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Weston v. Passaic County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

May 20, 2014

JAMES WESTON, Plaintiff,
v.
PASSAIC COUNTY, and the OFFICE OF THE PASSAIC COUNTY SHERIFF, and RICHARD H. BERDNIK, in his professional and personal capacity, jointly and severally, Defendants.

OPINION

WILLIAM J. MARTINI, District Judge.

This is a retaliation case. Plaintiff James Weston, a Sheriff's Officer in the Office of the Passaic County Sheriff, alleges that he was passed over for promotion because of his political activities. Defendants Passaic County (the "County"), the Office of the Passaic County Sheriff (the "Sheriff's Office"), and Passaic County Sheriff Richard Berdnik (in his official and personal capacity) move to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). There was no oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions to dismiss are GRANTED IN PART, and DENIED IN PART.

I. BACKGROUND

The Complaint makes the factual allegations, which the Court accepts as true for purposes of the instant motion to dismiss. Since May 2002, Weston has served as a Sheriff's Officer in the Passaic County Sheriff's Office. Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1. In 2010, Weston was the President of the Passaic County Sheriff's Officers Local 286 of the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association ("the Local"). Id. ¶ 8. During a Local meeting held on October 11, 2010, a motion was made to endorse two Republican candidates for the position of Passaic County Freeholder. Id. Weston explained the "upsides and downsides" of endorsing Republican candidates, including Felix Garcia, who was running for Passaic County Sheriff against the Democratic candidate, Richard Berdnik. Id. ¶¶ 10-11, 13. The Local's membership decided to support the Republican Freeholder candidates, but their endorsement was never formalized. Id. ¶ 15.

After the October 11, 2010 meeting, Acting Passaic County Sheriff Charles S. Meyes sent the following email to Weston:

You guys endorsed Garcia?? Wtf???? Berdnik and Garcia are both PBA members! How are you going to pitch a case for promotion if/when Berdnik wins??

Id. ¶ 17. Berdnik went on to win the 2010 race for Passaic County Sheriff. Id. ¶ 19.

From October 2010 through September 2012, Weston was number two on a list of three officers on the Civil Service Sheriff's Officer eligibility list (the "List"). Id. ¶ 21. Pursuant to the "Rule of Three, " the any of these three people could have been promoted within the Sheriff's Office. Id. ¶ 22 (citing N.J.A.C. 11A:4-8). Sheriff Berdnik chose not to promote any of the three people on the List, even though the department needed the position filled. Id. ¶¶ 22, 35-36. Rather, Sheriff Berdnik waited until the List expired so that he would not have to promote Weston. Id. ¶ 36. After the List expired, Sheriff Berdnik was given a new List with new names, and he proceeded to promote individuals whose names were included on that new List. Id. ¶ 39.

On January 23, 2012, Weston was transferred from the Detective Bureau to probation, and his pay was decreased. Id. ¶ 24. Also in January 2012, Weston lost his ability to train with the SWAT team and to teach firearm classes. Id. ¶¶ 32-33. In June 2012, Weston was removed from the Tactical Pistol Course and Armorer's Course, even though others were allowed to attend. Id. ¶ 34.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975).

A Complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above a speculative level, such that it is "plausible on its face." See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007); see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). Claims have "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement'... it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Id.

III. DISCUSSION

Count I is a claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") alleging that Weston was retaliated against because of his political activities. Count II is a claim for negligent infliction of emotional distress. Count III is a claim for a hostile work environment. Count IV is a claim for civil conspiracy. Defendants move to dismiss ...


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