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Slater v. Susquehanna County

March 30, 2009

CHERYL A. SLATER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
SUSQUEHANNA COUNTY, ET AL, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: A. Richard Caputo United States District Judge

(JUDGE CAPUTO)

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Defendants Jack McGrail and Teamsters Local 229's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint or for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 47.)

This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 over federal law actions arising under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 ("federal question jurisdiction"). This Court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 over state law claims arising out of the same common nucleus of operative fact as Plaintiff's federal law claims ("supplemental jurisdiction").

BACKGROUND

The facts alleged in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint are as follows. The Plaintiff in this matter is Cheryl A. Slater, a former Susquehanna County correctional officer at Susquehanna County Prison. (Second Am. Compl. ¶ 14, Doc. 46.) Ms. Slater is a white female, who, at the time of her last employment by Susquehanna County, was fifty-seven (57) years old. (Id. ¶¶ 13-14.) Moving Defendants are Teamsters Local 229 ("Defendant Union") and Jack McGrail, a business representative for Defendant Union. (Id. ¶¶ 11-12, 18.) The following parties are also Defendants: Susquehanna County ("Defendant County"), a Pennsylvania municipality; Susquehanna County Correctional Facility ("Defendant Facility"), a subdivision of Susquehanna County; Susquehanna County Prison Board ("Defendant Board"), a group of adult individuals who administer Defendant Facility; Donald Steward, a prison warden at Defendant Facility; and William Brennan, another warden at Defendant Facility. (Id. ¶¶ 6-10, 17.)

As alleged in her amended complaint, Plaintiff and other female correctional officers over the age of fifty (50) have been harassed by supervisors and other officers, including a group of co-workers called the "Secret Sisters," who were aided and abetted by prison wardens and Defendant McGrail. (Id. ¶ 18.) The harassment has existed since her employment with the prison. (Id.) Plaintiff complained of discrimination to Defendants Board, Brennan, and Stewart, but they failed to respond other than to accuse Plaintiff of wrongdoing in an attempt to discredit and fire her. (Id. ¶ 20.) Similar complaints to Defendant Union made through its business representative were ignored. (Id. ¶ 21.) Defendants County and Board, despite being aware of their employees' improper conduct, failed to: (1) supervise and train their employees; (2) implement policies to stop said employee conduct; and (3) investigate or ameliorate discriminatory practices by their employees. (Id. ¶ 16.) Plaintiff alleges she was subjected to a hostile work environment due to her age and gender. (Id. ¶ 19.)

In addition, due to the gross negligence of other correctional officers, a female inmate died on April 2, 2004. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff was accused of being an informant to an attorney on behalf of the deceased prisoner and was interviewed by a private investigator, during which time Defendant Brennan eavesdropped on the conversation. (Id. ¶¶ 24-26.) Defendants attempted to intimidate and silence Plaintiff, believing that she had information concerning the death of the prisoner. (Id. ¶ 34.) Defendants Brennan and Stewart solicited false write-ups from the "Secret Sisters," and Defendants began to manufacture and blame Plaintiff for violations of prison policy. (Id. ¶¶22, 27.) As a result of Plaintiff making Defendant Board and Union aware of the problems at the prison, Defendant Stewart suspended and then terminated Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶28-29.) Plaintiff filed two grievances with Defendant Union-one for her suspension and one for her termination-which she alleges were not handled in a timely fashion. (Id. ¶¶ 30-31.)

Plaintiff claims that she was discriminated against in the terms and conditions of her employment due to her gender and age, that she was retaliated against for exercising her First Amendment rights, and that she was not afforded procedural due process and equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Id. ¶¶ 32-33.)

Plaintiff filed her Complaint on December 21, 2007. (Compl., Doc. 1.) Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on March 28, 2008. (Am. Compl., Doc. 26.) She filed a Second Amended Complaint on August 8, 2008. (Second Am. Compl., Doc. 46.) Her most current amended complaint raises the following Counts against all Defendants: Count I alleges violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count II alleges violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985; Count III alleges discrimination because of age; Count IV alleges violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Count V alleges a civil conspiracy under Pennsylvania law; Count VI alleges intentional infliction of emotional distress under Pennsylvania law; and Count VII alleges wrongful discharge under Pennsylvania law; Count VIII alleges violation of the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act.

Moving Defendants McGrail and Union filed the present motion to dismiss or for summary judgment on August 27, 2008. (Doc. 47.) This motion is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

LEGAL STANDARD

I. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Dismissal is appropriate only if, accepting as true all the facts alleged in the complaint, Plaintiff has not plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face," Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1960 (2007), meaning, enough factual allegations "to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of" each necessary element. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008); see also Kost v. Kozakiewicz, 1 F.3d 176, 183 (3d Cir. 1993) (requiring complaint to set forth information from which each element of a claim may be inferred). In light of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), the statement need only "give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007) (per curiam). "[T]he factual detail in a complaint [must not be] so undeveloped that it does not provide a defendant the type of notice of claim which is contemplated by Rule 8." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232; see also Airborne Beepers & Video, Inc. V. AT&T Mobility LLC, 499 F.3d 663, 667 (7th Cir. 2007).

