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Haiden v. Greene County Career and Technology Center

July 27, 2009


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

Re: Doc. No. 9


I. Procedural Background

This action filed pursuant to the Family Medical Leave Act of 2003, 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et seq. (hereinafter "FMLA") is brought by Mary Ann Haiden (hereinafter "Plaintiff") who was allegedly wrongfully terminated from employment at Defendant Greene County Career and Technology Center (hereinafter "Defendant" or "the Center"). Plaintiff also attempts to make out a Pennsylvania state law claim for wrongful termination. The case is presently before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. No. 9.)

II. Relevant Facts

Plaintiff was employed by Defendant from August 30, 2004 until August 25, 2008. During that time, Plaintiff worked full time as an executive secretary for the Center. (Complaint, Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 5) (hereinafter "Doc. No. 1 at ¶ ___"). The Center is a public school that provides vocational technology training for Greene County School District children. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶ 7). On June 13, 2008, Plaintiff allegedly suffered an emotional breakdown related to her work activities, and sought a physician's care. According to the complaint, the physician provided Plaintiff with proof of her illness, and proof that she needed to take leave from work due to the serious nature of her illness. (Doc. No. 1 at & 8.) Plaintiff was then fired. Plaintiff claims that Defendant violated the FMLA by illegally failing to post notice of entitlement of up to 12 weeks off under the Act, failing to advise Plaintiff of her right to take 12 weeks off, failing to inquire as to whether Plaintiff was entitled to 12 weeks off, giving Plaintiff misleading information and then firing her, and failing to permit Plaintiff to return to work as required by the Act. Plaintiff avers that she has been unable to secure other employment since her employment at the Center was terminated. (Doc. No. 1 at & 9.)

Plaintiff also asserts a state law tort claim for wrongful termination. She alleges that despite knowing that she had suffered a serious work-related injury, Defendant terminated her employment to keep her from filing a workers' compensation claim. (Doc. No. 1 at ¶¶ 13-14.)

III. Legal Standard

As the United States Supreme Court recently held in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (May 21, 2007), a complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 1974 (rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)). The court must accept as true all allegations of the Complaint and all reasonable factual inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Securities, Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985). The Court, however, need not accept inferences drawn by plaintiff if they are unsupported by the facts as set forth in the complaint. See California Pub. Employee Ret. Sys. v. The Chubb Corp., 394 F.3d 126, 143 (3d Cir. 2004) (citing Morse v. Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997)). Nor must the court accept legal conclusions set forth as factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp., 127 S.Ct. at 1965 (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atlantic Corp., 127 S.Ct. at 1965. Although the United States Supreme Court does "not require heightened fact pleading of specifics, [the Court does require] enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 1974.

Here, Defendant argues the following: 1) Defendant is protected by immunity pursuant to the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act on the state law wrongful termination claim, and consequently, this claim must be dismissed; and 2) Punitive damages cannot be assessed against Defendant pursuant to the FMLA, nor may they be assessed against Defendant because it is a local agency.

IV. Analysis

1. Local Agency Immunity under the Pennsylvania Political Subdivision Tort Claims Act (hereinafter "PPSTCA")

The PPSTCA is the applicable decisional law governing the Defendant's liability for the tort of wrongful termination. The PPSTCA provides immunity to local government agencies against claims for tort liability unless the conduct falls into one of the listed exceptions described in § 8542 of the PPSTCA.*fn1 Outside of the enumerated exceptions to immunity, all other torts are covered by the PPSTCA, and local agency tortfeasors are guaranteed immunity from prosecution. See Mitchell v. City of Philadelphia, 596 A.2d 1205, 1208 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1991) (court found trespasser's decedents were barred from collecting on wrongful death claim against City because claim did not fall within exceptions to immunity under PSTCA); Wilson v. Norriston Area School District, 783 A.2d 871, 876 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2001) (court found that student's negligence claim against school after she fell down stairs at school did not fall within property exception to PPSTCA, and therefore was barred).

Pennsylvania federal and state courts have included vocational-technical schools as local agencies within the immunity guarantee of the PPSTCA. In Capuzzi v. Heller, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court affirmed on appeal a decision holding, inter alia, that the Middle Bucks Area Vocational Technical School was a local agency subject to immunity under the PPSTCA, and therefore was not liable for an accident caused by one of its students. 558 A.2d 596, 599 (1989). Similarly, in Coreia v. Schuylkill County Area Vocational-Technical School Authority, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania found that the Schuykill County Area Vocational-Technical School Authority was immune from a suit for ...

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