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Mosley v. City of Pittsburgh Public School Dist.

May 27, 2008

DR. DWIGHT MOSLEY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PITTSBURGH PUBLIC SCHOOL DISTRICT AND CITY OF PITTSBURGH BOARD OF PUBLIC EDUCATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Lisa Pupo Lenihan

Doc. Nos. 3 & 8

OPINION AND ORDER

LENIHAN, M. J.

Currently before the Court for disposition are Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) (Doc. No. 3), and Plaintiff's Motion for Remand (Doc. No. 8), in this removal action from the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. This lawsuit involves a challenge to the constitutionality of the Pennsylvania Legislature's recent enactment of an amendment to the Pennsylvania Public School Code and its application to Plaintiff's employment, and Defendants' construction of same. Plaintiff alleges that he was summarily and precipitously terminated from his public employment by Defendants on August 22, 2007, without being afforded any due process, including a hearing, the right to counsel, adequate notice of the grounds for termination, or any other appropriate safeguards, in violation of both the Pennsylvania and United States Constitutions, as well as the Local Agency Law, 2 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 105 and Subch. B of 2 Pa. Cons. Stat. Chs. 5 & 7, and the Pennsylvania Public School Code. Plaintiff seeks relief in the form of mandamus, a declaratory judgment under 42 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 7531 et seq., and damages in the form of lost wages and benefits, interest, and attorneys' fees, costs and expenses.

Defendants removed this case from the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas to this federal district court on November 15, 2007, after Plaintiffs filed a Second Amended Complaint adding a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court's removal jurisdiction is at issue in this case and Plaintiff has moved for remand to the Court of Common Pleas.

For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Complaint, as well as Plaintiff's Motion for Remand.

I. FACTS

Plaintiff is Dr. Dwight Mosley, a former employee of Defendant, City of Pittsburgh School District (the "District"). At the time of his termination in August 2007, Dr. Mosley occupied the position of Director of Recruiting & Staffing for the District. (Second Amended Complaint ("SAC") ¶ 1.) Defendant, City of Pittsburgh Board of Public Education ("Board of Education"), is the governing body of the Distirct. (SAC ¶ 3.)

The controversy here arises from an amendment to the Pennsylvania Public School Code ("School Code"), which took effect on July 20, 2007. Essentially, the amendment changed the procedure for terminating management level employees by eliminating the requirement that management employees be given a pre-termination hearing. 24 P.S. § 17-1704.1-B. The amended statute gives the school superintendent authority to recommend to the board of school directors the dismissal of a management employee for unsatisfactory performance or willful misconduct.*fn1

Shortly after the amendment to the School Code went into effect, Mosley received a letter from Superintendent Mark Roosevelt on August 21, 2007, informing him that Roosevelt was recommending his dismissal to the Board of Education pursuant to 24 P.S. § 17-1704.1-B due to unsatisfactory work performance. (SAC ¶ 4.) At its meeting on August 22, 2007, the Board of Education approved Roosevelt's recommended dismissal of Mosley. (SAC ¶ 5.) The next day, the Board of Education sent a letter to Mosley notifying him that the Board approved his termination. (SAC ¶ 7.)

Mosley subsequently instituted the present law suit on September 21, 2007, in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas seeking mandamus and declaratory judgment, contending that Defendants failed to afford him due process rights to pre-termination notice and evidentiary hearing, right to counsel and adequate time to prepare a defense. Plaintiff further maintains that his termination amounted to an unconstitutional and improper impairment of vested contractual employment rights under the School Code, Art. I, § 17 of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and Art.I, § 10 of the United States Constitution. Finally, Plaintiff submits that the 2007 amendment to the School Code was unconstitutional on its face and, to the extent applied retroactively, constitutes unconstitutional retroactive legislation. (SAC ¶ 9-10, 16-17.) In addition, Plaintiff seeks an appeal of the Board of Education's decision under Local Agency Law, 2 Pa. Cons. Stat. § § 101, 105 and Subch. B of 2 Pa. Cons. Stat., Chs. 5 & 7, asserting that the decision was an "unlawful and erroneous, arbitrary and capricious 'adjudication'". (SAC ¶ 19.)

On November 5, 2007, Mosley filed a Second Amended Complaint, adding a new count entitled "42 U.S.C. § 1983." (SAC, Count II, ¶¶ 12-14.) In his Section 1983 claim, Mosley is, in essence, asserting the same allegations of fact and constitutional violations raised in his claims for mandamus and declaratory judgment, and in the appeal of the Board of Education's decision under Local Agency Law. Based on the Section 1983 claim asserted for the first time in the Second Amended Complaint, Defendants removed this case to federal court on November 15, 2007, predicating removal jurisdiction on 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a) and 1331. (Defs.' Notice of Removal (Doc. 1), ¶¶ 3-5.) Shortly thereafter, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint it its entirety pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) on November 28, 2007.

