WILLIAMSPORT, Pa. (CN) – A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that claims a county clerk was fired because of a grudge match with a county commissioner who once allegedly threatened: “I can take care of you for ten cents. That’s the cost of a bullet.”
Kymberley Best, who also had been assistant solicitor in Northumberland County, said Commissioner Vinny Clausi made the bullet comment as he “stood over” her and screamed that she was late to work.
Five months later, Best “was forced to retreat from her own office” because Clausi was “intimidating” her and refused to leave, according to the complaint she filed in May. At a public meeting the following week, Best allegedly proposed adoption of a county code of civility for commissioners.
Clausi targeted her because she had complained about unsafe air quality and other alleged defects at the local courthouse, the complaint states.
Best claims Clausi left her a voicemail in which he called her a “witch” who was going to bankrupt the county because she reported a “serious probability” that the courthouse’s glass dome would collapse.
Then Clausi allegedly told the media that Best should resign and that he would seek her termination.
In the vote by county commissioners to fire her, they cited allegedly poor legal advice as the basis for termination, according to the complaint.
Chief U.S. District Judge Yvette Kane dismissed the complaint last week after finding that Best’s alleged speech could not support a First Amendment retaliation claim.
Best also failed to explain how the civility code proposal involved a matter of public concern, which is a necessary component to a First Amendment claim.
The proposed code appears to be related to “internal county operations and private grievances,” and Best’s suit is “devoid of any explanation of what the code of civility entails,” the Nov. 30 decision states.
“Accordingly, the court finds that plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts in her complaint to support an inference that her speech related to a matter of public concern, and thus plaintiff fails to state a claim for First Amendment retaliation,” Kane wrote.
Best also failed to show that she suffered the necessary stigma to allege a 14th Amendment claim for reputational harm, the court ruled.
“Defendant Clausi did in fact seek plaintiff’s termination when he voted to terminate her, thus the statements cannot be said to be false,” Kane wrote.
“Further, the statement citing poor legal advice as one of the bases for termination concerns only plaintiff’s competency and job performance, and is not the type of statement that calls into question plaintiff’s good name or integrity,” nor does it significantly impede continued practice of her chosen profession, the 14-page ruling states.
Kane also dismissed a constitutional conspiracy claim, finding that Best failed to prove that Clausi and co-defendant Commissioner Merle Phillips had acted under a unified plan to violate Best’s civil rights.
Best’s claim under the Equal Pay Act was summarily dismissed as well, with Kane calling it a mere “bald assertion that she was paid a lower wage than members of the opposite sex performing equal work, without specifying the work performed, or the wage earned.”
Kane gave Best 20 days to file an amended suit.