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Kelleher v. City of Reading

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
May 29, 2002
Civil Action No. 01-3386 (E.D. Pa. May. 29, 2002)

Summary

finding employee had no reasonable expectation of privacy in workplace email where the employer's guidelines “explicitly informed employees that there was no such expectation of privacy”

Summary of this case from In re Info. Mgmt. Servs., Inc. Derivative Litig.

Opinion

Civil Action No. 01-3386

May 29, 2002


MEMORANDUM


The instant matter arises on the two separate Motions for Summary Judgment filed by the Defendants. Plaintiff Linda Kelleher, the City Clerk of the City Council of Reading, Pennsylvania, filed this suit against the City of Reading ("City"), Mayor Joseph Eppihimer ("Eppihimer"), the Mayor's assistant Kevin Cramsey ("Cramsey"), and City Councilman Jeffrey Waltman ("Waltman") for a series of allegedly harassing actions taken by the Defendants against her in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights to free speech. Plaintiff brings First Amendment retaliation claims and conspiracy claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. She also brings a claim for invasion of privacy against Defendant Cramsey for allegedly publicizing e-mails and other purportedly private information relating to her suspension by the City Council. Defendant Waltman filed a Motion for Summary Judgment asserting qualified immunity as well as other bases for dismissal or judgment. The remaining Defendants filed a joint Motion for Summary Judgment asserting a variety of grounds for judgment. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants the Motions as to all claims in favor of all Defendants.

I. Legal Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A factual dispute is "material" if it might affect the outcome of the case under governing law. Id.

A party seeking summary judgment always bears the initial responsibility for informing the district court of the basis for its motion and identifying those portions of the record that it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). Where the non-moving party bears the burden of proof on a particular issue at trial, the movant's initial Celotex burden can be met simply by "pointing out to the district court that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party's case." Id. at 325. After the moving party has met its initial burden, "the adverse party's response, by affidavits or otherwise as provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(e). That is, summary judgment is appropriate if the non-moving party fails to rebut by making a factual showing "sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322. Under Rule 56, the Court must view the evidence presented on the motion in the light most favorable to the opposing party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255. "[I]f the opponent [of summary judgment] has exceeded the `mere scintilla' [of evidence] threshold and has offered a genuine issue of material fact, then the court cannot credit the movant's version of events against the opponent, even if the quantity of the movant's evidence far outweighs that of its opponent. Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of North America, Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

II. Discussion

A. Qualified Immunity — Claims Against Defendant Waltman

Defendant Waltman moves for summary judgment on all claims against him on the basis of qualified immunity. Qualified immunity is "an entitlement not to stand trial or face the other burdens of litigation." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 121 S.Ct. 2151, 2156 (2001) (quoting Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). Government officials have qualified immunity from suit under § 1983 so long as "their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 826 (3d Cir. 1997) (quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)). The test is whether reasonable persons in the defendants' position at the relevant time "could have believed, in light of clearly established law, that their conduct comported with established legal standards." Stoneking v. Bradford Area Sch. Dist., 882 F.2d 720, 726 (3d Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1044 (1990). Thus, qualified immunity protects "all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law." Malley v. Briggs, 475 U.S. 335, 341 (1986). The defendant has the burden of pleading and proving qualified immunity. Harlow, 457 U.S. at 815.

When resolving issues of qualified immunity, a court must first determine whether the plaintiff has alleged a deprivation of a constitutional right. Saucier, 121 S.Ct. at 2156; Torres v. McLaughlin, 163 F.3d 169, 172 (3d Cir. 1998) (internal citations omitted). If no constitutional right would have been violated were the allegations established, there is no necessity for further inquiries concerning qualified immunity. Saucier, 121 S.Ct. at 2156. If the court determines that a constitutional violation is viable on a favorable view of the parties' submissions, the court must then ask whether the right was clearly established. Saucier, 121 S.Ct. at 2156. This inquiry must be undertaken in light of the specific context of the case, not as a broad general proposition. Id. Although a right may be clearly established even if there is no prior precedent that is directly on point, "[t]he contours of the right must be sufficiently clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing violates that right." See Saucier, 121 S.Ct. at 2156 (internal quotations omitted); Eddy v. Virgin Islands Water Power Auth., No. 99-3849, 2001 WL 770088, at *2 (3d Cir. July 10, 2001). Accordingly, the relevant inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted.Saucier, 121 S.Ct. at 2156; Eddy, 2001 WL 770088, at *2.

