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SMITH v. CENTRAL DAUPHIN SCHOOL DISTRICT

September 23, 2005.

VICKIE SMITH, Plaintiff
v.
CENTRAL DAUPHIN SCHOOL DISTRICT, BARBARA HASSON, YVONNE HOLLINS, and RICHARD MAZZATESTA, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SYLVIA RAMBO, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM

Before the court is Defendants' motion to dismiss. (Doc. 7.) The parties have briefed the issues, and the matter is ripe for disposition. For the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion will be Granted in part and Denied in part.

I. Background

  Plaintiff Vickie Smith is a teacher in the Central Dauphin School District ("School District"). (Am. Compl. ¶ 1.) In 2001, Plaintiff began to experience health problems. (Id. ¶ 9.) During the course of investigating the cause of her health problems, Plaintiff became aware that mold in the School District's buildings was having an adverse effect on air quality in these buildings. (Id. ¶¶ 10, 12.) Plaintiff asserts that the School District was aware of these problems and had not disclosed this information to the public, the teachers, the staff, or the students. (Id. ¶ 13.) Plaintiff notified state agencies of the problem, and disclosed this information to persons affected by the school buildings. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 20.) Plaintiff alleges that as a result of her speaking out to "state agencies and others," Defendants refused to hire her as an assistant coach on two occasions, once in June or July of 2003, and again in June or July of 2004. (Id. ¶¶ 14-15.) This position would have afforded her additional compensation. (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff had previously held this assistant coaching position before she had complained about the mold in the school buildings. (Id. ¶ 18.) Furthermore, Plaintiff contends that the head coach of that sport had requested Plaintiff for the assistant coaching position before it was denied her. (Id.) Plaintiff also asserts that Defendants took other personnel actions against her. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Hasson directed the human resources personnel to place Plaintiff on medical leave without her permission. (Id. ¶ 26.)

  On May 17, 2005, Plaintiff filed her initial Complaint against Defendant School District and Defendants Hasson, Hollins and Mazzatesta ("The Individual Defendants") pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants retaliated against her for speaking out on matters of public concern. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on May 24, 2005 to correct minor technical errors. Defendant Barbara Hasson was the superintendent of the School District during the times Plaintiff was subjected to the retaliatory actions. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff contends that Hasson participated in and ratified the retaliatory actions against her. (Id.) Defendant Yvonne Hollins was a director of secondary instruction and an assistant superintendent of the School District. (Id. ¶ 24.) Plaintiff asserts that Hollins carried out the retaliatory actions. (Id.) Defendant Richard Mazzatesta was an employee of the School District, and is alleged to have ratified the refusal to hire Plaintiff as an assistant coach. (Id. ¶ 25.) Plaintiff also filed a pendant state law claim pursuant to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), 43 P.S. § 951. Plaintiff seeks damages for emotional distress, attorney's fees, special damages, and punitive damages. (Am. Compl. ¶ 9.) Defendants filed the instant motion to dismiss on July 15, 2005, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

  II. Legal Standard: Motion to Dismiss

  In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule 12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from the face of the complaint. Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003). "The complaint will be deemed to have alleged sufficient facts if it adequately put[s] the defendant[s] on notice of the essential elements of the plaintiff's cause of action." Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996). The court will not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim "unless it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Port Auth. of New York & New Jersey v. Arcadian Corp., 189 F.3d 305, 311 (3d Cir. 1999).

  "To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). Additionally, the court may consider "undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are based on the [attached] document[s]." Id. Moreover, "documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically attached to the pleading may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002). However, the court may not rely on other parts of the record in making its decision. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).

  Finally, in the Third Circuit, a court must grant leave to amend before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient. See, e.g., Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 428 (3d Cir. 2001); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000). "Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility." Alston v. Parker, 336 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).

  III. Discussion

  Defendants' motion to dismiss raises several arguments. First, Defendants argue that Plaintiff cannot show a deprivation of her constitutional rights, as she had no property interest in the assistant coaching position. Second, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's allegation of retaliation is insufficient as a matter of law. Specifically, Defendants contend that Plaintiff has not engaged in a protected activity, has not suffered an adverse employment action, and has not alleged that Defendants' actions were motivated by Plaintiff's alleged protected activity. Third, Defendant School District argues that Plaintiff's claim for punitive damages against it should be dismissed based on municipal immunity. Fourth, the Individual Defendants argue that the punitive damages claim against them should be dismissed because they were not sued in their individual capacity, and because Plaintiff failed to plead the correct motive required for a claim for punitive damages to be maintained under § 1983. Fifth, the Individual Defendants argue that the § 1983 claims should be dismissed against them because they are entitled to the defense of qualified immunity. Finally, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's state law claim under the PHRA should be dismissed because Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. The court will address each of these arguments in turn.

  A. Legal Sufficiency of the First Amendment Retaliation Claim

  1. Deprivation of a Constitutional Right

  Section 1983 states, in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . .
42 U.S.C. § 1983. To prevail in an action under § 1983, a plaintiff must demonstrate: (1) a violation of a right secured by the Constitution and the laws of the United States and (2) ...

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