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Metzgar v. State of Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control

United States District Court, D. Delaware

July 9, 2019

ROBERT METZGAR III, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONTROL, an agency of the State of Delaware, SHAWN M. GARVIN, Secretary of DNREC, in his official capacity, DAVID SMALL, former Secretary of DNREC, in his official capacity, CHIEF DREW T. AYDELOTTE, in his individual and official capacities, and CAPTAIN BRIAN POLLOCK, in his individual and official capacities, Defendants.

          Michele D. Allen, ALLEN & ASSOCIATES, Wilmington, Delaware Counsel for P plaintiff.

          Ralph K. Durstein, III, Wilson B. Davis, STATE OF DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE, Wilmington, Delaware Counsel for Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CONNOLLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Robert Metzgar III has sued five defendants for alleged violations of his right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution: the State of Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control ("DNREC"); Shawn M. Garvin, the Secretary of DNREC; Garvin's predecessor, David Small; Drew T. Aydelotte, the Chief of DNREC's Division of Fish & Wildlife Natural Resources Police Department ("the FWPD"); and Brian Pollock, a Captain with the FWPD. Pending before me is Defendants' motion to dismiss all four counts of the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See D.I. 4. For the reasons discussed below, I will grant the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND[1]

         Plaintiff began his employment with DNREC as an FWPD probationary officer in February 2016. D.I. l-l¶ll. On an unspecified date around 10:00 a.m., while Plaintiff was off-duty, he received a text message from FWPD Corporal Shea Lindale regarding his work schedule. Id. ¶¶ 22-23. Plaintiff "did not respond to the text message because he was off and was sleeping." Id. ¶ 23. Plaintiff contacted Corporal Lindale "when he woke up." Id. ¶ 24. Because he "was embarrassed he was still asleep at such a late hour[, ] [w]hen asked [by Corporal Lindale] if he was sleeping[, ] [Plaintiff] said no, he was standing in his deer stand." Id.

         In December 2016, Captain Pollock, who served as Plaintiffs Field Training Officer, questioned Plaintiff "regarding his conversation with [Corporal] Lindale during [Plaintiffs] day off and whether or not he was truly in his deer stand that morning or if he was just asleep." Id. ¶¶ 25, 27. Captain Pollock did not provide Plaintiff with notice that he was conducting an investigation prior to his questioning of Plaintiff; nor did he advise Plaintiff of his right to be represented by counsel during this questioning. Id. ¶ 26. Pollack later called Plaintiff while Plaintiff was off-duty and told him that their conversation would be "completely off the record." Id. ¶ 28. Pollock again asked Plaintiff if he had truly been in his deer stand, or if he had been sleeping. Id. "Plaintiff admitted to [Pollock] that he had been sleeping on his day off." Id.

         Shortly thereafter, Captain Pollock and Chief Aydelotte met with Plaintiff and told him he was being terminated from his probationary employment. Id. ¶ 33. Aydelotte "handed [Plaintiff] a letter stating the reasons for his termination were related to truthfulness." Id. The questioning conducted by Pollock and the answers provided by Plaintiff directly led to his dismissal. Id. ¶ 34. Plaintiff was not provided a hearing concerning the termination of his probationary employment. Id. ¶ 36.

         On July 11, 2018, Plaintiff filed his complaint against Defendants in the Superior Court of Delaware. See D.I. 1 at 1. On August 24, 2018, Defendants removed the case to this Court. See Id. at 2.

         Plaintiffs complaint has four counts. Count I, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against all five Defendants, alleges that Plaintiffs termination without a hearing and other protections to which he was entitled under the Delaware Law Enforcement Officers Bill of Rights (DELEBOR), 11 Del. C. § 9200 et seq., deprived him of a property interest without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Count II, also brought against all five Defendants, alleges that Plaintiffs termination without a "name-clearing hearing" deprived him of the liberty interest in his reputation without due process in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Although Plaintiff did not cite a statutory or common law basis for Count II, Defendants have treated Count II as a § 1983 claim, and therefore, the Court will do the same. Count III, brought pursuant to § 1983 against DNREC only, alleges that DNREC's custom and policy of not providing its probationary officers a pre-termination hearing required by the DELEBOR violated Plaintiffs Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. Count IV, brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 57, seeks a declaratory judgment that Defendants violated Plaintiffs Fourteenth Amendment rights and injunctive relief in the form of Plaintiff s reinstatement as a probationary officer and the removal of "any statements made by Plaintiff [that] were obtained in violation of [the DELEBOR]." D.L 1-1 ¶71.[2]

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         To state a claim upon which relief can be granted, a complaint must contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but the complaint must set forth sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is facially plausible when the factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. Ashcrofi v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Umland, 542 F.3d at 64. Further, "[i]n deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must consider only the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint, matters of public record, as well as undisputedly authentic documents if the complaint's claims are based upon these documents." Mayer v. Belichick, 605 F.3d 223, 230 (3d Cir. 2010); see also Krauter v. Siemens Corp., 725 Fed.Appx. 102, 109 (3d Cir. 2018) ("Although we draw reasonable inferences in [plaintiffs] favor, we do not interpolate allegations that are not in the complaint.")

         III. discussion

         A. Plaintiffs Property-Interest Fourteenth ...


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