Plaintiff alleges that Waltman spoke to the media and disclosed information relating to her suspension in order to retaliate against her for engaging in conduct that was protected by the First Amendment. Where a plaintiff alleges an unconstitutional subjective intent, she must proffer particularized evidence of direct or circumstantial facts that support the claim of an improper motive in order to avoid summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds. Keating v. Bucks Cty. Water Sewer Auth., Civil Action No. 99-1584, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 18690, at *29 (E.D.Pa. Dec. 29, 2000). "The standard allows an allegedly offending official sufficient protection against baseless and unsubstantiated claims, but stops short of insulating an official whose objectively reasonable acts are besmirched by a prohibited unconstitutional motive."Id. at 30 (citing Sheppard v. Beerman, 94 F.3d 823, 828 (2d Cir. 1996)).

In this case, Plaintiff admits that she has no direct evidence demonstrating that Defendant Waltman disseminated copies of the e-mails to the media, but adduces some circumstantial evidence designed to establish such dissemination. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def. Waltman's Mot. at 6.) It is undisputed that Defendant Waltman spoke to the media in interviews. (Pl.'s Resp. to Def. Waltman's Mot. Ex. 3 at 6-8.) Plaintiff also presents evidence that Waltman advocated Plaintiff's termination. (Def. Waltman's Ex. A. at 68.)

Absent, however, is any evidence showing any connection between Plaintiff's alleged constitutionally protected speech and any actions taken by this Defendant. In the context of qualified immunity analysis, Plaintiff has failed to provide any evidence of an improper motive by Defendant Waltman for any of the actions taken. Although Plaintiff alleges in her Complaint that the motive was to retaliate for speech in which she engaged, none of the evidence has the tendency to prove such a motive either directly or circumstantially. Plaintiff has likewise adduced no evidence demonstrating that Waltman conspired with the other Defendants for the purpose of retaliating against her for exercising her free speech rights. With no evidentiary connection whatsoever between any actions that might have been taken by this Defendant and Plaintiff's First Amendment free speech rights, reasonable persons in the Defendant's position at the relevant time "could have believed, in light of clearly established law, that [his] conduct comported with established legal standards." See Stoneking v. Bradford Area Sch. Dist., 882 F.2d 720, 726 (3d Cir. 1989), cert. denied, 493 U.S. 1044 (1990). Accordingly, Defendant Waltman is entitled to qualified immunity. The Court dismisses all claims against him.

Because this part of the qualified immunity inquiry is based on the pleadings rather than evidence in the record, the Court has considered the possible connection between Plaintiff's alleged conduct relating to the Reading Water Authority and the televised debate. As indicated below, infra, Plaintiff has failed to establish that she engaged in the alleged conduct that serves as the basis for the alleged retaliation.

B. First Amendment Retaliation Claim

Count 1 brings a retaliation claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Reading and each of the individual Defendants in their official capacities. Count 2 brings the same retaliation claim against the Defendants in their individual capacities.

Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants violated her constitutional rights by retaliating against her for exercising her First Amendment right to free speech. Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants engaged in a campaign of harassment as a result of certain conduct and speech which they thought she engaged in.

The First Amendment protects public employees from retaliation by their employer. Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a public employee may sue to enforce that protection if: (1) she spoke on a matter of public concern; (2) her interest in that field outweighed the government's concern with the effective and efficient fulfillment of its responsibilities to the public; (3) the speech caused the retaliation; and (4) the retaliatory action would not have occurred but for the speech. Green v. Philadelphia Housing Auth., 105 F.3d 882, 885 (3d Cir. 1997).

The Court determines that Plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact to sustain her claim of First Amendment retaliation. Plaintiff has failed to adduce evidence that she engaged in speech or conduct that is protected by the First Amendment. Furthermore, even if Plaintiff could establish that she engaged in such speech or conduct, she has failed to establish that the conduct was the substantial motivating factor behind the allegedly retaliatory actions taken by the Defendants.

