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Searls v. City of Meadville

December 18, 2009

JEFFREY SEARLS PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF MEADVILLE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter

MEMORANDUM OPINION *fn1

A. Relevant Procedural History

On January 21, 2009, Plaintiff filed the instant civil rights action claiming that Defendant City of Meadville retaliated against him when it constructively discharged him from his employment as a city police officer. Plaintiff avers that Defendant's actions were taken in retaliation for Plaintiff's exercise of his First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution and are violative of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and §1985. Plaintiff resigned his position as a police officer with the City of Meadville in exchange for the City agreeing not to pursue criminal charges against him stemming from a June 7, 2008 off-duty incident with his neighbor. As relief, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages, as well as various forms of injunctive relief including reinstatement to his position as a police officer.

Defendant has filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) arguing that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim because he has not suffered any adverse employment action. Document # 12. Plaintiff has filed a brief in opposition to the pending dispositive motion. Document # 14. The issues are fully briefed and are ripe for disposition by this Court.

B. Standard of Review

A motion to dismiss filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff and all the well-pleaded allegations of the complaint must be accepted as true. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 95 (2007). A complaint must be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12 (b)(6) if it does not allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)(rejecting the traditional 12 (b)(6) standard set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)). See also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, ___ U.S. ___, ___, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (May 18, 2009) (specifically applying Twombly analysis beyond the context of the Sherman Act).

The Court 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. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556, 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." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. 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 570.

In other words, at the motion to dismiss stage, a plaintiff is "required to make a 'showing' rather than a blanket assertion of an entitlement to relief." Smith v. Sullivan, 2008 WL 482469, at *1 (D.Del. February 22, 2008) quoting Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). "This does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 232, quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 n.3.

Recently, the Third Circuit expounded on the Twombly/Iqbal/Phillips line of cases:

To prevent dismissal, all civil complaints must now set out sufficient factual matter to show that the claim is facially plausible. This then allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the alleged misconduct.

After Iqbal, when presented with a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, district courts should conduct a two-part analysis. First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated. The district court must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Second, a district court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a plausible claim for relief. In other words, a complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. A complaint has to show such an entitlement with its facts. As the Supreme Court instructed in Iqbal, where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged - but it has not shown - that the pleader is entitled to relief. This plausibility requirement will be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.

Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d. 203, 210-11(3d Cir. 2009).

C. Plaintiff's Allegations

In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that prior to becoming employed by the City, Plaintiff contacted State Senator Brian Robbins to inquire about the status of a proposed House Bill that sought to eliminate residency requirements for police officers. Document # 11, Amended Complaint, ¶¶5. Prior to Plaintiff's appointment as a police officer, the City's Chief of Police told Plaintiff that the Mayor did not want Plaintiff appointed to the position because he had contacted Senator Robbins about the residency requirements. Id. at ¶¶5-6. Plaintiff alleges ...


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