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Lada v. Delaware County Community College

September 30, 2009

KAREN LADA, PLAINTIFF
v.
DELAWARE COUNTY COMMUNITY COLLEGE; CLAYTON RAILEY; AND VIRGINIA CARTER, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: James Knoll Gardner, United States District Judge

OPINION

This matter is before the court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss filed January 7, 2009. Upon consideration of the briefs of the parties and for the reasons expressed below, I grant in part and deny in part the motion to dismiss.

On October 3, 2008, plaintiff Karen Lada filed her Complaint against defendants Delaware County Community College, Clayton Railey, and Virginia Carter. Plaintiff's seven-count Complaint alleges various constitutional violations brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, violations of the Americans With Disabilities Act, and several pendent state law claims arising out of plaintiff's termination as a faculty member at Delaware County Community College.

In Count I, plaintiff sues all defendants pursuant to Section 1983, alleging First Amendment retaliation and violations of Equal Protection and procedural due process.

In Count II, plaintiff brings an Americans With Disabilities Act claim against defendant Delaware County Community College. In Count III, plaintiff brings a Pennsylvania Human Relations Act claim against all defendants.

In Count IV, plaintiff alleges a state law breach of contract claim against defendant Delaware County Community College. In Count V, plaintiff brings a state law claim against defendant Delaware County Community College for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing. In Count VI, plaintiff brings a state law claim for wrongful interference with contractual relations against defendants Railey and Carter.

In Count VII, plaintiff brings a claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress under state law against all defendants.*fn1

Defendants filed Defendants' Motion to Dismiss on January 7, 2009. Defendants seek to dismiss (1) plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation and Equal Protection claims against all defendants; (2) plaintiff's procedural due process claim against defendant Delaware County Community College only; (3) Counts IV, V, and VI in their entirety; and (4) Count VII against defendants Delaware County Community College and Carter only. Defendants do not move to dismiss plaintiff's Americans With Disabilities Act (Count II) or Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (Count III) claims.

In the Order accompanying this Opinion, I order plaintiff to make a more definite statement of her First Amendment Retaliation claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e), dismiss her Equal Protection claim against all defendants, and dismiss all of plaintiff's Section 1983 claims against defendant Delaware County Community College. I also dismiss Counts IV, V, VI, and VII of plaintiff's Complaint.

JURISDICTION

Jurisdiction in this case is based upon federal question jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The court has supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's pendent state law claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

VENUE

Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b) because the events giving rise to plaintiff's claims allegedly occurred in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, which is located within this judicial district.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A claim may be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." A 12(b)(6) motion requires the court to examine the sufficiency of the complaint. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45, 78 S.Ct. 99, 102, 2 L.Ed.2d 80, 84 (1957) (abrogated in other respects by Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). Ordinarily, a court's review of a motion to dismiss is limited to the contents of the complaint, including any attached exhibits. See Kulwicki v. Dawson, 969 F.2d 1454, 1462 (3d Cir. 1992).

Except as provided in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9, a complaint is sufficient if it complies with Rule 8(a)(2). That rule requires only "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief" in order to give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 127 S.Ct. at 1964, 167 L.Ed.2d at 940.

Additionally, in determining the sufficiency of a complaint, the court must accept as true all well-pled factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences therefrom in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008); Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003). "[A] complaint may not be dismissed merely because it appears unlikely that the plaintiff can prove those facts or will ultimately prevail on the merits." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 231.

Nevertheless, "Rule 8(a)(2) requires a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief....

[W]ithout 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." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232.

In considering whether the complaint survives a motion to dismiss, both the District Court and the Court of Appeals review whether it "contain[s] either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements necessary to sustain recovery under some viable legal theory." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 562, 127 S.Ct. at 1969, 167 L.Ed.2d at 945 (emphasis in original); Haspel v. State Farm Mutual Auto Insurance Company, 241 Fed.Appx. 837, 839 (3d Cir. 2007).

The Third Circuit has explained that the "Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: stating a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest the required element. This... simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (internal punctuation omitted).

FACTS

Based upon the averments in plaintiff's Complaint, which I must accept as true under the foregoing standard of review, and the reasonable inferences which I must draw from those facts in the light most favorable to plaintiff, the pertinent facts are as follows.

Plaintiff Karen Lada worked as a faculty member at Delaware County Community College from 2003 to 2007.*fn2 At all times relevant to plaintiff's employment, plaintiff was a disabled female. The defendants wrongfully inferred that the plaintiff was mentally unstable and dangerous.*fn3 Plaintiff was, however, able to perform the essential duties of her job with or without accommodation.*fn4

In February 2007, plaintiff was hospitalized for five days because of complications from her medication.*fn5 Upon her return to work, plaintiff's direct supervisor and department Dean, defendant Clayton Railey, treated plaintiff differently and disparately.*fn6

Defendant Railey refused to allow plaintiff to teach her classes; discussed with plaintiff's colleagues, and published derogatory misstatements to students, that plaintiff was not fit to teach; required plaintiff to produce a medical certification to return to work, which was not required of other faculty members after brief sick leaves; subjected plaintiff to a hostile work environment, making condescending and belittling comments to plaintiff, scrutinizing her classroom performance, and insisting on observing every class; and excessively criticized the plaintiff's tenure track proposal for a study.*fn7

Because she was treated disparately and more harshly than similarly situated faculty, plaintiff sought the assistance of her union representative to intervene with defendant Railey.*fn8

In retaliation for asserting her union protections and rights, defendant Railey falsely accused plaintiff of being insubordinate.*fn9

On June 25, 2007, plaintiff was terminated from her position without notice or warning.*fn10 Defendant Railey and defendant Virginia Carter, the Provost for Academic Affairs, made the decision to terminate plaintiff.*fn11 Plaintiff was a hardworking faculty member who received high performance ratings from her colleagues and students.*fn12 Plaintiff had been nominated for the Gould Award for teaching excellence for the Spring 2007 semester.*fn13

DISCUSSION

Count I (Constitutional Claims Under Section 1983)

In Count I of her Complaint, plaintiff appears to raise federal constitutional claims of First Amendment retaliation and violations of Equal Protection and procedural due process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As noted above and for the following reasons, I order plaintiff to make a more definite statement of her First Amendment Retaliation claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e). I dismiss her Equal Protection claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendants do not seek to dismiss plaintiff's procedural due process claim, so I do not address it at this time. Finally, I dismiss all of plaintiff's Monell*fn14 claims against defendant Delaware County Community College.

First Amendment Retaliation

Defendants move to dismiss plaintiff's First Amendment claim in Count I for failure to allege any protected speech or actions.*fn15 In the alternative, defendants request that the court order plaintiff to make a more definite statement of her retaliation claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e). For the reasons that follow, I deny defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's First Amendment retaliation claim, but order plaintiff to make a more definite statement of this claim.

To state a First Amendment Retaliation claim, a public employee plaintiff must allege: "(1) that the activity in question is protected by the First Amendment, and (2) that the protected activity was a substantial factor in the alleged retaliatory action." DeLuzio v. Monroe County, 271 Fed.Appx. 193, 196 (3d Cir. 2008); Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225, 241 (3d Cir. 2006). The former is a question of law and the ...


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