appellees appealed PERC's decision to the New Jersey courts.

On November 17, 1994, Kelly filed the complaint in this case in the district court seeking damages, alleging that the appellees violated 42 U.S.C. Section(s) 1983 in their treatment of him. In particular, Kelly asserted that during his tenure as the PBA president the appellees subjected him to an unjustified continuous series of reprimands, disciplinary actions, reprisals, and job-related actions motivated by Sprague's personal dislike for and malice toward him. Kelly asserted that the appellees' actions violated his liberty and property interests without due process of law. Kelly claimed he therefore suffered substantial monetary loss, humiliation, damage to his reputation, and emotional and physical injury. He did not specify, however, the basis for his claim of monetary loss, and thus he did not claim that he lost compensation or other employment benefits by reason of appellees' actions. The district court complaint mirrors the PERC charges for Kelly acknowledges that "the specific factual allegations of [his] District Court complaint refer directly and specifically to the underlying facts and circumstances which were ...

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