1. Protected Speech

In order to be considered protected speech under the First Amendment, the speech or activity engaged in must address a matter of public concern. Azzaro v. County of Allegheny, 110 F.3d 968, 976 (3d Cir. 1997). Speech addresses a matter of public concern when it relates "to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community." Id. at 977. However, regardless of the subject of the alleged speech, a plaintiff must actually engage in the type of conduct protected from retaliation under the First Amendment. Fogarty v. Boles, 121 F.3d 886, 887-88 (3d Cir. 1997) (dismissing retaliation claim based on allegation the employer believed plaintiff engaged in the protected conduct where plaintiff denied actually speaking to the press about the matter). A retaliation claim cannot be based on speech or conduct if the defendant erroneously believed that the plaintiff engaged in such speech or conduct. Id.; Barkoo v. Melby, 901 F.2d 613, 619 (7th Cir. 1990) ("[Plaintiff] provides no authority for the proposition that her free speech rights are deprived in violation of § 1983 when the speech at issue admittedly never occurred.")

"A public employee's speech involves a matter of public concern if it can `be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social or other concern to the community.'" Green, 105 F.3d at 885-86 (quoting Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 146 (1983)). In this respect, we focus on the content, form, and context of the activity in question.Connick, 461 U.S. at 147-48; Watters v. City of Phila., 55 F.3d 886, 892 (3d Cir. 1995). Speech in a form that is not deemed a matter of public concern in one context does not become a matter of public concern simply because it could be deemed protected in a different context. See Connick, 461 U.S. at 148 n. 8.

Here, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants retaliated against her because of their perception that she engaged in speech or conduct relating to two public issues: the municipal trash collection referendum and the proposal to abolish the Reading Area Water Authority ("Authority"). She alleges that this speech and conduct was protected by the First Amendment. The primary incident occurred in 1998, and related to Plaintiff's role in organizing and overseeing a televised debate on the trash collection referendum. (Compl. ¶ 22; Defs.' Ex. F ("Kelleher Dep.") at 88, 90-91.) Plaintiff testified in her deposition that her role in the debate was helping to secure a debate representative for each side and establishing rules regarding the format of the debate. (Kelleher Dep. at 88.) Kelleher testified that while she was involved in screening calls to put on the air, she only screened the calls to ensure the remarks related to the debate topic, and not to determine which side the caller intended to support. (Id. at 89-90.) She testified that after the debate, she perceived that Eppihimer was upset with her "because of the way the programming went." (Id. at 92.) Plaintiff did not appear on the debate or speak to the Defendants on the issue at that time.

In light of Plaintiff's own testimony regarding the limited nature of her activities in connection with the debate, and her testimony that she did not engage in the specific conduct that purportedly motivated the Defendants to retaliate against her, Plaintiff's showing is insufficient to establish that she engaged in conduct that is protected by the First Amendment. For example, even if Plaintiff could show at trial that Eppihimer became upset with her because he perceived that she barred callers from speaking against the municipal trash collection referendum, Plaintiff's own deposition testimony that she did not engage in such activity means that any actions taken on his part in retaliation for such conduct would be based on a mistaken belief as to what Plaintiff had done. Even if such conduct were protected, the fact that Plaintiff did not actually engage in such conduct means that the televised debate incident cannot be the basis for Plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim. See Barkoo, 901 F.2d at 619.

Because the Court determines that the Plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to whether she engaged in the purportedly protected activity, it need not consider the legal question of whether such conduct would be protected by the First Amendment.

Plaintiff further testified in her deposition that she spoke on the subject of municipal trash collection when she objectively told Eppihimer the "pros and cons" of adopting such a plan. (Pl.'s Resp. to Defs.' Mot. Ex. 1 ("Kelleher Verification") ¶ 23.) This speech, however, is not alleged in the Complaint, and therefore is not part of Plaintiff's retaliation claim here. Furthermore, Plaintiff fails to identify the specifics of that speech, such as the time and place at which it took place or the circumstances in which the speech was given. Even had Plaintiff included an allegation that she engaged in such speech, Plaintiff has provided insufficient evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether she engaged in speech that was protected.

