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Felder v. Delaware County Office of Services for the Aging

July 28, 2009

STEPHEN L. FELDER
v.
DELAWARE COUNTY OFFICE OF SERVICES FOR THE AGING; COMMONWEALTH OF PENNSYLVANIA CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION; AND LOCAL UNION NO. 115, INTERNATIONAL BROTHERHOOD OF TEAMSTERS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Baylson, J.

MEMORANDUM RE: MOTIONS TO DISMISS AND MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS

I. Facts and Procedural History

On September 19, 2008, Plaintiff, pro se, filed a Complaint, which appears to assert employment discrimination claims and seek $20 million in damages. (Doc. 4). However, the Complaint, hand-written on a standard form provided by the Clerk's office, contains little factual information and is often difficult to read. From what this Court can discern, Plaintiff alleges that "[t]here was no due process on my behalf, rules were broken by management, the work environment became very hostile, black male were [sic] treat [sic] differently than female worker." Plaintiff further alleges that "the union did not provide any support for the workers." Plaintiff named as Defendants the County Office Serving Aging (subsequently identified as the Delaware County Office of Services for the Aging), Local Union Brotherhood of Teamsters (subsequently identified as Local Union No. 115, International Brotherhood of Teamsters), and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (subsequently identified as the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission).

Prior to starting this action, Plaintiff had pursued his administrative remedies against the Delaware County Office of Services for the Aging (the "Office of Aging"). Plaintiff attached to his Complaint a right to sue letter issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, granting Plaintiff the right to institute a civil action against the Office of Aging under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Plaintiff also attached the Charge of Discrimination he had filed with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, which names the "Delaware County Office on Aging" as the discriminating employer and asserts that Plaintiff was discriminated against on account of sex, age, and disability. In the Charge, Plaintiff describes that his female supervisor treated him, and other men, differently from female employees by speaking in a condescending and demeaning manner. Plaintiff also asserts in the Charge that his supervisor discriminated against him because of his neck and back impairment by refusing to provide a special chair. Neither the right to sue letter nor the Charge of Discrimination mentions either of the other two defendants.

Despite referring Plaintiff's case to the Plaintiff's Employment Panel (Doc. 2), Plaintiff was ordered to proceed pro se after several volunteer attorney members of the Panel rejected his case (Doc. 5). Plaintiff served the Office of Aging on March 18, 2009, (Doc. 12). He also served Defendant Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission (the "Commission") on May 18, 2009, (Doc. 21), and then served Defendant Local Union No. 115 (the "Union") on May 26, 2009, (Doc. 22). The Office of Aging filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6), arguing that Defendant's Complaint lacks substantial facts to support a cause of action. (Doc. 18). The Office of Aging asked this Court to either dismiss the Complaint or order Plaintiff to file a more specific pleading under Rule 12(e). The Commission similarly filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), asserting sovereign immunity as a bar to this action. (Doc. 20). Finally, the Union answered the Complaint (Doc. 31) and then filed a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings (Doc. 32) on the grounds that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over an allegation of improper conduct by a union. According to the Union, jurisdiction over such allegations is exclusively vested in the Pennsylvania Public Employee Relations Act ("PERA"), 43 P.S. § 1101.101, et seq. The Union also argued that Plaintiff had failed to exhaust his administrative remedies against the Union. In accordance with this Court's June 5, 2009 Order, (Doc. 23), Plaintiff responded to the Motions and filed additional information supporting his claim. (Doc. 33).

II. Defendants' Motions

A. Delaware County Office of Services for the Aging's Motion to Dismiss

The Office of Aging argues that Plaintiff's Complaint must be dismissed because it lacks sufficient facts to support a cause of action, as it does not allege specifically who participated in the alleged wrongdoing or discriminatory acts. In the alternative, the Office of Aging requests this Court direct Plaintiff to file a more specific pleading under Rule 12(e). When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court may look only to the facts alleged in the complaint and its attachments. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). The Court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Angelastro v. Prudential-Bache Sec., Inc., 764 F.2d 939, 944 (3d Cir. 1985).

