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Max v. Republican Committee of Lancaster County

November 13, 2009

MILLIE MAX, APPELLANT
v.
REPUBLICAN COMMITTEE OF LANCASTER COUNTY; DAVID M. DUMEYER, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY AS CHAIRMAN OF THE REPUBLICAN COMMITTEE OF LANCASTER COUNTY; ANDREW HEATH; LANCASTER COUNTY REPUBLICAN HEADQUARTERS, A NONPROFIT CORPORATION



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (D.C. No. 2-07-cv-04488) District Judge: Honorable James T. Giles.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sloviter, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued October 28, 2009

Before: SLOVITER, FUENTES, and HARDIMAN, Circuit Judges.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Appellant Millie Max appeals the District Court's order granting the motion to dismiss filed by defendants, the Republican Committee of Lancaster County ("RCLC"), the Lancaster County Republican Headquarters ("LCRH") (a nonprofit corporation controlled by the RCLC), David M. Dumeyer (the chairman of the RCLC), and Andrew Heath (an employee and executive director of the RCLC) (collectively, "defendants"). Max alleges that defendants infringed upon her First Amendment rights of free speech and expression during a primary election campaign for judgeships on the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas. She filed this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn1

I.

Max was an elected committeewoman for the RCLC. The RCLC is a political committee organized under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As such, the RCLC is entitled to nominate candidates at primaries for inclusion on the general election ballot, which it does by a vote of the party electors. See 25 P.S. § 2862. The registered Republican voters of Lancaster County comprise the electors in the primary for Common Pleas judgeships. Id. § 2832.

II.

Max's amended complaint contains five counts, all of which allege that defendants retaliated against Max in violation of the First Amendment because she criticized two of the party's endorsed candidates and instead supported an unendorsed candidate. It appears that the RCLC regarded Max as a wayward Republican committeewoman because she was unwilling to support the endorsed candidates and openly lobbied against them.

Max alleges that in or about May 2007, Heath heard that someone was campaigning door-to-door against endorsed candidates. Heath asked Max if she knew who it was and said that he was tracing the suspect's license plate number. When Max admitted that she was the individual he sought, Heath threatened to "convene a meeting after the election" at which Max "understood that she would likely be asked to resign her elected position." App. at 107. Defendants then "instructed certain poll workers to observe and report back to Defendants on [Max's]... political speech and campaign efforts." App. at 99. After the primary election, Dumeyer wrote a letter to Max in which he warned that campaigning against endorsed candidates was inappropriate for someone in her position, and that she should either refrain from further doing so or should resign.*fn2 Max's counsel conceded at oral argument that, under the applicable bylaws, defendants could not have removed Max from her committeewoman position because of her conduct.

Defendants filed a motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the amended complaint, which the District Court granted. Max's appeal of that order is before us.

We review de novo a district court's dismissal of an action pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Rodriguez v. Our Lady of Lourdes Med. Ctr., 552 F.3d 297, 302 (3d Cir. 2008). In deciding a motion to dismiss, courts generally must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)). To withstand a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as ...


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