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Hogan v. Township of Haddon

December 1, 2006

KATHY HOGAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF HADDON, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle

OPINION

William Park SIMANDLE, District Judge

This matter comes before the Court upon the motion of Defendants Township of Haddon ("Township") and William Park ("Park") (collectively, the "Defendants") for summary judgment. The instant lawsuit involves claims that Park, as the Mayor of the Township, (1) violated Hogan's First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution and New Jersey State Constitution by preventing her from speaking at Township commissioners' meetings and using Township services (such as the Township's monthly newsletters) and retaliated against her for criticizing Township policies and personnel and (2) violated Hogan's due process and equal protection rights. Park and the Township (collectively, the "Defendants") jointly move for summary judgment arguing that (1) Defendant Park is entitled to legislative immunity or, in the alternative, qualified immunity, with respect to Plaintiff Kathleen Hogan's First Amendment violation claim; and (2) that the Township is also entitled to summary judgment. For the reasons expressed in this Opinion, the Court will grant Defendants' motion for summary judgment.*fn1

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is Kathleen Hogan ("Hogan"), a resident of the Township of Haddon, New Jersey. In May 2003, Hogan was elected as a commissioner of the Township along with Defendant William Park ("Park") and William Broderick ("Broderick"). Park, who had been a commissioner and mayor of the Township for a number of years, asked Hogan to be his running mate for the May 2003 Township commissioner election. Hogan, Park and Broderick serve as the commissioners in the three-commissioner form of government that operates under the authority and guidelines of the Walsh Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. 40:72-1, et seq.*fn2 At an organizational meeting shortly after the 2003 election, Park was re-elected mayor of the Township.

A. The Relationship between Hogan and Park Sours Soon After the 2003 Election

Shortly after the 2003 election, Hogan became upset when she learned that she was not entitled to health insurance as part of her compensation as a part-time Township commissioner. At a November 25, 2003 commissioners' meeting, Hogan expressed her surprise at the lack of Township-provided health insurance benefits. Hogan made a motion that health benefits be provided to the commissioners and paid for by the Township. Neither Park nor Broderick seconded the motion and the motion failed. At a December 9, 2003 meeting of the commissioners, Hogan again expressed concern with the lack of support evidenced by Park and Broderick's failure to second her motion for paid health insurance benefits and noted that their relationship over the next three and a half years would be negatively affected by their lack of support for her.*fn3

Hogan's comments proved prophetic. Over the next two years, relations between Hogan and Park severely deteriorated. Relations between the two commissioners reached a particularly low point when Hogan filed this action against Park and the Township, alleging that Park took numerous actions which limited Hogan's right to communicate with the public, limited her right to obtain information regarding the Township's government and retaliated against her for criticizing Township policies and personnel. Specifically, the Complaint alleges that:

* Upon taking office, Hogan ordered a phone for her office but several orders for phone services were cancelled allegedly at the direction of Park. As a result, according to Hogan, installation of her phone was delayed;

* Park personally went to the publisher of the Haddon Township Monthly Monitor (the "Monthly Monitor"), the town newspaper, and demanded that several of Hogan's articles not be published, that her column (titled "The Real Deal" that appeared alongside columns written by the mayor and by the Township chief of police) be terminated, and that her name be removed from other articles that she authored and submitted for publication;

* Park prevented Hogan from accessing the Township's cable access channel and from posting content on the Township's official web site;

* Park conducted meetings as "mayor" without advising the other commissioners of the date, time, location or agenda of the meetings or inviting the other two commissioners to participate;

* Park refused Hogan's request for information about and a copy of Park's official calendar;

* Park refused to provide certain information regarding Township personnel information regarding Township money spent on Park's attendance of the New Jersey League of Municipalities Conference, and prevented Hogan from obtaining tapes of past commissioners' meetings (through the Township Clerk);

* Park refused to provide Hogan with the results of an audit performed by an outside vendor after the Township's computer system (operated by Kris Mustachio) "crashed" resulting in the permanent loss of certain Township tax and financial data;

* Park consistently "gaveled" her down at public meetings and did not allow her to speak;

* When voting on Township business, Park and Commissioner Broderick consistently out-voted Park by a 2-to-1 margin;

* Park repeatedly "stonewalled" Hogan when Hogan attempted to discuss the job performance of other Township employees;

* Park assaulted Hogan by "elbowing" her after a commissioners' meeting; and

* Park generally harassed her in retaliation for Hogan's speaking out against ...


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