Court Dismisses Pennsylvania Firefighter’s Conspiracy Suit

A contentious lawsuit brought by a former member of the Latrobe Volunteer Fire Department, has been dismissed by the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Robert S. Forish sued the fire department, the fire chief, the fire company president, and a county police detective claiming they conspired to pursue criminal charges against him in 2021 without probable cause and in retaliation for his exercise of his free speech rights.

We covered the filing of Forish’s case previously, including coverage of the incidents that precipitated the flurry of litigation. The court reviewed those facts as follows:

  • Forish, a Latrobe City Council member, is a former volunteer fireman in the LVFD. He began serving as a volunteer fireman in 1997.
  • Hose Company No. 1 is one of five volunteer fire companies comprising the LVFD, and Forish was a member and the treasurer of Hose Company No. 1.
  • At the time of events at issue, Brasile was the LVFD fire chief, and McDowell was the president of the LVFD.
  • Forish alleges that:
    • In at a city council meeting on or about December 2019, Plaintiff Forish also advised Mayor Wolford and Latrobe City Council of Defendant Brasile’s history of aggressive and unlawful retaliation against members of the Latrobe Volunteer Fire Department who exercise their First Amendment rights to citizen speech about matters of public concern, and who report in good faith Brasile’s instances of civil and criminal wrongdoing, fraud, waste, and corruption in his official capacity as Fire Chief, and warned and requested Mayor Wolford and Latrobe City Council to “rein him in,” including imposing greater training, supervision, and discipline immediately upon Defendant Brasile and other high ranking Defendant Fire Department managerial personnel, including Defendant McDowell, in order to prevent further violations of the Constitutional and federal civil rights of its volunteer firefighters, as well as imminent halm to the citizens and property of Defendant City.
  • After five volunteer firefighters were expelled, Forish alleges that a quorum of Hose Company No. 1 members voted on January 9, 2021, to provide legal assistance to the expelled firefighters and he co-signed three checks to legal counsel in his capacity as treasurer. Furthermore, in his capacity as Hose Company No. 1’s elected representative to the Board of Appeals, he attempted to ascertain whether an appeal hearing had been scheduled for the expelled firefighters.
  • According to Forish, he learned on April 7, 2021, from the President of Hose Company No. 1 and the Fireman’s Club, Charles “Chazzy” Nindle, Jr., that “Defendants Brasile and LVFD were taking steps to retaliate against him for [his] role in dispensing Hose Company No. 1 funds to legal counsel….”
  • Several days later, Forish was suspended by letter from the Acting Secretary of Hose Company No. 1 from any and all activities within the company. Forish was directed to turn over all property, including paperwork related to his role as treasurer.
  • Forish contends that Brasile and McDowell manipulated evidence (including the minutes from the January 9, 2021, monthly meeting) to secure the filing of criminal charges against him for allegedly misappropriating $21,000.00.
  • On July 20, 2021, Gardner, a detective with the Westmoreland County District Attorney’s Office, filed misdemeanor and felony charges against Forish.
  • The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania withdrew the charges on December 20, 2021, and an interpleader action commenced in the Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County at Case No. 281 of 2022 as to whether the payments were legally authorized by Hose Company No. 1.
  • The interpleader action was resolved in Forish’s favor.
  • Charles Nindle (President), Dan Woods (Vice President), and Kevin Gray (2nd Vice President) of Hose Company No. 1, expelled Forish from Goodwill Hose Company No. 1 effective September 3, 2022, on the grounds that, “[y]ou knowingly signed for 3 checks for the representation of nonmembers to pay attorney fees.”

Forish sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging retaliation for exercising his rights to free speech, peaceably assemble, petitioning government for a redress of his grievances; violation of his due process rights; conspiracy; and state law tort claims of malicious prosecution, abuse of process, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and defamation.

Judge William S. Stickman IV granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss all of Forish’s claims. The federal claims were dismissed with prejudice, with Judge Stickman concluding it would be futile for Forish to file an amended complaint. Forish’s state law claims were dismissed without prejudice, allowing him to refile the case in state could f he should choose.

Here is a copy of the decision.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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