Plaintiff's evidence is similarly insufficient concerning the other alleged incident. Plaintiff alleges that in 1997, Eppihimer, then a Councilman, asked her to draft an ordinance to abolish the Authority. (Compl. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff alleges that she researched the issue and learned that abolishing the Authority would, among other things, place restrictions on the City's sale of water to outlying communities and force the City to assume the Authority's bond debt. (Id. ¶ 14.) When Plaintiff informed Eppihimer of these facts, he "began yelling at her, and saying that she was against him and he would have her fired." (Id. ¶ 15.) Plaintiff's retaliation claim, with respect to this incident, is based on the Defendant's perception that she was speaking against his position on the abolition of the Authority.

Kelleher testified in her deposition, however, that she made no such recommendation or criticism regarding the merits of Eppihimer's proposal to abolish the Authority. (Kelleher Dep. at 53-54.) Plaintiff admits that she did not have an opinion as to whether the authority should be abolished. (Id.) She denies that she did anything other than objectively relay the results of her research to Eppihimer. (Id.) Because Plaintiff denies having engaged in the speech that forms the alleged basis of Defendants' alleged retaliatory motive, that speech cannot form the basis of her retaliation claim.

2. Nexus Between Alleged Retaliation and Speech

Furthermore, even if Plaintiff could establish that she engaged in protected speech and conduct, she has failed to establish a connection between that speech and conduct and the allegedly retaliatory conduct by the Defendants. A plaintiff must show that her protected activity was a substantial or motivating factor in the actions alleged to be retaliatory. Anderson v. Davila, 125 F.3d 148, 161 (3d Cir. 1997). Even assuming that Plaintiff engaged in protected activity, Plaintiff has failed to meet her burden to show that the protected activity was a substantial or motivating factor in the alleged retaliatory actions.

In this case, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants engaged in a campaign of harassment that included a host of different retaliatory actions: (a) Plaintiff's one-week suspension; (b) Plaintiff's lock-out from City Hall during her suspension; (c) the retrieval and reading of Plaintiff's e-mails; (d) dissemination of her e-mail messages to the media; (e) dissemination of the ethics complaint to the media; (f) public comments regarding Plaintiff's suspension; (g) refusal to issue Plaintiff a parking permit; (h) refusal to pay Plaintiff additional salary allotted by the City Council; and (i) initiation of rumors of Plaintiff's extramarital affairs.

Because the Court determines that Plaintiff has failed to establish a genuine issue of material fact with respect to there being a retaliatory motive, it is unnecessary to examine in detail the evidence that such retaliation took place at the hands of the Defendants. The Court notes, however, that in several respects, Plaintiff's evidentiary showing is insufficient to establish genuine issues of material fact.
For example, Plaintiff points to no admissible evidence that she was actually locked out of either the building (after hours) or the computer system during the relevant period. Although Plaintiff testified in her deposition that Councilman Waltman ordered her to be locked out of City Hall and the computer system, and that Eppihimer did so, (Kelleher Dep. at 282-88), Plaintiff admits that she had no personal knowledge of Mr. Waltman having told Defendant Eppihimer to lock Plaintiff out of City Hall. (Kelleher Dep. at 288.)
Similarly, Plaintiff provides no admissible evidence that Defendants actually disseminated the e-mails.[7]
[7] Plaintiff also claims that it is "undisputed" that Defendant Cramsey allowed television stations to photocopy the Mayor's ethics complaint against the Plaintiff. " — '" ¶ "' '" — -' " "' — ' — """§"""" — ' ' —[8]
[8] The fact that Plaintiff may not have been explicitly warned aside from the written notice of procedures that her e-mail could be monitored is of no consequence. — '""'"" — ""' ' — '

Examining the evidence in the record, however, the Court can identify no admissible evidence that draws a connection between Plaintiff's alleged speech and conduct in 1997 and 1998, and the alleged retaliatory actions that form the "campaign of harassment." None of the deposition testimony or the documentary evidence establishes such a connection. Plaintiff argues that this connection can be inferred from the series of retaliatory actions themselves; however, this kind of circular reasoning simply underscores the fact that there is no genuine issue of material fact with respect to a nexus between the protected conduct and the retaliation. In the absence of some other type of evidence, this inference is not one that can be supported solely by the alleged "retaliatory campaign." This is particularly true in light of Plaintiff's failure even to adduce evidence to support that all of the actions took place.