A valid complaint requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). "To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 232 (3d Cir. 2008) ("We caution that without some factual allegation in the complaint, a claimant cannot satisfy the requirement that he or she provide not only 'fair notice,' but also the 'grounds' on which the claim rests." (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3)). Accordingly, to survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff must plead "factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). "At the same time, this Court must construe the pleadings of pro se plaintiffs liberally, as they are generally held to 'less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Douglas v. Pension Benefit Guar. Corp., 2008 WL 2805604, at *3 (E.D. Pa. July, 18, 2008) (Baylson, J.) (citing Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)); see also United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992).

Here, Plaintiff filed his Complaint on a standard pro se form provided by the District Court. That form provides Plaintiff with exactly seven lines to describe the specific facts supporting his claim; Plaintiff utilized every line and added three additional lines at the bottom of the form. Although Plaintiff did not name any individuals in his Complaint, Plaintiff attached to his Complaint the Charge of Discrimination previously filed with the Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission, which did name specific individuals. Furthermore, Plaintiff filed additional documents (Doc. 7), in which he named specific witnesses and more fully described his allegations of gender and disability discrimination against his supervisor. In his Response to the Motions, Plaintiff attached similar documents that provide additional details and facts supporting his claim.

Given Plaintiff's pro se status, this Court will consider the factual allegations in these supporting documents when considering the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. It would be unfair to allow a Plaintiff to file a pro se Complaint on the standard form, which provides minimal room for elaboration on the factual issues, and then dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint under Rule 8 for failure to provide more factual allegations. This is particularly true here, where Plaintiff has provided a number of supporting documents from which this Court, and the Office of Aging, can discern the gist of Plaintiff's employment discrimination claim as well as the individuals involved. The main purpose of Rule 8 is to ensure that the defendants are put on notice as to the claims brought against them so that they can prepare an adequate response. Here, the Office of Aging, a government body with access to legal resources, can prepare an Answer and start discovery based on the Complaint and other documents provided by the pro se Plaintiff. Thus, this Court denies Office of Aging's Motion to Dismiss. However, this Court reminds Plaintiff that he must conduct discovery and that to survive any future dispositive motions, Plaintiff must produce specific factual evidence, admissible under the Rules of Evidence, supporting his allegations.

B. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Civil Service Commission's Motion to Dismiss

The Commission moved for dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) on the grounds that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. Specifically, the Commission argues that the doctrine of sovereign immunity, as embodied in the Eleventh Amendment, shields it from liability. A 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss based on the Eleventh Amendment is considered a facial attack, and therefore the Court may only take into account the allegations in the Complaint, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Merriweather ex rel. Walker v. City of Philadelphia, 2007 WL 1463304, at *3 (E.D. Pa. May 17, 2007) (DuBois, J). However, the plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating this Court's subject matter jurisdiction. Id. (citing Packard v. Provident Nat'l Bank, 994 F.2d 1039, 1045 (3d Cir.1993)). Alternatively, the Commission moves for dismissal under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), asserting that the Complaint does not meet the standards for pleading under Fed. R. Civ. P. 8.

Plaintiff's Complaint does not identify a specific cause of action against the Commission, nor does it allege specific improper conduct from which a cause of action can be easily inferred. However, in the additional materials Plaintiff submitted to this Court, Plaintiff mentions that the Commission refused to issue subpoenas for key witnesses Plaintiff hoped to present during a hearing regarding his employment with the Office of Aging. In those materials, Plaintiff explained that "the odds [were] stacked against me" and that, as a result, he left before the hearing was finished. Plaintiff then complains that "[t]hey carried on the hearing without me and concluded my case without full due process by the state of Pennsylvania." (Doc. 8, pg. 2). As noted above, the Court will consider these documents along with ...


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