Mosley responded by filing a brief in opposition to the motion to dismiss, as well as a Motion for Remand, on January 15, 2008, requesting that this Court remand the entire case to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. On March 6, 2008, the Court held oral argument on both motions. The motions and responses thereto have been fully briefed and argued, and are now ripe for disposition.

II. PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR REMAND

Mosley contends that as a threshold matter, the Court must first decide the motion to remand, because lack of jurisdiction would make any decree in this case void and the continuation of the litigation in federal court futile. The Court agrees that the motion for remand must be addressed first.

Section 1441 of Title 28, United States Code, governs the removal of a case to federal court. Generally, "any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant . . . , to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending." 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). "The removal statutes 'are to be strictly construed against removal and all doubts should be resolved in favor of remand.'" Boyer v. Snap-On Tools Corp., 913 F.2d 108, 111 (3d Cir. 1990) (quoting Steel Valley Auth. v. Union Switch & Signal Div., 809 F.2d 1006, 1010 (3d Cir. 1987) (other citations omitted)); Batoff v. State Farm Ins. Co., 977 F.2d 848, 851 (3d Cir. 1992). Where a motion for remand is filed, the defendant has the burden of proving that removal was proper. Scanlin v. Utica First Ins. Co., 426 F.Supp. 2d 243, 246 (M.D.Pa. 2006) (citing Boyer, 913 F.2d at 111). In removal cases, the existence of federal court jurisdiction is usually determined under the well-pleaded complaint rule, which provides that federal question jurisdiction is established when the face of a properly pleaded complaint asserts a federal question. Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987).*fn2 In the instant matter, Defendants predicated federal removal jurisdiction on 28 U.S.C. § 1331, in that Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint asserts a federal civil rights claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Notice of Removal, ¶¶ 3-5.) Neither party disputes that Plaintiff's Section 1983 claim asserts a claim or right arising under the Constitution, treaties or laws of the United States, and therefore confers federal jurisdiction in this District Court over this claim. In addition, this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the state claims pursuant to this Court's supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).*fn3

Nonetheless, Mosley has asked this Court to remand the entire case back to the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. In support, Mosley argues that remand is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1441(c) because state law issues wholly predominate as to all of Plaintiff's claims. He further contends that this Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction and remand the entire case to state court under the Supreme Court's decision in Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315 (1943). Each of these arguments is addressed below.

A. Remand Under Section 1441(c)

District courts may remand a case to state court only in limited circumstances. One such circumstance is codified in Section 1441(c), which provides:

Whenever a separate and independent claim or cause of action within the jurisdiction conferred by section 1331 . . . is joined with one or more otherwise non-removable claims or causes of action, the entire case may be removed and the district court may determine all issues therein, or, in its discretion, may remand all matters in which State law predominates.

28 U.S.C. § 1441(c).*fn4 Thus, the crucial predicate to granting remand under Section 1441(c) is the requirement that the federal claim be separate and independent from the non-removable state claims. Borough of West Mifflin v. Lancaster, 45 F.3d 780, 786 (3d Cir. 1995). The separate and independent requirement will not be met where there is a "single injury to plaintiff for which relief is sought, arising from an interrelated series of events or transactions." Id. (citing Am. Fire & Cas. Co. v. Finn, 341 U.S. 6 (1951)).

In the instant matter, Plaintiff concedes that the separate and independent requirement is not met. Indeed, in his brief in support of his motion for remand, Plaintiff states that his "ยง 1983 claim seeks the same relief and arises out of the same facts and alleged wrongful discharge as his mandamus, declaratory judgment, and Local Agency Law Appeal and thus should also be remanded." Pl.'s Br. in Supp. Mot. Remand at 6. From the Court's own review of the Second Amended Complaint, the Court finds that the Section 1983 claim and the state law claims are not separate and independent, but rather, derive from a common nucleus of operative facts. It is clear that all of the claims asserted by Plaintiff attempt to remedy a single wrong--the failure of the Defendants to provide adequate notice and a pre-termination hearing prior to his dismissal. Therefore, since the separate and independent requirement is not met here, the Court does not have the authority to remand under Section 1441(c). Borough of West Mifflin, 45 F.3d at 786; see also ...


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