Plaintiff does point to statements that tend to indicate Eppihimer's desire to see Plaintiff terminated as the City Clerk. (Kelleher Dep. at 84.) However, these statements, even if admissible, are insufficiently connected to Plaintiff's speech in 1997 and 1998. Moreover, the statements are an insufficient basis upon which to infer that Defendants engaged in particular activities for the purpose of retaliating against her.

Moreover, the large gap in time between the allegedly protected speech (in 1997 and 1998) and the alleged retaliatory activities (in 2000 and later) cuts against Plaintiff's position that the Defendants' actions were motivated by a retaliatory motive. Temporal proximity between the protected activity and the allegedly retaliatory action is a factor to consider in retaliation cases. See Grimm v. Borough of Norristown, No. 01-CV-431, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 3954, at *83 (E.D.Pa. Mar. 11, 2002) (citing Farrell v. Planters Lifesavers Co., 206 F.3d 271, 279-80 (3d Cir. 2000) (noting that temporal proximity has probative value in retaliation cases, but that other evidence suggesting a causal connection between protected activity and allegedly retaliatory action may be considered)); Krouse v. American Sterilizer Co., 126 F.3d 494, 503 (3d Cir. 1997) (noting that if timing alone could ever be sufficient to establish a causal link, the timing of the alleged retaliatory action must be "unusually suggestive" of retaliatory motive); see generally Russoli v. Salisbury Twp., 126 F. Supp.2d 821, 855 (E.D.Pa. 2000).

The only exception is that the alleged spreading of rumors took place closer in time to Plaintiff's allegedly protected speech. However, Plaintiff has adduced no admissible evidence that either individual Defendant was responsible for spreading any such rumors. Plaintiff states that "I believe that Mr. Eppihimer was responsible for these rumors [of extramarital affairs] because a variety of people told me that they heard that he was spreading the rumors." (Kelleher Verification ¶ 13.) Plaintiff also discusses at length in her deposition the various rumors. (Kelleher Dep. at 58-77.) However, Plaintiff provides no testimony from any of the individuals that allegedly heard Mr. Eppihimer make such statements or otherwise had personal knowledge that he spread the rumors. Plaintiff has likewise provided insufficient evidence upon which to infer that Eppihimer was responsible for starting them. Accordingly, the Court has not considered the rumors as part of Plaintiff's contention that there was a retaliatory motive behind the alleged "campaign of harassment."

Accordingly, judgment on the retaliation claims is granted in favor of the City of Reading and the individual Defendants in their official and individual capacities.

C. Conspiracy Claims

Count 3 brings a conspiracy claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of Reading and the individual Defendants in their official capacities. Count 4 brings the same conspiracy claim against the individual Defendants in their individual capacities.

Plaintiff also alleges that the Defendants conspired to violate her First Amendment rights. To demonstrate a conspiracy under § 1983, a plaintiff must show: (1) there was a single plan, the essential nature and general scope of which [was] known to each person who is to be held responsible for its consequences; (2) the purpose of the plan was to violate a constitutional right of the plaintiff; (3) an overt act resulted in an actual deprivation of the plaintiff's constitutional rights; and (4) the constitutional violation was the result of an official custom or policy of the municipality. Sieger v. Township of Tinicum, Civ.A. No. 89-5236, 1990 WL 10349, at *2 (E.D.Pa. Feb. 6, 1990).

As discussed above, Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate the deprivation of a constitutional right, because she has failed to demonstrate retaliation under the First Amendment. Accordingly, her conspiracy claims fail, and Defendants are entitled to judgment on those claims.

D. Invasion of Privacy Claim

Plaintiff's final count is a claim for invasion of privacy against Defendant Cramsey in his individual capacity. Pennsylvania law provides four theories on which a claim of invasion of privacy can be based: (1) intrusion upon seclusion; (2) appropriation of name and likeness; (3) publicity given to private life; and (4) publicity placing a person in false light. Smith, 112 F. Supp.2d at 434. Plaintiff's claim proceeds on the "intrusion upon seclusion" and "publicity given to private life" theories. For the reasons that follow, the Court determines that Defendant is entitled to judgment on this Count.

