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Klink v. Wood

United States District Court, D. Delaware

January 9, 2018

PHILLIP KLTNK, Plaintiff,
v.
NORMAN WOOD, in his individual capacity as the Town of Smyrna, Delaware Police Chief TORRIE JAMES, in his individual capacity as a Town of Smyrna, Delaware Police Lieutenant SHAWN BENTON, in his individual capacity as a Town of Smyrna, Delaware Police Corporal and THE TOWN OF SMYRNA, DELAWARE Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

         I. INTRODUCTION

         On December 16, 2016, Phillip Klink filed a complaint against Defendants Norman Wood, Torrie James, Shawn Benton, and the Town of Smyrna, Delaware ("the Town") raising a due process claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 and a claim pursuant to the Delaware Whistleblowers' Protection Act. (D.I. 1 ¶ 69-73, 74-78.) On February 15, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (D.I. 5.) On March 1, 2017, Klink responded by filing his first amended complaint to cure his pleading defects. (D.I. 6.) On March 15, 2017, Defendants filed a second Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim that is currently pending before the court. (D.I. 7.) No scheduling order has been entered in the instant case. On May 15, 2017, the court referred the parties to Chief Magistrate Judge Mary Pat Thynge for the purpose of exploring Alternative Dispute Resolution. On June 15, 2017, the parties engaged in a telephonic mediation conference with Chief Judge Thynge. No settlement ensued. (D.I. 15.)

         Before the court is Klink's Motion for Leave to Amend the First Amended Complaint[1]filed on August 8, 2017, which seeks to voluntarily dismiss two Defendants-James and Benton- and to incorporate facts from a transcript of recorded conversations between Klink and Defendants produced to Klink on June 1, 2017. (D.I. 17 a 4.) Defendants oppose Klink's Motion. (D.I. 18.) For the reasons that follow, the court will grant Klink's Motion for Leave to Amend. (D.I. 16.)

         II. BACKGROUND

         Klink was a sworn police officer with the Smyrna Police Department ("Smyrna PD") for twenty years. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶8-9.) Prior to his departure from the Smyrna PD, Klink was a Lieutenant serving under Defendant Wood. (D.I. ¶ 9.) In the summer of 2016, the Smyrna PD union returned a vote of "no confidence" concerning Wood and the misconduct related to his leadership of the Smyrna PD. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶ 14, 23.) Wood's alleged misconduct also involved Defendant James. (D.I. 16-1 at¶25.) Following the vote, the Delaware Attorney General's office began investigating Wood, James and the Smyrna PD. (D.I. 16-1 ¶ 30.) Klink alleged that his relationship with Wood and James began to deteriorate after the vote. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶ 28.) For example, Klink claimed that Wood repeatedly denied his requests for police training, which was necessary for Klink to maintain his certification to be a police officer in Delaware. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶ 29.) Klink alleged that Wood, or someone acting on Wood's behalf, placed a citizen complaint filed against Defendant Benton in Klink's office desk drawer on July 19, 2016. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶ 22.) The citizen complaint was received on or around May 2015 and contained allegations that Benton engaged in sexual relations while on-duty. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶ 11-) The citizen complaint, to Klink's knowledge, was not addressed by the Town or Wood. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶ 14-16.) Klink believed the citizen complaint was placed in his drawer in an effort to frame him and to cause him to resign or be terminated for failing to properly address the citizen complaint. (D.I. 16-1 .at ¶22.)

         In October of 2016, Benton came into Klink's office to discuss Wood and the Smyrna PD-specifically issues related to Klink's knowledge and discussions about Wood's misconduct. (D.I. 16-1 ¶ 33-34.) Unbeknownst to Klink, and without Klink's consent, Benton recorded their conversation and shared it with Wood. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶ 33-35.) The next day, Wood summoned Klink into his office to discuss rumors of Klink's discussions about Wood's misconduct with other police officers. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶ 40-41.) Again, unbeknownst to Klink, Wood recorded their conversation and Klink alleges Wood was in control of the recording device throughout the conversation. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶ 42.) Wood questioned Klink about his conversations with other officers regarding Wood's alleged misconduct and played the recorded conversation between Klink and Benton from the previous day. (D.I. 16-1 at Ex. A at 18-21.)

         Wood told Klink that he must either resign on the spot or he would be put on administrative leave and suspended pending termination. (D.I. 16-1 at Ex. A at 24, 33.) Klink asked to speak with an attorney and his wife. (D.I. 16-1 at Ex. A at 26.) After telling Klink to "[m]ake [his] own decision, " Wood permitted Klink to speak with his wife privately, but only permitted Klink to speak with an attorney in Wood's presence and he intervened on the phone call. (D.I. 16-1 at Ex. A at 32-33.)

         After Klink's phone conversations, Klink continued to express concerns about resigning and requested more time to make a decision. (D.I. 16-1 at Ex. A at 33-34.) Klink was told that his only alternative was to be placed on administrative leave for "telling some of [his] junior officer's things that [Klink] shouldn't be telling them." (D.I. 16-1 at Ex. A at 34.) After engaging in some discussion about Klink's retirement date, Klink resigned. (D.I. 16-1 at Ex. A. at 37.) Klink attempted to get his personal belongings from his office on his way out, but Wood informed him that his computer and building access had already been terminated. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶48.) Wood used his credentials to let Klink into his office and watched as he gathered his belongings while instructing him that his desk was off limits. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶ 49-52.)

         Later that same day, Wood engaged in yet another recorded conversation with Klink-this time over the phone. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶ 54-56.) Wood called Klink to tell him that he would give him two days to decide if Klink wanted to have a hearing instead of proceeding with his resignation. (D.I. 16-1 at Ex. A at 43.) Klink did not opt to rescind his resignation. (D.I. 16-1 at Ex. A at 43.)

         Two weeks later, Klink spoke with an investigator with the Delaware Attorney General's office and corroborated various allegations of Wood's and James' conduct at the Smyrna PD. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶58-59.)

         Klink filed the instant suit alleging violations of his procedural due process rights under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988, and a claim against the Town under Delaware Whistleblowers' Protection Act. (D.I. 16-1 at ¶ 60-65, 66-71.) Defendants argue that they are protected by the doctrine of qualified immunity because Klink voluntarily resigned from his position and, as a result, his complaint should be dismissed. (D.I. 17.)

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The court is to "freely give leave" to parties to amend their pleadings "when justice so requires." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). "Leave to amend must generally be granted unless equitable considerations render it otherwise unjust." Arthur v. Maersk, Inc., 434 F.3d 196, 204 (3d Cir. 2006). Such equitable considerations include the existence or absence of "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, . . . undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of amendment." Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962).

         IV. ...


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