In deciding a motion to dismiss, the Court should consider the allegations in the complaint, exhibits attached to the complaint and matters of public record. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus.. Inc., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1042 (1994). The Court may also consider "undisputedly authentic" documents where the plaintiff's claims are based on the documents and the defendant has attached a copy of the document to the motion to dismiss. Id. The court need not assume that the plaintiff can prove facts that were not alleged in the complaint, see Pittsburgh v. West Penn Power Co., 147 F.3d 256, 263 (3d Cir. 1998), nor credit a complaints "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions." Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997).

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court's role is limited to determining whether the plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence in support of the claims. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974). The Court does not consider whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail. Id. The defendant bears the burden of establishing that the plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

II. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). A fact is material if proof of its existence or nonexistence might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable substantive law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

Where there is no material fact in dispute, the moving party need only establish that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Where, however, there is a disputed issue of material fact, summary judgment is appropriate only if the factual dispute is not a genuine one. Id. An issue of material fact is genuine if "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id.

Where there is a material fact in dispute, the moving party has the initial burden of proving that: (1) there is no genuine issue of material fact; and (2) the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHURR. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE: CIVIL 2D § 2727 (2d ed. 1983). The moving party may present its own evidence or, where the nonmoving party has the burden of proof, simply point out to the Court that "the nonmoving party has failed to make a sufficient showing of an essential element of her case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986).

All doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party, and the entire record must be examined in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. White v. Westinghouse Elec. Co., 862 F.2d 56, 59 (3d Cir. 1988). Once the moving party has satisfied its initial burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving party to either present affirmative evidence supporting its version of the material facts or to refute the moving party's contention that the facts entitle it to judgment as a matter of law. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57.

The Court need not accept mere conclusory allegations, whether they are made in the complaint or a sworn statement. Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, "the judge's function is not himself to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

DISCUSSION

I. Motion to Dismiss or Summary Judgment

Defendants Union and McGrail move to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment as to each of Plaintiff's Counts. (Doc. 47.) Defendants support their motion for summary judgment in compliance with the Middle District of Pennsylvania Local Rule 56.1, requiring movants to file a statement of material facts to which they contend there is no genuine issue to be tried, including references to the parts of the record supporting each statement. (Doc. 48.) Plaintiff filed a counter-statement in response.*fn1 (Attach. 1, Doc. 60.) While summary judgment may be appropriately considered, all but two of Plaintiff's claims may be determined on the pleadings under the motion to dismiss standard. The Court need look beyond the pleadings and employ the summary judgment standard only as to Plaintiff's claims for gender and age discrimination based on a hostile work environment. Supporting and opposing record evidence will be discussed in the analysis of those claims.

II. Count I - Section 1983

In order to succeed on a § 1983 claim, a plaintiff must prove: "(1) that he was deprived of his rights, privileges or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States due to (2) the conduct of a person acting under color of state law." Gilbert v. Feld, 788 F. Supp. 854, 859 (E.D. Pa. 1992) (citing Cohen v. Philadelphia, 736, F.2d 81, 83 (3d Cir. 1984). In order to satisfy the second prong, a defendant does not have to be a state official, but can also be held liable as a state actor. Id. Plaintiff's amended complaint alleges that Defendant Union is a union incorporated in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and that Jack McGrail is the business representative for Teamsters Local 229, which is the union for the prison's corrections officers. (See Second Am. Compl.¶¶ 11, 18.) It is clear that Defendant McGrail, as a private person, was not acting under the color of state law for the purposes of §1983.

Other courts in this circuit have considered the role of unions as state actors. The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case of Talley v. Feldman, 941 F. Supp. 501, 512 (E.D. Pa. 1996) held that: "[l]abor unions have been traditionally regarded as private entities, despite the imposition of regulatory provisions upon them." Therefore, a labor union may not be sued for constitutional violations. If, however, a plaintiff demonstrates that the government significantly encouraged the labor union to engage in the constitutional violations, he may be able to maintain a suit against the union under the First and Fifth Amendments.

Id. (quoting Driscoll v. Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs, Local 139, 484 F.2d 682, 690 n. 21 (7th Cir.1973), cert. denied, 415 U.S. 960 (1974)). In this case, there is no allegation that Defendant Union was encouraged by county actors. The actions alleged are private actions. Therefore, Defendants' motion to dismiss Count I of the Amended ...


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