The Pennsylvania courts have adopted section 652B of the Restatement (Second) of Torts which provides:

One who intentionally intrudes, physically or otherwise, upon the solitude or seclusion of another or his private affairs or concerns, is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the intrusion would be highly offensive to a reasonable person.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652B (1976); Harris v. Easton Publ'g Co., 483 A.2d 1377, 1383 (Pa.Super.Ct. 1984). The invasion may take various forms including: (a) physical intrusion into a place where the plaintiff has secluded herself; (2) use of the defendant's senses to oversee or overhear the plaintiff's private affairs; or (3) some other form of investigation into plaintiff's private concerns. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652B cmt. b (1976); Harris, 483 A.2d at 1383. Defendant is subject to liability under this section only when he has intruded into a private place, or has otherwise invaded a private seclusion that the plaintiff has thrown about her person or affairs. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652B cmt. c (1976). There is no liability unless the interference with the plaintiff's seclusion is both substantial and highly offensive to the ordinary reasonable person. Id. cmt. d; Borse v. Piece Goods Shop, Inc., 963 F.2d 611, 621 (3d Cir. 1992).

Defendant first contends that Plaintiff had no expectation of privacy with respect to her e-mail communications. Some courts have held that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in e-mail communications.See Smyth v. Pillsbury Co., 914 F. Supp. 97, 101 (E.D.Pa. 1996) ("[U]nlike urinalysis and personal property searches, we do not find a reasonable expectation of privacy in e-mail communications voluntarily made by an employee to his supervisor over the company e-mail system notwithstanding any assurances that such communications would not be intercepted by management."); see also Commonwealth v. Proetto, 771 A.2d 823, 827, 830-31 (Pa.Super.Ct. 2001) (rejecting criminal defendant's challenge under the Fourth Amendment that e-mail evidence used against him at trial was improper). Smyth and Proetto do not necessarily foreclose the possibility that an employee might have a reasonable expectation of privacy in certain e-mail communications, depending upon the circumstances of the communication and the configuration of the e-mail system. See, e.g., McLaren v. Microsoft Corp., No. 05-97-00824-CV, 1999 Tex. App. LEXIS 4103, at *10-12 (Tex.Ct.App. May 28, 1999) (examining the configuration of the company e-mail system to determine if there was an expectation of privacy).

In this case, however, the uncontroverted evidence demonstrates that Plaintiff did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to her e-mail. The City's Guidelines regarding the expectation of privacy of e-mail messages, which are uncontroverted, explicitly informed employees that there was no such expectation of privacy:

Messages that are created, sent, or received using the City's e-mail system are the property of the City of Reading. The City reserves the right to access and disclose the contents of all messages created, sent, or received using the e-mail system. The E-mail system is strictly for official City of Reading messaging.

(Defs.' Ex. T ("Guidelines")). Plaintiff signed an acknowledgment that she had received and read the Guidelines on September 16, 1999. (Id.; Kelleher Dep. at 431-33.) Although Plaintiff contends that other employees were not subject to such review, she adduces no evidence to support her allegations, and, in fact, Defendant presents evidence, again uncontroverted, of at least one other instance in which an employee had his e-mail communications monitored and reviewed. (Defs.' Ex. C ("Tangredi Dep.") at 131-32.) It is clear from the undisputed evidence in the record that there is no genuine issue of material fact, and that the Plaintiff clearly lacked a reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to her e-mail communications on the City of Reading's e-mail system. See Smyth, 914 F. Supp. at 101.

Aside from the e-mail communications, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant "disseminated information about the executive session in which it was decided to suspend her without pay for one week; and/or disseminated information about the Ethics Complaint which had been lodged against her." (Compl. ¶ 109.) Whether these allegations are sufficient to support the intrusion upon seclusion claim depends on whether Plaintiff had a reasonable expectation of privacy in this information. Plaintiff alleges that the information involved was not part of the public record, and that she therefore had a reasonable expectation of privacy in this information. However, Plaintiff adduces no evidence to support her contention that she had a reasonable expectation of privacy in this information. Although she testified in her deposition that Mayor Eppihimer had previously said that the reasons that he fired an employee were confidential, such evidence does not tend to demonstrate that her being disciplined by a different body — here, the City Council — is similarly confidential.

If, for example, this information was deemed to be part of the public record, then there could be no intrusion upon seclusion for publicizing the information. Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652B cmt. c.

