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Lansford sues two for 'malicious' federal actions

Published August 02. 2011 05:01PM

The Borough of Lansford has filed two civil complaints in Carbon County court alleging two individuals filed federal lawsuits against the borough that were "purely malicious" and brought "to retaliate" for actions by the borough.

The two actions were filed against Dwight A. Penberth Jr., of 609 E. Patterson St., Lansford, and former Police Chief James Strauss, of 46 W. Seventh St., Jim Thorpe.

On both actions the borough is seeking damages against the defendants in excess of $25,000 plus costs and fees for the monies spent to defend the illegal actions.

Penberth action

In the action against Penberth the suit states that the defendant purchased from the borough a used police vehicle, a 1995 Chevrolet Caprice, for $555. The purchase was made in or around April 12, 2005.

The suit states the defendant knew that various police equipment on the vehicle were to be removed prior to taking possession. The suit states at the requests of the defendants' father, Dwight A. Penberth Sr., then a borough councilman, the title to the car was transferred to the defendant and he took possession of it.

The police equipment was never removed and turned over to the borough despite numerous requests for it.

As a result of not responding to the requests to turn over the equipment in question the borough police department filed criminal charges against Penberth. The suit states at the time of the preliminary hearing in the matter the criminal charges were resolved with the defendant agreeing to produce the vehicle to have the police equipment removed.

On May 19, 2006, Penberth filed a federal civil rights action against the borough in which he alleged that the borough filed false criminal charges against him causing him damage to his "reputation, anxiety and distress."

On Feb. 21, 2008, Magistrate Judge Thomas Blewitt granted the borough's motion for summary judgment on the federal suit. Further, the federal court found that the charges filed against Penberth by the borough police were supported by probable cause and that there was "no deprivation of any liberty rights of defendant."

The suit alleges that Penberth initiated the federal complaint in a "grossly negligent manner or without probable cause." The suit states the complaint was dismissed by the federal court and Penberth's appeal of that decision to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals was denied in October 2009.

The suit states the borough incurred expenses for the defense of the claim brought by Penberth and is entitled to recover those expenses according to statute.

Strauss action

In the complaint against Strauss the suit states the defendant resigned as police chief on June 2, 2008, after serving in the position since Aug. 24, 2001.

On Aug. 27, 2009, Strauss started a federal civil rights action against the borough alleging he was deprived his "Due Process Rights" to continue as police chief and further alleged he was forced to give up the position.

Strauss further claimed the borough engaged in "slander and libel" against him and caused him to suffer "emotional distress."

On March 23, 2010, Federal Judge James M. Munley granted the borough's motion for summary judgment. The federal court found, "that at no time did defendant raise a material issue of fact as to whether his resignation was procured by coercion or fraud."

The county suit seeks damages for expenses incurred by the borough in defending itself in the suit. The borough alleges in its action that Strauss's federal suit was "purely malicious and brought to retaliate for the non-renewal of his contract by the then borough council."

Alleged in both matters is "Wrongful Use of Civil Proceedings".

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