In March 2008, Montgomery County Director of Public Safety Thomas Sullivan learned of theexistence of the photographs from Petty in the course of investigating a grievance Brown had filedagainst Petty. The photographs were thereafter brought to the attention of County CommissionerJames Matthews, who ordered an investigation. On March 5, 2008, the County's Chief OperatingOfficer/Chief Clerk, Robert Graf, instructed Sullivan to "investigate
the situation with thepictures and the holiday party," directing him to interview the participants that same evening. Defs.'Mot. Ex. H, Sullivan Dep. 36.As part of the investigation, John DiNolfi, the 911 Center's Assistant Director of Operations, toldBrown to report to work on March 5 at 5:00 p.m., rather than 7:00 p.m., for a platoon meeting. WhenBrown arrived at work, Sullivan took him into a conference room where several other higher-levelemployees were assembled. Members of the group attempted to question Brown, but he declined tocooperate without his attorney present. Sullivan then directed Brown to relinquish his ID card andwork pager and told him he was being suspended with possible intent to dismiss.On March 6, 2008, a public Board of Commissioners Meeting was held, at which the investigation intothe gift exchange was discussed and the Salary Board of the Board of Commissioners voted toterminate Brown. Following the meeting, articles appeared in various newspapers regarding theinvestigation and Brown's firing, several of which included quotes from County Commissioners aboutthe matter. Specifically, articles published in
The Mercury, The Times Herald
on March 7, 2008, quoted the Commissioners as referring to the behavior of thoseinvolved in the gift exchange as "unbelievably stupid" and "moronic," and characterizing thephotographs as damaging to the "public confidence." Pl.'s Ex. 1a. The
article alsoreported the photographs had come to light "weeks after a disabled woman burned to death after herJan. 29 Bucks County 911 call was bungled."
After noting the capacity of the photographs "todamage public confidence in Montgomery County's emergency-response system was not lost onMatthews," the article quoted Commissioner Matthews as stating, "[t]hat in itself is a malfeasance."
Although none of the March 7 articles mentioned Brown by name, a March 21, 2008, article in
identified Brown as the platoon supervisor who had been fired. The March 21 articlereported on a Board of Commissioners meeting on March 20, 2008, and stated Assistant CountySolicitor Maureen Coggins's probe of the gift exchange and photographs "revealed that no oneconsumed alcohol that evening but that employees violated county code by having alcohol on countyproperty. They also violated the county's code
of ethics by engaging in inappropriate behavior."
Although Brown requested a name-clearing hearing, he has never been provided one.
Summary judgment shall be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to anymaterial fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law."Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a)."Material" facts are those facts "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law."
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.
, 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). Afactual dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict forthe nonmoving party."
"Where the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact tofind for the non-moving party, there is no 'genuine issue for trial.'"
Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.Zenith Radio Corp.
, 475 U.S. 574, 587, 106 S. Ct. 1348, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538 (1986)(citation omitted).The same rules apply when there are cross-motions for summary judgment.
Lawrence v. City of Phila.
, 527 F.3d 299, 310 (3d Cir. 2008).When a public employer "'creates and disseminates a false and defamatory impression about [an]employee in connection with his termination,' it deprives the employee of a protected libertyinterest."
Hill v. Borough of Kutztown
, 455 F.3d 225, 236 (3d Cir. 2006)(quoting
, 429 U.S. 624, 628, 97 S. Ct. 882, 51 L. Ed. 2d 92 (1977)). A§ 1983due process claim
alleging a deprivation of a liberty interest in reputation is known as a "stigma-plus" claim, in which"[t]he creation and dissemination of a false and defamatory impression is the 'stigma,' and the
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