Similarly, Plaintiff's privacy claim fails under the publicity of private life theory. Section 652D of the Restatement (Second) of Torts states:

One who gives publicity to a matter concerning the private life of another is subject to liability to the other for invasion of his privacy, if the matter published is of a kind that (a) would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (b) is not of legitimate concern to the public.

Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652D; Harris, 483 A.2d at 1384. To state a cause of action, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant (1) publicized (2) private facts (3) that would be highly offensive to a reasonable person, and (4) are not of legitimate concern to the public.Id. The publicity element requires that the matter be communicated "to the public at large, or to so many persons that the matter must be regarded as substantially certain to become one of public knowledge."Kryeski v. Schott Glass Techs., Inc., 626 A.2d 595, 601 (Pa.Super.Ct. 1993) (quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 625E (1976)); Harris, 483 A.2d at 1384. Disclosure of information to only a small number of people is insufficient to constitute publicity. See Kryeski, 626 A.2d at 602 (disclosure to two people is insufficient); Harris, 483 A.2d at 1384 (disclosure to one person is insufficient).

To determine if facts are "private facts," the line is drawn "when the publicity ceases to be the giving of information to which the public is entitled, and becomes a morbid and sensational prying into private lives for its own sake, with which a reasonable member of the public, with decent standards, would say that he had no concern. The limitations, in other words, are those of common decency . . . ." Restatement (Second) of Torts § 652D cmt. h.

In this case, Plaintiff adduces no evidence demonstrating that the fact of her suspension by the City Council constitutes private information, the publication of which would offend standards of decency. Plaintiff has cited no evidence demonstrating that she had any expectation of privacy in this information, which related to her professional conduct in the course of her job as the clerk for the City Council.

Furthermore, even if Plaintiff did adduce evidence establishing that she had a privacy right in the fact of her being suspended by the City Council, or that the fact of her suspension constituted private facts the disclosure of which would represent an intrusion into her private life, she has adduced no evidence that Defendant Cramsey, the only Defendant remaining in this Count, took any action to publicize or distribute the information. Plaintiff's only evidence is testimony from her deposition that Cramsey spent a great deal of time with Mayor Eppihimer. Such evidence is insufficient to support an inference that proves Plaintiff's position.

For these reasons, the Court grants judgment in favor of Defendant Cramsey as to the invasion of privacy claims.

III. Conclusion

For all of the above reasons, the Court grants Defendant Waltman's Motion for Summary Judgment and Defendants City of Reading, Joseph Eppihimer, and Kevin Cramsey's Motion for Summary Judgment. The claims against Defendant Waltman are dismissed under the doctrine of qualified immunity. Judgment is entered in favor of the remaining Defendants on all of the remaining claims.

An appropriate Order follows.

ORDER AND NOW, this day of May, 2002, upon consideration of Defendants' Unopposed Motion to File Reply Brief (Doc. No. 26), IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said Motion is GRANTED and the Reply Brief is filed herewith. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that:

1. Upon consideration of Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 28), and the response thereto, said Motion is GRANTED and the Response is considered AMENDED as specified by Plaintiff.

2. Upon consideration of Defendant Jeffrey Waltman's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 16), and all responsive and supporting briefing, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said Motion is GRANTED. All claims against said Defendant are DISMISSED under the doctrine of qualified immunity.

3. Upon consideration of Defendants City of Reading, Joseph D. Eppihimer, and Kevin Cramsey's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 21), and all responsive and supporting briefing, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that said Motion is GRANTED. Judgment is ENTERED in favor of said Defendants on all remaining counts.


Summaries of

Kelleher v. City of Reading

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
May 29, 2002
Civil Action No. 01-3386 (E.D. Pa. May. 29, 2002)

finding employee had no reasonable expectation of privacy in workplace email where the employer's guidelines “explicitly informed employees that there was no such expectation of privacy”

Summary of this case from In re Info. Mgmt. Servs., Inc. Derivative Litig.
Case details for

Kelleher v. City of Reading

Case Details

Full title:LINDA KELLEHER v. CITY OF READING, ET AL

Court:United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

Date published: May 29, 2002

Citations

Civil Action No. 01-3386 (E.D. Pa. May. 29, 2002)

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